Aug. 30, 2012 at 11:12 AM ET
Cindy Morales will give birth to her own grandchild later Thursday.
Morales offered to serve as a surrogate for her daughter, Emily Jordan, after cervical cancer forced doctors to remove Emily's uterus to save her life. It was a gift neither Emily nor her husband, Mike, could have anticipated.
When Jordan was told she needed to have her uterus removed, she despaired of ever becoming a mom. Making it all more painful, on the eve of the surgery Emily’s doctor told her she was pregnant.
“She came up and over to the bed and she was shaking her head and said, ‘Emily I have to tell you we are required to run a pregnancy test before we start surgery and yours came back positive,’” Jordan told TODAY. “I can’t describe what that was like.”
The only saving grace was that Emily would be able to keep her ovaries – so she would have eggs that might later be used with Mike’s sperm to produce an embryo using in vitro fertilization – a test-tube baby
“For the treatment of cervical cancer it’s not necessary to remove the ovaries, so the decision was made to just take out the uterus alone and leave the ovaries in place,” fertility specialist Dr. Helen Kim told TODAY.
But Emily couldn’t carry a baby herself. They’d need a surrogate for that.
Emily’s mom stepped up.
“The thought of Emily and Mike … not being able to have children and share that piece of their lives with someone just broke my heart,” Morales said. “I want Emily to have that connection with another human being, like I had with her.”
Emily and Mike couldn’t imagine how this would work.
“Mike and I were both pretty much like, ‘I don’t think you can do that’,” Emily said. “You know she’s in her early 50s and we didn’t think that was a realistic option.”
Kim reassured them that it was.
“As women get older, sometimes their uterus develops abnormalities that make it difficult for them to carry a pregnancy,” said Kim, director of in vitro fertilization at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. “But her mom’s uterus was perfect.”
Morales isn’t the first mom to give birth to a grandchild. Earlier this month 49-year-old Linda Sirois gave birth to a grandson, acting as a surrogate for her daughter who has a heart condition that makes pregnancy too dangerous for her. And in 2008 a 56-year-old woman, Jaci Dalenberg, gave birth to her daughter’s triplets.
Morales herself worried about the possible health issues of becoming pregnant in her 50s.
“I worried about the physical ramifications of being pregnant at this age because I had no idea what to expect,” she told TODAY. “The end result of this is that two wonderful people are going to get to raise their baby.
Having a baby in your 50s can be more risky than when you’re younger, NBC medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. But the stresses on an older mom’s body can be mitigated if she’s especially healthy.
“What you saw in this case is how healthy grandma looks,” Snyderman said. “She’s fit and not heavy. She’s obviously not a smoker. She’s taken good care of her body.”
Still, Snyderman said, just like any surrogate, a grandmother wanting to carry her daughter’s child will need to take hormones to fool her body into thinking she’s still of reproductive age and going into pregnancy mode.
“She’s going to have to get hormones to plump up the lining of the uterus,” Snyderman explained. “And you always want a C-section because that’s what makes it safer.”
Beyond that, a little counseling might be a good idea for anyone who’s thinking about becoming a surrogate.
“A surrogate always has to remember that you’re a vessel, you’re not mom,” Snyderman said. “Even if it’s the mother’s daughter, you have to think about that.”
In the end, Emily wasn’t surprised when her mom made her offer.
“This is just the continuation of everything she has done her entire life for me, which is to make sure that I have the best life possible,” she told TODAY. “This just reaffirms everything I know about her and love about her.”