Kristine Casey became a grandma for the first time last week. Finnean Lee Connell arrived by C-section as Casey and her daughter, Sara Connell, held hands. The moment was particularly poignant for Casey, 61, because she had also given birth to Finnean.
(Go back and read that again; I’ll wait.) Casey is not unique in her ability to deliver a child in her 60s. An aging uterus, when pumped with hormones, acts like a youthful one. But this story is not about gaping at the fact that Casey was approaching senior citizenship when she gave birth. It’s about the reasons behind why she did what she did. (More on Time.com: 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))
Casey volunteered to act as a surrogate for her daughter, Sara, and Sara’s husband, Bill Connell, who tried for years to have a baby. It’s Sara’s egg and Bill’s sperm that made Finnean. The Chicago couple are the biological parents; Casey, from Virginia, was the incubator.
Susan Gerber, the obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who delivered Finnean, described nary a dry eye in the room. “The emotional context of this delivery,” she told the Chicago Tribune, “was so profound.” (More on Time.com: Photos: Pregnant Belly Art)
That sounds like an understatement. For expectant parents, relying on a surrogate to take care of their baby-to-be must be an excruciating experience in trust. They can only hope that the surrogate eats healthy and steers clear of alcohol, illegal drugs and many prescription drugs, too. But when that surrogate is the grandma? Somehow, there doesn’t seem as much to be concerned about. The stereotype of doting grandparent can begin from the moment of implantation.
But there are other concerns. For example, does the grandmother feel more entitled to be involved in the raising of the child? (Apparently, she doesn’t.) And what about health-related issues? (Casey, in fact, did have some kidney-related complications after delivery; they were quickly addressed.) Pregnancy is riskier the older a woman gets, which is why some fertility clinics limit the age of surrogates. At the University of Chicago Medical Center, for example, 55 is the cut-off. (More on Time.com: Teens Answer: Why I Had a Baby)
Connell started trying to get pregnant in 2004. After seeking infertility treatment, she got pregnant but delivered stillborn twins. She later suffered a miscarriage. Then in 2009, Casey attended a workshop led by her daughter, a life coach and lecturer on women’s empowerment. According to the Tribune:
In one class exercise, she used pictures cut from a magazine to create a collage depicting a life’s goal. One picture grabbed her attention: an ostrich with an expression of wonder and joy. Casey wanted to experience the exuberance captured in the picture.
Around the same time, a walking partner mentioned a story she had read about a post-menopausal woman who gave birth. ”I thought, ‘Wow, three of the happiest days of my life were giving birth to my daughters,’ and I thought I could choose to do this for someone I love,” Casey said.
Casey later wrote a letter to the Connells offering to be Sara’s surrogate. ” I found something that would make me feel like that ostrich,” she wrote. “What do you think of this?”
To bystanders, the scenario sounds improbable, unsettling and too good to be true, all at once. My own mother was entranced. “I totally would have done that for you,” she told me over the phone. “I think it’s fabulous.” (More on Time.com: IVF Linked to Elevated Maternal Death Rate)
And ethically, it’s really no big deal, Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, told the Tribune.
“It seems like an unquestionably loving and generous thing for a family member to do,” she said. “It’s a great story to tell the child.”