A woman who underwent pioneering surgery to have her vagina rebuilt using her bowel is now waiting for a womb transplant or surrogate in a bid to finally become a mum.
Tara Gratton, 37, claims doctors were left baffled by her 'partially formed' vagina before she was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKS) - a congenital disorder that affects the female reproductive system.
After being diagnosed with the most severe form aged 14, the support worker was told she had no vaginal tunnel, no womb, no cervix, no Fallopian tubes, and only one kidney.
Tara was left devastated after realising she'd never be able to carry her own child but after meeting partner, Stuart Pretswell, 34, the couple began researching their options.
She opted to have her vaginal tunnel rebuilt through using her bowel as a teenager and is now on the waiting list for a womb transplant - with the couple now hoping, through using her own eggs, they'll be able to start their own family.
Tara, from Stakeford, Northumberland, said: 'At 14 years old I was diagnosed and had my first surgery so I'd be able to have sex as an adult.'
'I had a vaginal tunnel built from my bowel as only part of my vagina had formed properly.'
'My surgery was a risky one as it involved using two inches of my bowel to create a new tunnel opening.
'I was really young but naturally I was embarrassed about my condition back then as it was so rare.
'Since then I have met my partner, Stuart, and we're desperate to have a family after meeting four years ago.
'I don't have a womb so the next surgery I need is a womb transplant.
'It would be amazing to have our own family to show others anything is possible.'
Tara was first diagnosed with constant kidney infections before doctors did further tests and realised she had MRKS - a rare disorder that affects 1 in 5,000 females, in varying degrees.
She added: 'My parents had originally taken me to the doctors when I was three, as I kept having kidney infections and nothing seemed able to stop them.
'I spent a long time in Newcastle Children's Hospital and with antibiotics, it was eventually managed quite well.
'It took them a long time to discover what was actually causing all my problems, and doctors even said, it was the first time they'd ever seen a girl like me.'
Tara decided to have the invasive vagina surgery at 14 to give herself a normal future.
She added: 'After the surgery I had to have lots of dilation therapy - which essentially stretched my vagina.
'Doctors thought I didn't have any ovaries but as I grew older, I discovered that they were wrong - I did have ovaries which meant it was possible for me to have children - but I would have to go through IVF and alternative routes.'
After finding her current partner Stuart, also a support worker, Tara was open about her condition and together they're excited about the prospect of starting a family together.
Tara has since applied for the womb transplant trial, that has only recently become a viable option.
The first baby from a womb transplant from a deceased donor was born in December of last year.
However, with a long waiting list, Tara is also looking into surrogacy as a possible path.
Tara said: 'We have two embryos in storage and are raising money to cover any potential costs from surrogacy.
'Now I want to help others like me by speaking out.
'It took me a long time to get a diagnosis, and to find help - but with more awareness, more support could become available.'
Tabitha Taya, founder of LivingMRKH, one of the UK's only support groups, said: 'We first met Tara back in 2013 after she reached out to us after she read our LivingMRKH founder’s story in a daily newspaper.
'It is now a pleasure to work with her in sharing her message to help others. We have since got to know Tara through several social gatherings held to support those living with this condition.
'We all have dreams and aspirations, to be a mother is one of Tara’s and we wish her and her partner all the very best.
'The road to parenthood for those with MRKH can be challenging, but not impossible, it's important to remember the condition does not define us and there are options available to make our journey a little less stressful and isolating!
'We hope Tara’s courage to share her journey provides hope and inspiration to our fellow community.'