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It seems like a headline that just can’t possibly be true: A woman has given birth to her own grandchild. That’s exactly what happened, though, in Nebraska on March 25th, when 61-year-old Cecile Eledge gave birth to her granddaughter, Uma Louise.
Eledge acted as a surrogate for her son, Matthew Eledge, and his husband, Elliot Dougherty. The idea for Eledge to be the surrogate for her own grandchild stemmed from an off-hand joke she made to the couple when told her they were planning to start a family. As Matthew recalls it, Cecile said she would gladly step in as he and Elliot’s gestational carrier “in a heartbeat.”
At the time, neither the younger Eledge nor Dougherty thought much of Cecile’s remark. Cecile was post-menopausal, and 61 years old is well past the age past which many medical professionals recommend women give birth (even though the average age of new mothers has regularly increased over the past many years).
However, Dr. Carolyn Maud Doherty, who guided Matthew and Elliot through their surrogacy options, told them they could realistically consider Cecile’s offer. After all, Matthew and his siblings regularly teased their mother for being a health nut. Maybe the intensity of her health regimen, Doherty suggested, would prove her calling card for potential surrogacy.
Upon running a series of medical tests, doctors declared Cecile healthy enough to act as Matthew and Elliot’s surrogate. To begin the process, these doctors gave Cecile hormones that caused her to temporarily restart menstruating. Not long after, Elliot’s sister Lea Yribe donated an egg for doctors to inseminate with Matthew’s sperm. Following the very first attempt at an embryo transfer, Cecile became pregnant — and would go on successfully carry Uma Louise to term.
Cecile’s successful surrogacy was far from a guarantee. Doherty pointed out to everyone involved that Cecile could face challenges including pulmonary problems, blood clots, and the increased likelihood of birth via C-section. Ultimately, though, Cecile gave birth to Uma Louise without a C-section or any other complications.
According to Cecile’s obstetrician, Dr. Ramzy Nakad at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, it is extremely rare for medical professionals to encounter pregnant 61-year-olds. However, since Cecile acted as a surrogate and was not the baby’s actual birth mother, the health risks often associated with pregnancy in older women did not need to be as strongly considered. Nakad explains that, although all women aged 35 and older face higher risks of preeclampsia and genetic abnormalities during pregnancy, he had no concerns beyond these for Cecile during her pregnancy. Other than he and his colleagues exercising extra caution due to the rarity of the circumstances, he reported nothing out of the ordinary.
Cecile Eledge is not the oldest woman to give birth to her own grandchild, nor is she the first. Only three years ago, Greek 67-year-old Anastassia Ontou set the record for oldest surrogate mother by giving birth to her grandchild. In 1987, South African 47-year-old Pat Anthony gave birth to not just one grandchild, but three grandchildren. Anthony’s successful births led to a worldwide debate about ethics and surrogate pregnancy.