This is not science fiction! Some women really have two wombs. 

The uterus, often referred to as the womb, is the tiny but super important organ that sits towards the bottom of a woman’s abdomen. When a woman becomes pregnant, a child spends their time from conception to birth inside the uterus. This is also the organ from which unused eggs are expelled by means of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The overwhelming majority of women have one uterus.

Some women have a medical condition called uterus didelphys. In layman’s terms, that means a woman has a double uterus. In some cases, a woman with a double uterus also has a double vagina and a double cervix. Many women do not realize they have this disease until they become pregnant. What causes a double uterus, and how does it affect the lives of women who have it?

Why do some women have a double uterus?

Uterus didelphys is a birth defect. As a fetus grows, cell groups split and fuse in an exact manner to form the organs and bones. For a woman with one uterus, two tubes of cells fuse together to form a single uterus. Sometimes, the cells do not properly fuse together, and a woman is left with a double uterus.

Women with kidney abnormalities have statistically higher incidences of uterus didelphys than the general population. Still, scientists have not been able to identify a single cause for the disease. There is an unproven hypothesis that uterus didelphys is passed on genetically.

Garon Piceli/Pexels
Garon Piceli/Pexels

The extent to which uterus didelphys has an impact on a woman’s life can vary greatly. In most cases, symptoms start to present themselves when a woman gets her menstrual cycle, and symptoms often become even more evident when a woman becomes sexually active.

Menstrual cycles are especially heavy because ovulation and the shedding of the menses is happening in two separate wombs. The heavy blood loss often necessitates that women with this condition take birth control regularly. Sexual intercourse usually worsens the condition because only one uterus at a time can be involved. The unused uterus becomes smaller and more symptomatic over time.

Treatments and long-term health issues

Uterus didelphys is not simply an abnormality. It can be an extremely painful and life-altering disease. During the menstrual cycle, women with two wombs experience double the pain, and many women suffer through it for years before doctors discover the root of the problem. Intrauterine contraceptive devices are only effective for one uterus. Women who are not aware that they have a double womb have a high-risk of unplanned pregnancy when using this form of contraceptive.

Some women report that uterus didelphys makes sexual intercourse painful. The process of pregnancy can also be extremely complicated for women with two wombs. This condition increases the risk of miscarriages and premature births. Cervical insufficiency, a condition where the cervix begins to dilate too early before birth, is commonly associated with uterus didelphys. With attentive medical care, it is possible for women with two wombs to deliver a healthy, full-term baby.

For women who also have a double vagina and a double cervix, the condition can be discovered during a routine pelvic exam. Usually, an ultrasound or an MRI is necessary to confirm the presence of a double womb. It can often go undiagnosed because doctors tend to overlook women in pain.

Doctors are very conservative about treating uterus didelphys. The extent to which the disease is life-altering depends heavily upon the size difference between the two wombs. Women who also have a double cervix and double vagina usually experience more severe symptoms that can hinder normal intercourse and childbirth.

To treat the disease, doctors perform surgery to remove the septum, or wall of skin, that divides the two wombs. Similar surgery can also be performed to correct a double cervix or vagina. Since surgery is invasive, treatment is reserved for women who are experiencing severe symptoms. There is a push to raise awareness about uterus didelphys so that doctors will consider the possibility for women and teenagers with painful, heavy menstrual cycles.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

The battle to eradicate period poverty | Living 101                                                                           

Learn how menstrual health is especially important for impoverished women. 

Why does PMS make you crave junk food? | Living 101                                                                         

It’s the age-old question we all want an answer to.