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How did a Grandma give birth to her own granddaughter?

On Jan. 6, a very special delivery happened at The Medical Center of Plano in Texas: a grandmother, who was acting as a gestational carrier (the more updated version of what we used to call a surrogate) for her very own daughter, delivered her healthy granddaughter via a C-section.

You may be wondering how exactly this works — how does a 54-year-old postmenopausal woman become pregnant, and with the embryo of her daughter? We’ve got your answers here for the top questions that may arise from this wonderful, yet unusual, birth story.

How does a woman who has gone through menopause become pregnant?

It’s true that pregnancy is supposed to be impossible after a woman’s periods stop, but through the wonder of modern science a postmenopausal woman can in fact go on to carry a baby! Essentially, a combination of hormones is given that help to simulate the pregnant state and support the growth of a baby. This is done prior to the implantation of a fertilized embryo, known as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Does being pregnant at this older age carry any risks?

It certainly does, both for mom and for baby. We know that women who are considered to be of advanced maternal age, which is above the age of 35, are at higher risk for complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and the need to deliver by C-section. There are also increased chances of having a miscarriage or of stillbirth, as well as a higher chance that a baby will be born small or preterm. Because of this, these pregnancies are considered high-risk and additional testing and monitoring are often done to ensure everyone involved is healthy.

Would it have been better to use a younger surrogate?

Possibly for certain risks, but this woman’s age alone is not the only factor to take into consideration. A younger woman who is obese, smokes, or doesn’t exercise may actually be a less ideal gestational carrier than this particular grandmother, for example. Age is only a small part in choosing an appropriate gestational carrier.

Does being related bring about any concerns?

Not along the lines of genetic disorders, since the baby is genetically not at all related to the grandmother (the egg and sperm of the parents were used and implanted through IVF, so the baby is completely genetically theirs). In fact, being related may actually make the legal logistics of this much simpler since the parties involved are all bonded in a way that is more than just about the delivery of the baby. As long as everyone gets along, this is probably one of the more ideal gestational carrier scenarios!

When considering the usage of gestational carriers, should relatives be considered?

Sure, if you are lucky to have relatives who would consider giving this amazing gift. Just being related, however, isn’t the only thing to consider though. The overall health (both physical and mental) must be taken into consideration when choosing a gestational carrier. Obviously this is not an agreement entered into lightly, and usually requires undergoing appropriate advising, counseling, medical screening, and extensive legal arrangements before proceeding.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Bundoo OB/GYN

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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