When Kirsty Browne gave birth to little Baxter four months ago, he entered the world one of the first babies of his kind.
Little Baxter, in all his tiny-toed glory, grew inside his mother’s stomach. A largely unremarkable concept until, of course, you learn Kirsty didn’t have a cervix when she fell pregnant with him. Some three years before, at the age of just 26, she had hers removed after a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
“I had had an abnormal pap smear before, and because I work in healthcare, I went back again after maybe nine months,” Kirsty tells Mamamia. “Luckily, I asked for a more expensive test, a slightly better quality test, and it picked [the cancer] up. A routine pap smear may not have been able to pick that up.”
The test Kirsty requested back in 2014 is similar to the new cervical screening program that replaced regular, two-yearly pap smears at the end of last year. A new study by the Cancer Council NSW found the new screening process will lead to “dramatically lowered cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Australian women”.
In fact, between now and 2035, researchers predict the new screening will avert over 2,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer and save 587 women’s lives.
A test like that saved Kirsty's life, but with it came a diagnosis that suggested she would never be able to carry her own baby.
"I was shocked, obviously. Because I work in healthcare, I knew what was possible and I just sprung into action straight away. It all happened, very, very quickly. You just do what you have to do."
One of those things was immediately freezing her eggs and coming to terms with what treatment and surgery would mean for her fertility.
While most women with a similar diagnosis are rushed into a complete hysterectomy, doctors instead performed a trachelectomy on Kirsty. A trachelectomy involves removing the cervix and surrounding structure and stitching up the base of her uterus.
"I worked in fertility for three years, so I was very, very aware of the fact that we aren't as fertile as we think we are, even before we have our reproductive system chopped out.
"So [fertility] was at the forefront of my mind."
Naturally, it wasn't just fertility that was consuming Kirsty with stress.
"I was just reading before, that more than one in four women diagnosed with cervical cancer die within five years. I just had to stop reading articles because I was freaking myself out so much."
Two years after surgery and surviving the cancer, Kirsty met her now husband Murray. She was honest and transparent with him from the beginning about her ability to fall pregnant and carry their future children.
"I had to tell him almost straight away, that if we were to have kids, we'd have to adopt. I had to tell him I had half a uterus and I would not be able to carry a baby."
Remarkably, somehow, it happened.
"We fell pregnant almost without trying. It was about two months before the wedding and I said to [Murray], falling pregnant can take six to 12 months and then we just... fell pregnant. I was terrified. I thought this was the dumbest thing I'd ever done.
"As far as we were concerned, it hadn't been done before. We were told there was no one who had successfully carried a baby after a trachelectomy."
When Kirsty and Murray met with her oncologist to ask how the pregnancy would work in the years after surviving cancer, and how other cases like hers came to be, his response was telling: He hadn't seen anyone like her before.
The pregnancy itself wasn't easy. She had weekly scans every Tuesday and was on bed rest from 25 weeks. For the last month, she was in hospital.
But at 35 weeks, Baxter came into the world "fine and well".
"It's been very surreal, I feel like I'm living two lives. I had one life where I was a cancer patient who couldn't have a baby, and there's another life whether I'm a cancer patient who actually could.
"I am so lucky to live in Australia. We have so many measures fall in to place that meant someone who had a rare, aggressive form of cancer is not only still here, but here as a mum."
If it wasn't for that pap smear, Kirsty admits she "may or may not have survived".
"If I had waited a year or later, I would've been fighting for my life and not just fertility. The message is, if you are overdue, go.
"After spending two years thinking that I couldn't ever carry a baby to actually carrying one... it's amazing. I'm very lucky."
Did you know around 50 per cent of women feel ashamed about their vaginas? Here's why you need to get one.