Pregnancies are often considered “geriatric” when the mother is over the age of 35. So we have questions about how Cecile Eledge of Omaha, Nebraska, was able to give birth to her granddaughter, Uma, at the age of 61 on Monday.
BuzzFeed reports that she did so to help her son, Matthew Eledge, start a family with his husband, Elliot Dougherty. The logistics alone are impressive: Uma’s biological parents are Matthew and his husband’s sister, Lea Yribe. These circumstances, and the women who helped them become a reality, allowed Matthew and Elliot to have a baby using DNA from both father’s families.
Although rare, Cecile’s fascinating story isn’t the first of its kind. In 2016, a woman in Greece gave birth to her granddaughter at the age of 67, and, earlier this year, a 55-year-old gave birth to her grandchild because her daughter—the baby’s biological mother—had a medical condition that prevented her from being able to have children.
Although fertility starts to decline for most women in their late 30s or 40s, it’s not impossible to have a baby, even one of your own, later in life. For example, last year a woman in Florida was surprised to find out she was pregnant at age 50; she gave birth to her son in December.
Health spoke to an expert to find out how Cecile’s unique pregnancy turned into a success story. Lisa Becht, MD, is a fertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center in New York City. Dr. Becht explains how a woman could have a baby under these circumstances if she hadn’t had a period in 10 years.
First, the patient would start taking estrogen, which works to thicken the lining of the uterus. After taking estrogen for a few months, she would take the hormone progesterone. After that, she would be ready to go through with an embryo transfer, at which time the donor egg and sperm would be placed in her uterus.
Matthew and Elliot had three embryos, so they had three chances of having a baby with Matthew and Lea’s genes. Sometimes, women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment will choose to have multiple embryos transferred with the hope that at least one will result in a full-term pregnancy. Occasionally when this happens, they’ll end up having more than one baby. Matthew and Elliot, on the advice of a doctor working with their family, decided against this route, since the risks associated with a 61-year-old woman having two babies instead of one were higher. The chance of a healthy woman getting pregnant the first time she tries IVF is about 60 to 65%, Dr. Becht says.
Wildly enough, once she’d jumped through all the hormonal hoops, Cecile’s chances of getting pregnant were the same as those of her egg donor, 25-year-old Lea.
Still, the plan was risky. Dr. Becht says the hormones Cecile took increased her chances of suffering from blood clots. Other potential side effects of taking estrogen and progesterone at her age include minor headaches, mood changes, vaginal discharge, and emotional complications. Gestational diabetes and blood pressure issues could also cause problems, Dr. Becht adds. Lastly, she says, a 61-year-old’s placenta doesn’t function the way a younger woman’s does, and can potentially be harmful to the child.
“Before [doctors] would consider allowing a 61-year-old to get pregnant, she would undergo rigorous testing,” Dr. Becht says, explaining that this would include routine blood work and perhaps an echocardiogram. She goes on to say that the odds were stacked against Cecile’s ability to carry the baby to term and deliver it vaginally. “Typically, we would have expected her to have some type of complication in pregnancy.” Dr. Becht says Columbia has a policy that keeps women Cecile’s age from trying what she took on. “Our cutoff would be 56,” she explains, adding that this rule prioritizes women’s safety.
For Cecile, the risks seemed like nothing compared to the possible payoff. She told BuzzFeed, “I thought if I could do it, I would do it. It was kind of a no-brainer.” Luckily, Uma’s delivery went smoothly, and she’s now happily settling in with Cecile and her fathers.
Matthew spoke to BuzzFeed about the long road that led to this moment. “I just want to stare at her. I’m looking at her—and this has been a two-year process.”
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