Can you imagine a 21-day period? For this British woman, two vaginas meant two cycles.
Viewers were shocked by the latest guest on The Tyra Show. On Friday, 29-year-old Lauren Williams announced on the show that she had been born with two vaginas, drawing gasps of dismay from the audience. No less startling to many women watching the show was Williams' confession that the condition seems to give her two menstrual cycles, as she says her periods last 21 days. In addition to two vaginas—which she has since had surgery to merge into one—the young English woman also has two cervixes and two uteruses.
Shocking and unlikely though it may seem, Williams' condition is not unheard of. In fact, it even has a name. Uterus didelphys, or double uterus, is not as rare as it might seem. It often goes undiagnosed because many women are unaware that they have a double vagina, which makes it hard to say how many women suffer from the condition. Roger Harms, Ph.D., a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Clinic, estimates that as many as two to three percent of women have the condition. Harms says he has advised eight or nine women with double uterus this year alone. Not all manifestations of the condition involve double vagina, cervix and uterus. Some women may only have a double uterus, for example.
Uterus didelphys can cause complications in pregnancy, leading to miscarriages or premature birth, but it is possible, as Williams’ own doctor told her, to have a healthy pregnancy. The condition in and of itself does not require treatment unless patients have pain or suffer from repeated miscarriages. Women who have a double uterus can usually still engage in normal sexual activity, become pregnant, and deliver, though they tend to have a higher rate of infertility, miscarriages, premature birth and breech presentations.
Symptoms of a double uterus include excessive premenstrual or menstrual pain as well as excessively heavy bleeding during periods. It’s easy enough for a woman to overlook the condition if she has it, though gynecologists will often find abnormalities during routine pelvic exams, which is what occurred in Williams' case. "Most obstetricians have seen this before," says Harms.
Formal diagnosis often involves an MRI, ultrasound or hysterosalpingography, which is a special type of X-ray. Surgery is not generally necessary, as the condition is not life-threatening. Women diagnosed with double uterus should consult with their doctors regularly if they experience negative symptoms, are planning for pregnancy, or are already pregnant. “The odds of successful pregnancy with this condition are actually quite good,” Harms adds.
He says his greater concern for women with uterus didelphys is for their kidneys because the same birth defects that lead to double uterus or bicornuate uterus—the condition with which Williams was originally misdiagnosed—can also lead to abnormalities of the kidneys. "If you have diagnosed uterus abnormalities, you should also have an ultrasound of your kidneys to make sure there are no problems there," he advises.