As a young woman attending college in 2009, Bethany of Green Bay, was beyond surprised to learn from her doctors that she had a health abnormality known as uterine didelphys. The extremely rare condition, also called a double uterus, is often not detected because it doesn’t always create physical problems for women. For some women though, like Bethany, it can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy contributing to miscarriages and premature labor.
“It wasn’t until I was a young adult that my doctor determined I had two uteruses,” said Bethany. “I just remember being told that it could be difficult for me to get pregnant and bring my child to full term.”
Double uterus often means both uteruses are smaller than normal, given the limited space inside the woman’s body. Bethany’s doctors said if pregnancy does occur, often times infants will outgrow the space within the smaller uterus, creating a challenge for mothers to carry their child to full term. Therefore, their children are frequently born premature.
“This was the biggest risk according to my doctors,” said Bethany. “They told me I might not be able to get pregnant and even if I can, the child has a good chance of being born premature.”
Despite understanding the challenges she would likely face if she became pregnant, Bethany still wanted to try and start a family with her husband, Tyler, after college. The couple was successful in conceiving their first child, but sadly Bethany miscarried, reinforcing the couple’s understanding of how difficult a process having a child would likely be for them.
Eight years after the couple’s miscarriage, Bethany and her husband decided they wanted to try and have a baby again. This time, their Prevea Health doctor emphasized the importance of confirming the embryo was implanted in the right location and stressed the need for extra monitoring to keep a close eye on their baby’s growth and development.
After 31 weeks of pregnancy, more than two months before her baby’s due date, Bethany was told at a routine checkup that she was in labor. Her child wasn’t officially due for 9 weeks, but through an ultrasound, her physician at Prevea determined the baby would have to be delivered soon and so she was sent to HSHS St. Vincent Hospital for specialized care.
“At St. Vincent my doctor told me the baby’s heart rate was good, but it was going to need to be delivered via C-section because my baby was breech,” said Bethany. “Because of the abnormal size of my uterus, my baby was positioned to come out feet first. My physicians put me on medications to slow down the labor for as long as possible, but it became clear to my doctors and me that my baby was coming.”
Bethany’s first child, Vera, was born dangerously premature and weighed just 3 pounds and 12 ounces at birth. Thanks to Bethany’s early diagnosis related to having a double uterus, her team of care givers at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital were prepared to admit the newborn to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital, right away.
The NICU at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital helps ensure that every baby gets the best possible start in life. The department has earned a level III designation, which is the highest available at the state level, reserved only for the few NICU’s that meet strict criteria for delicate infant care. The state-of-the-art NICU is equipped with the latest advancements in medical technology, provides 24/7 care for infants born prematurely and it’s located just steps away from HSHS St. Vincent Hospital’s Women and Infants Center for immediate newborn care as needs arise.
In the NICU, Vera was surrounded by nurses and doctors specially trained to meet the specific health needs of premature and critically ill infants - around the clock. Ultimately, Vera spent 42 days in the NICU at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital with a team of medical experts who provided her with the highest level of neonatal care in the Green Bay area.
“We really had some amazing doctors and even more amazing nurses,” said Bethany. “They made things so much easier by consistently giving my husband and I complete confidence in the care they were providing Vera. They treated my daughter as if she was one of their own children.”
This experience in the NICU helped prepare the young couple for the birth of their son, Leo, three years after his sister, Vera was born. During labor with Leo, Bethany’s physicians at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital once again slowed down her contractions and ultimately made them stop, allowing Bethany to carry Leo for an additional six weeks.
Those extra weeks Leo spent in the womb, meant he could continue developing and spend less time in the NICU after he was born.
“At 27 weeks, when I first went into labor, my doctor told me how much of a difference it could make to prevent the birth from occurring too early,” said Bethany. “I was told for every day Leo stayed inside of me it would mean two less days he would have to spend in the NICU.”
Leo was born at 33 weeks, weighing 5 pounds and 13 ounces, about 2 pounds heavier than his big sister was at birth. Little Leo was monitored in HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital’s NICU for 21 days, half of the amount of time his sister had spent there.
“I was so pleased that I was able to carry Leo for 33 weeks,” said Bethany. “When I went into labor early, my physicians stopped my contractions, monitored the health of Leo and myself and then let me go home with a list of things to avoid so that my child could continue to grow and get stronger.”
Having two premature babies was a stressful experience for Bethany and her family.
Which is why Bethany will always remember the kindness and compassion her team of care givers gave her, as they recognized the need to give the young mom special attention during her time in the NICU.
“My nurse was there with me when I gave Vera her first bath,” said Bethany. “She was so little, and I was worried I might hurt her. My nurse just went through the steps I should take, and she let me process what was happening. I think she realized what a big deal this moment was for me and took the time to let me own it. We were never just a number at St. Vincent, my babies and me were shown so much compassion there.”
Thanks in part to the advanced level of care Bethany’s children received, today both Vera and Leo are thriving. In 2021, Vera started attending preschool, where her mother says no one would ever know that she was born premature. Meanwhile, Leo is reportedly trying to keep up with his big sister and was said to have been crawling at just 6 months old.