Almost 39 weeks ago, Kristine Casey set out on an unusual journey to help her daughter and answer a spiritual calling.
Her goal was achieved late Wednesday when she gave birth to her own grandson at age 61.
Crying and praying, Connell and her mother held hands as Finnean Lee Connell was delivered by cesarean section at 9:47 p.m.
When the baby let out a cry, "I lost it," said Sara Connell, the first family member to hold him. "It's such a miracle."
The doctor who delivered Finnean said there wasn't a dry eye in the crowded operating room.
"The surgery itself was uncomplicated, and the emotional context of this delivery was so profound," said Dr. Susan Gerber, obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Childbirth remains a rare event for post-menopausal women, but the number of such births has risen in recent years due to wider use of in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies. According to state health department records, the oldest woman to give birth in Illinois was 58 when she had her baby in 2006. But data on births after 2008 are not yet available.
Older women face greater risks during pregnancy and delivery, and experts say many women would not be good candidates.
"It's going to be more risky for somebody who's got underlying conditions," said Dr. Alan Peaceman, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, one of Casey's doctors. "Because of that, we recommend that patients have a cardiac evaluation."
The Connells decided in 2004 to try to have a baby, but Sara, now 35, soon discovered she wasn't ovulating. After undergoing infertility treatment at the Reproductive Medicine Institute in Evanston, she got pregnant but delivered stillborn twins, and later she suffered a miscarriage.
Casey's previous three pregnancies — her last was 30 years ago — went smoothly, resulting in three daughters. After Casey retired in 2007, she filled her time walking, meditating, taking classes and socializing with friends. But she felt she had a deeper calling.
"At the beginning of 2009," she said, "I decided for once in my life to take some time to think about my life and find something that seemed right for me — where there was no pressure to do a specific thing."
During a visit to Chicago — she lives in Virginia — Casey participated in a workshop led by Connell, a life coach, writer and lecturer on women's empowerment. 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?"
Woman, 61, gives birth to own grandchild
Her daughter had tried for years to have a baby
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