Mother-of-two Sonia Buckingham should buy a lotto ticket.
After being told she would never have children, due to the gynaecological disease endometriosis, the Invercargill woman beat the odds by bearing two babies, who are now in their teens.
But it was the most recent anomaly that blew medical experts away.The 41-year-old had her left ovary removed when she was a teenager, due to her condition. But nothing could prepare her for the shock, when an ultrasound revealed her missing ovary had grown back.
“I thought the radiographer was pulling my leg,“ says Sonia, who had the scan last year at her local hospital to check for a hernia.
“We actually had an argument and I asked to see his supervisor. She came through to view the ultrasound and confirmed there were two ovaries present.”
The medical team turned the screen around to show Sonia, and there it was, clear as day.
“It was smaller than the right one, but it was definitely an ovary,” Sonia says.
Sonia had a scan four years earlier, and no left ovary was detected. She was later told that tissue from the liver, tonsils and ovaries can regenerate.
Looking back at her medical notes, when she first had her ovary taken out, Sonia discovered the surgeon had left behind a “minute particle”.
“I was lost for words, blown away,” she admits.
It’s merely a continuation of Sonia’s ongoing saga with endometriosis, a condition that occurs when tissue that lines the uterus grows outside it.
Diagnosed at 19, Sonia had her left ovary and cysts removed to stop the excruciating pain.
“It was crippling. At times it literally felt like there was a hot poker inside of me,” she says.
Although surgery took away the pain and improved her quality of life, she was told in no uncertain terms that the possibility of her having children would be next to impossible.
“I had a five percent chance of conceiving, and if I did get pregnant, there was a 95% possibility I would miscarry,” she explains.
“I was devastated, because I had always loved children. I felt like I had lost my womanhood.”
Ten years after surgery, the pain had returned.
Sonia was living with her partner, and the couple decided to try IVF to start a family. But when she went to the doctor, it was suspected that she was already pregnant.
“I was given a test and told that it had come back positive. I replied, ‘Positive? For what?” she laughs.
The news came as a total surprise.
“I burst into tears. For most of my adult life, I had been told that I was infertile. Then, suddenly, I was going to have a baby.”
Sonia loved being pregnant, but knew she was fragile. Her condition meant there was a possibility she could lose the baby at any moment.
“Seeing the scan was mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe there was a baby inside of me with a heartbeat. I knew I had to make this work.”
Despite the hardships, Sonia gave birth to her eldest son Jaden (14), who was four weeks premature. Holding her newborn was a true blessing.
“I didn’t allow myself to get excited until my baby was safe in my arms, looking back at me and breathing. That was the best feeling ever,” she recalls.
Sonia proved she really could be a mother, against all odds, and so it was only natural she try for another.
“I wanted to strike while the iron was hot,” Sonia says with a smile.
On Jaden’s first birthday, she received more good news – she was pregnant with Calem (13).
Once again, carrying a baby was very difficult, and the threat of miscarriage was a constant presence. But Sonia fought hard to give birth to a second son, also premature.
“I got to hold another miracle child. Words cannot describe how special that moment was.”
Today, Sonia treasures the two special gifts she has been given. Every single birthday, she takes a photo of her sons at the exact time they were born, and has an impressive collection to remind her how lucky she is to be a mother.
Sonia hasn’t had an ultrasound since learning about the regrowth of her left ovary, and doesn’t know if it has grown any further. She also has no plans to have any more children, now that her ovary has grown back.
But she hopes that women who are struggling with endometriosis, and want to have children, will be inspired by her story.
“Don’t give up on your hopes and dreams,” she says. “I was told for most of my life that I couldn’t have children, and I’m living proof that miracles can happen.”
New Zealand gynaecologist Dr Bernie Brenner says having an ovary grow back is an unusual phenomenon – one that he’s never seen before.
“If you take out the whole ovary and leave nothing, it’s impossible for anything to happen,” he explains. “But if you leave a small amount of ovarian tissue with follicles in it, then it can develop. You can get ovarian cysts and functioning ovarian tissue still being maintained.”
Photos: Paula Brown • Make-up: Prescilla Fuller