Why One Woman Donated Her Uterus to a Stranger

9 minute read

In November, a woman born without a uterus gave birth to a healthy baby for the first time in the United States. The birth was part of an ongoing clinical trial at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, where doctors are transplanting uteruses from living or deceased donors into women who do not have them.

Taylor Siler, a 36-year-old registered nurse from Dallas, donated her uterus to the woman who recently gave birth—a complete stranger to Siler. Siler underwent surgery and 12 weeks of recovery as part of the trial. TIME met with Siler soon after the birth to talk about why she decided to donate her uterus, and spoke to her again over the phone after she met the recipient in person.

How did you find out about the transplant trial?

I follow Channel 8 on Facebook, and I saw they did a little story on the trial. My husband and I had talked about doing surrogacy in depth and decided it was not the route we wanted to go, so I saw that on Facebook and I was like, “Hey, what about this?’” My husband said, “Check into it.”

As a nurse, medically, I think this is amazing and cutting-edge and new. It gives someone the opportunity they were told they would never have.

Why were you initially interested in surrogacy?

My husband and I have been together for a long time. There was a time right after we got married where I was just like, “I don’t think I want kids. We are having fun and can do whatever we want, and it’s awesome.” We had a real sit-down conversation and he said, “I want kids,” and I said, “Ok.” We hashed everything out and we had two kids. That first time they lay that baby in your arms, it’s like, “Ok, who would ever pass this up?” It was great.

Our church does a lot with fostering and adoption, and that’s not where we are at right now. I thought about surrogacy because then we can still help someone in some way have a baby. I have a giving heart and I have a giving family. That’s just how I was raised.

Is there anything that spurred the desire to help another woman have a baby?

When a family member had trouble, I told my husband, “If she can’t do it, we are going to help her.” We were fairly young and newly married. He said, “Wait, you said you didn’t want to have kids.” I said, “Yes, but I would have hers.” She’s a fabulous mom, she deserved to have kids. That probably sparked it in the beginning. Then we had kids, and it came up again.

Did you and your husband decide to not have more children?

Oh, yes. After our second one was born, probably within a year, we took care of that issue. We knew we didn’t want to be outnumbered. Man-on-man defense is the way to go. We always talked about how two for sure would be our max.

Did you tell anyone about the surgery?

Yes, my family. We go to church—it’s very important. Prayer, I know from my past, works. I knew if I had people on my side praying for me and for my recipient that this was just going to go smoothly. I told my family and said, “You can’t tell anyone else.”

Did you ever question going through with it?

The morning of the surgery. As a nurse, you know what surgery entails. It’s tough on the body. I don’t think any of that really sank in until I was lying in the hospital bed with an IV in my arm and I was like, “Hmm, what was I thinking?” I was getting back in shape, and I was thinking, “I have to stop working out for 12 weeks. The kids are at that age where it’s a lot of fun, and do I really want to be out of commission for 12 weeks?” Then I was just like, “Yes.” Because none of that matters. It’s not about me. My little 12 weeks is nothing compared to what I can give this lady.

How did you reckon with the fact that you could donate your uterus, and it could not work out?

I believed, because of my faith, that it would work. If it didn’t, that’s just more information that they have to potentially get it right for the next one, or the one after that. It’s research. Some things work, some things don’t. Luckily, this worked.

What was the procedure like for you?

I don’t remember the procedure. I thought the recovery went great; I felt back to normal in a week. I am not a sit-around-and-do-nothing kind of person, so I was working from home the next week, and then I went back to work the next week. There were a few hiccups here and there. Not complications, just side effects.

When did you find out the recipient was pregnant?

She told me in a letter in the summer. I cried. I got the letter and didn’t open it until I got home. We were sitting at our neighbors house, I was reading it, and I got to the part and I started crying. I said, “She’s pregnant! We are having a baby!” They all looked at me, and I was like, “She’s having a baby, but it’s kind of like we’re having a baby.”

How did you find out about the birth?

Baylor told me. I cried again. There’s just something about this that is so amazing and I just get teary-eyed. This worked, and it will hopefully work for more people. I just can’t explain how excited I am. There are no words to describe it.

Sometimes the women in these trials face comments from people asking why they don’t adopt or do surrogacy. How would you respond to that?

People ask that question to people who have functioning uteruses and can’t get pregnant. It’s not easy, and maybe that’s not your path. I thought about surrogacy—that’s a whole different path. I have friends who have adopted kids and they love those kids as if they had had them themselves. That’s what worked for them. I don’t think it works that way for everyone, but we are all different, and there’s a different option for everyone. This is just a different option.

What do you hope will come from this trial?

Hope for people like my recipient. Hope for other women out there who struggle or are told, “You cannot have a baby.” I am going to cry just thinking about it. It’s not fair. There are people out there who have babies that don’t bat an eye, and then I have family members who struggled to have babies. Luckily they’ve all had babies and they are wonderful mothers. If we can give more people that option, I think that’s an awesome thing. This is just another avenue to give women a chance.

What advice would you give to women who are considering a trial like this?

Don’t be afraid. Investigate. You don’t know until you ask questions. You don’t have to go through with it. Does it change you? A little bit, but for the better.

People ask, how much are they paying you? I am not getting paid anything. Why do I have to get paid to help somebody? It’s not about that. It’s about providing something for someone else. You’re being a good human. We need more good humans in this world.

Do you think about the recipient?

Oh, every day. For her to take this chance too is a big deal. She took a risk too. I think about what an amazing person she must be to go to these lengths to have a baby. If someone had told me I couldn’t have a kid, what would I have said? Luckily, I didn’t have that problem. But yes, I think about her every day. And I probably will for the rest of my life.

What was it like meeting in person?

Before going in, I told my husband I had butterflies. It was great, a little awkward as you are meeting a stranger, but hugs all around. Getting to hold the baby was the best thing ever. It was the best day of 2017. I have been on cloud nine since.

What was it like to hold the baby?

It wasn’t like holding any other baby I’ve ever held, other than my own. I was just like, wow, he’s here, and this is amazing. He was just beautiful and sweet.

What did you talk about?

We brought a couple gifts and she said, “I can’t believe you brought gifts, you gave us a baby.” It’s tradition in my family to give a charm when you become a mom, and we gave her one. She said, “I just don’t know how to say thank you enough.” I said it was my honor to be able to do this and that this worked. We showed them pictures of our kids. We talked about our pregnancies and how things went for us versus them.

Will you stay in touch?

If they are willing to do that with me, I would love that. I feel like I want to talk to them every day. It hits you that it’s really real, and it really did happen, and we were able to be a part of it. I am so blessed and honored that they were willing to meet us.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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