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Exercise During Pregnacy to Make your Baby Smart!

As Holiday Season approaches many of us find ourselves munching on more cookies, eating more pie and indulging in bigger meals. It’s easy to do as the weather is cooler and you may be surrounded by friends and family and lots of yummy goodies. Although pregnancy is not a time to diet, it is perfectly ok and even recommended to exercise, especially when you need to offset some extra helpings of stuffing or pumpkin pie.

Not only is exercise good for maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight, it’s also good for your brain, nerves and self-esteem. More recently researchers are uncovering new benefits of exercise to the developing fetus. Two studies presented a few weeks ago at the Society of Neuroscience suggest that exercise during pregnancy gives unborn children a neurological advantage with “more mature and effective brain patterns.” Dave Ellemberg, a neuroscientists at the University of Montreal says active moms can give their kids “a kickstart even before they are born.” He continues, “What we found is that there’s this amazing transfer from what the mother does onto her child.”

What better motivation is there to exercise since not only are you improving your own body and mind during pregnancy but that of your unborn child’s at the same time. Another recent study performed at Dartmouth University found similar results with the potential for exercise to leave “long-lasting effects on the behavior and cognitive function of the offspring.”

Even as little as thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise can help with weight gain, mood and prepare mothers for labor, says Laura Riley, Director of labor and delivery and obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital. She continues, that pregnant women who exercise are more mobile throughout their pregnancy and report less aches and pains during pregnancy.

How much you exercise and the type of exercise you choose to do should depend on your fitness level. In general it is recommended that women should continue the exercise they already do and just adjust the level to their weight and abilities as the pregnancy progresses. Even just walking will do wonders for your body and your baby.

There are obvious safety precautions such as staying clear of contact sports or those that require advanced coordination, such as biking (maybe consider a stationary bike). Also steer clear of exercise that involves flat on the back positions that can cause back strain or cut off the blood flow. Also you should not do abdominal work since those muscles are stretched to support your baby.

Most importantly stay in tune with your body and take more frequent breaks. Also, be sure to hydrate more often as your body will need more liquids when you are pregnant. Finally be sure to be in close communication with your doctor on all exercise you pursue to make sure it is recommended and safe.

Is the Uber-Fit Facebook Mom of 3 Sending the Right Message?

ExcuseA very fit mom of three has recently caused quite a bit of controversy over a photo of herself and her three young children she posted on Facebook. In the photo the 32 year old, Maria Kang, poses in a skimpy workout outfit to reveal washboard abs and an incredibly toned physique. Her three young sons surround her on the floor with ages attached to each, 8 months, 2 years, and 3 years.

However, the part that seems to have set off the viral spiral of this photo is the seemingly accusatory remark that looms over this attractive young family, “What’s your excuse?”

Since we now live in an age of social media where anything seemingly harmlessly posted on Facebook, tweeted or Instagramed is no longer personal and can quickly go viral in a cause an otherwise ordinary person to be an overnight web sensation with good or bad publicity. Maybe this young women did not mean to offend her followers but when a posting like this takes off to the mass public, people feel compelled to share their opinions and emotional reactions to it and the originator of the post/photo.

In my opinion, I do believe it’s commendable that this healthy mom has been able to achieve such an incredibly fit physique after having three young children in less than four years. However she is by far the exception to the average woman’s body after three kids and the caption, “What’s your excuse?”, comes off as accusatory and egotistical rather than inspiring as she says claims she intended it to be. Maybe a better caption should have read “You can do it too!” or “Love the Babies but shed the Baby Fat!”

She probably could have cashed in big on a postpartum exercise DVD or established a new career as a top personal trainer, inspirational speaker, blogger, etc. Instead a remark reading the wrong way seems to just add more shame to the rest of us with young babies, especially those of us who can never seem to kick those last 10 pounds (or more) of post baby weight.

Kang explains, “I wanted to inspire people,” she explains, adding that the “What’s your excuse?” part was simply a borrowed, popular phrase that’s been used in various “fitspiration” campaigns. “I wanted to say, ‘I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too.’” Maybe that caption would have translated better…

Kang, of Sacramento, California, is a former pageant queen and fitness competitor who founded the nonprofit Fitness Without Borders in 2007. Ironically, she’s also a recovering bulimic. Kang says she understands why some people reacted so defensively. “I think people struggle with their weight. When you add on being a mother — and the pressures we face to have it all and be everything, including fit — the expectations are so high. I think some moms saw the picture and just said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” But still, she says, “I felt really frustrated. Being called a bad mother and a bad person definitely hurts.”

Although Kang posted this photo a year ago to her Facebook page, it only recently went viral. She recently reposted it to her 72,000 followers along with a “sort of” apology.

“I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two businesses, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life.”

This apology/response which started off well seemed to end with the same accusatory tone her initial photo caption embodied. Clearly this addendum did not help her case to water down the haters. On the other hand her critics have not been too tactful in their retaliation calling her a “bully” and blaming her for the body shaming problem in the country, etc.

I think the learnings we can take from this are that moms everywhere feel they need support not criticism, especially from other moms. Women have long struggled with body image, multitasking and balancing life with children, work and other demands, let alone working out to achieve their pre-baby body or better. It is encouraging and inspiring to see that it can be done, albeit by a gorgeous beauty queen mom who may be a few years younger than many of us middle aged moms who have to work harder with bodies that are less forgiving after multiple pregnancies. Now I too am going on a bit of a rampage, although hopefully not a hateful one. I do admire someone that can achieve this level of fitness with or without children and marvel even more that a mom of three young children who can accomplish this feat (assuming there’s not a lot of airbrushing going on here).

But again, I really don’t think her caption or tone of apology was appropriate. I also think that in this social media frenzy age we have regular ordinary people becoming celebrities overnight with viral photos and videos. These ordinary people are not used to this level of media attention and are usually totally blindsided and unprepared for the sudden level scrutiny and feedback that follows. Maybe we should think twice before tweeting or Facebook posting something that may sound hurtful or mean. Having babies and taking care of children is an amazing job and a tremendously challenging job that is a lifetime commitment. Most of us are surprised by the level of responsibility and commitment as well as the level of love and attachment we feel for our kids. It’s sometimes hard to find the time or justify the time to take care of ourselves, our health and our bodies. But we should take care of ourselves and we should support and not shame one another.

Light During Pregnancy Is Important For Fetal Eye Development

A fascinating new study of mice during pregnancy, leads evidence that pregnant humans also need light during pregnancy to aid in proper fetal eye development.

A new study conducted by scientists from Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and recently published in the journal Nature, reveals information about the importance of sunlight during pregnancy for the eyesight of babies that are born prematurely. The study concluded that the eye, which requires light in order to see, also needs light to develop normally during pregnancy.

Co-author Richard Lang, PhD, a researcher in the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said:

“This fundamentally changes our understanding of how the retina develops. We have identified a light-response pathway that controls the number of retinal neurons. This has downstream effects on developing vasculature in the eye and is important because several major eye diseases are vascular diseases.”

Lang collaborated with David Copenhagen, PhD, a scientist in the departments of Opthalmology and Physiology at UCSF. Mouse models were used in their study which produced surprising outcomes:

Copenhagen commented, “Several stages of mouse eye development occur after birth. Because of this, we had always assumed that if light played a role in the development of the eye, it would also happen only after birth.”

The researchers in the current study revealed that the activation of the newly labeled light-response pathway must occur during pregnancy in order to achieve the precisely planned program that creates a normal eye. They point out that it is crucial for the right number of photons to reach the mother’s body by late term pregnancy.

The team of scientists completed several experiments using laboratory mouse models that let them look at the light-response pathway’s purpose and parts. Mice were raised in darkness, and in a regular day-night cycle starting at late term pregnancy to examine the comparative outcomes on vascular progression of the eye.

The scientists confirmed the purpose of the light response pathway by changing an opsin gene in mice known as Opn4 that creates melanopsin which stops the initiation of the photo pigment.

The melanopsin protein is there in both humans and mice during pregnancy. The authors say they will continue to examine how the light-response pathway might impact the probability of pre-term babies developing retinopathy of prematurity and its relatedness to other eye conditions.

So get outside and into the sunlight during your pregnancy as much as possible on a regular basis. The natural light not only helps your mood but is essential for your baby’s healthy eye development!

Learning To Say “NO”, Everyone Mom and Expecting Mom’s Right and Prerogative!

This week I was out sick with some version of the flu. Admittedly I got a flu shot a few months ago, so I’m not positive it was the flu, but it was not pleasant and had me coughing and sneezing in my bed for most of the week. I can only imagine that it would have been ten times worse if I had not gotten the flu shot. So at this point I am at a loss with how to qualify it, do I say “I have the flu” and provoke everyone’s sympathy and judgment (for assuming I did not get a flu shot) or just go with the generic “I’m sick” description to include any and everything and maybe leave some doubt as to how sick I truly am. The short and long of it is that I am really sick and should not be around the general public coughing and sneezing involuntarily and generally spreading my germs to innocent children, parents, preschool teachers and strangers alike.

I did find, however, there is a silver lining in this yucky sinus infection I am a victim to. That lining revealed itself with a “get out of jail free” card that I have been using like a madwomen on every single engagement and activity I have been assigned to this week. It has been nice to “just say no” and have no guilt for an entire week of getting out of an overbooked schedule of school volunteering, carpooling, field trips, gym classes, and even social engagements with friends. With the exception of getting my kids out the door in the morning to their respective schools and preschools and aiding with their homework and dinners in the evening, I largely have been at my own disposal for most of the week which has been nothing short of lovely. My husband has pitched in more to let me grab an extra 15 minutes or so of sleep in the morning. He has helped with my 4 year old’s transportation to preschool by re-arranging his business meetings. I opted out of the fieldtrip to the library, lunch with a friend, my scheduled workout at the gym, my hosting of a dinner with friends, a design meeting to redo my bathroom, volunteer ski coaching this weekend and some other volunteering at the school and church. Instead I have enjoyed some much needed time alone to read the news, a novel, a few self help books that I find interesting and insightful, some time to shop online for much needed furniture for the house and a great excuse to go to bed an hour earlier. Even my babysitter the other day took pity on me to do the extra dishes in the sink and vacuum all the kids’ rooms. Overall it’s been a pretty good deal. My mother even called worried about me and telling me “to get to the doctor right away!” I didn’t get to the doctor but I drank in the extra maternal attention and felt loved like child. Just this morning I felt like a real hero trudging to the bus stop with my kids. Wrapped in extra layers of clothes, hair array and clutching tissues in my hand, I greeted my fellow moms with my red nose and rasping voice, evoking sympathy and support from my neighbors for my mere effort of leaving my bed to accompany my kids out the door.

As a result of this greater restfulness and empowerment to make my own choices of spending time to recuperate I have felt like a better person and a better mom, more grounded than ever before. Why isn’t life always like this? Apart from the annoying hacking cough and nose drops throughout the night so I could breathe, it’s nice feeling more cared for and generally getting out of an overbooked schedule. It’s also nice to do this without feeling any major guilt, my main culprit in life since being a fulltime mom to three little ones and quitting my corporate job.

My take-away from this experience is that life goes on without me. I am needed and loved for what I can do and the relationships I have, but sometimes I overvalue my importance. I mistakenly feel that if I’m not fully present and perfect for every last demand made on my time, the whole world will collapse and my kids will suffer. The truth is that my kids learn a little more self-reliance when I am not 100% well and present in their lives and a little failure on their part, like forgetting to finish all their homework or practice their piano one week, may result in a lesson well learned- that of learning the ramifications of not doing their part and getting a bad grade or feeling embarrassed for not being prepared for class or a music lesson. The stakes are not high now, they are in elementary school and they can afford a few failures that may protect them from greater failures down the road when they do not have their mom hovering over them to assure they fail at nothing at all.

I also learned that saying “no” is very empowering. As a mom I often forget that “no” is even an option. Also, since I quit my fulltime demanding corporate job and work for myself , I often feel that I am at everyone’s disposal – any class that needs a last minute volunteer, that’s me. If the 3rd grade teacher needs an extra parent for the field trip, I’m there. If my friend needs me to carpool last minute and take her daughter across town to a girl’s scout meeting in the evening that’s totally inconvenient to my Friday night, sure I can do that! (We’ll just eat dinner a little later!) If my son’s preschool teacher needs someone to pitch in last minute for snack day, I can do it! In order to prove myself the ever mighty mom and community helper, I am generally at anyone’s disposal anytime of the day or week. Being sick has forced me to say “no” and surprisingly no one is angry about it, in fact they are quite sympathetic and caring about my condition. I can really lounge in bed all day and feel good about it. I just got my first full night’s sleep in over a year the other night as I woke up feeling slightly better. Then I thought, “oh no”, I’ll need to go to that PTC at the school tomorrow night and cook for that homeowner’s potluck on Saturday. Maybe I’m still sick enough to stay home?

I now realize how silly this all is. Does it really take coming down with the flu where I am not physically able to do as much to figure out that “no” is a word we are all capable of using when we need to/want to. Although it is good and admirable to pitch in over and beyond the call of duty now and then, it should not be a habit. Just being a mom is going beyond the call of duty every single day and just because we don’t get a paycheck or a pat on the back for that all consuming, most important job in the world, does not mean we don’t get to say “no” when we feel like it and take time out to refuel before we really are physically sick and emotionally drained. “No” is a privilege and a right we should remember to employ anytime we need to as it will allow us to draw boundaries to protect ourselves and make our own voluntary decisions more wholeheartedly. It also allows our “yeses” to be more real, more enjoyed and more purposeful. Yes, we do still have the right to choose what we do and don’t want to do, just maybe not when it comes to helping our kid in the bathroom!

Pregnancy is great time to gain experience at saying “no” if that’s something you need a little more practice at doing. Pregnancy affords you all kinds of luxuries you can and should take advantage of – like a more doting partner, unfamiliar men opening doors for you and giving up their bus seats. Morning sickness is no picnic, but it does afford you the right to say “no” to your well meaning family members who want you to attend a certain family wedding across the country or participate in the weekly family potluck. It even allows you the privilege of saying “no” to your employer regarding working overtime, travel or working at all. You have your doctor’s permission if need be to enforce that “no” to guard your health and that of your developing baby’s. Believe me, those “no’s” are worthwhile and will be excellent practice for you when you are a mom and find yourself becoming a professional juggler more often than not. If you want to be a really good mom, learn your “nos” now and make it a useful word in your vocabulary. Your friends and loved ones may be a little shocked at first if they are not used to hearing you say it, but it gets easier over time for them and you. My 4 year old knows about this magic word already and I guess he sees it works for him from time to time as he keeps using it unabashedly, maybe I should take some lessons from him!

Jessica Simpson Is Just A Normal Mother

Credit: Carter Smith/ELLE.

On May 1st Jessica Simpson, 31, gave birth to her daughter, Maxwell Drew Johnson, who weighed 9 pounds and 13 ounces and measured 21.75 inches! Jessica and her fiancé Eric Johnson decided to use the name Drew because it’s Jessica’s mother’s maiden name.

It’s nice to finally see a “normal” baby name from a celebrity after a trend of celebrity baby names that sounded more like fruits, plants, cars, verbs and adjectives than anything a human being would go by. For most of us, this odd celebrity naming convention just furthers the gap between clearly privileged celebrities and the rest of us normal folks with baby’s names like “James” or “Audrey” who either stay at home with us as we try to multi-task with carpools and older kids activities or who get sent to preschool or daycare was we try to multitask at work and quickly change hats to fulltime mom when we get home for evening and weekend shift.

Jessica Simpson is one billionaire celebrity new mom that I can’t help but like. She’s very endearing and relatable with her upfront humorous honesty about everything and particularly her above average pregnancy weight gain. While most celebrity new moms often seem to the average mom like myself like some alien from outer space who look perfectly manicured throughout their effortless pregnancy, gain the perfect amount of weight in all the right places only to be placed on the cover of magazine weeks after birth with their swelt pre-pregnancy figure all intact. It does set the bar rather high for the rest of us “normal” moms without the benefit of special cooks, round the clock nannies and personal trainers and of course professional airbrushing in our photos.

It’s a bit of relief seeing a celebrity who “has it all” looking like most of us when she’s pregnant in her final trimester. She even shows she is a loyal trooper as a friend as she doesn’t shirk her bridesmaid responsibilities and dons the ill-fitting pre-ordained bridesmaid dress in her last weeks of pregnancy (which she has to know all the world will soon see in photos).

Jessica has weight gain much like I did in my first pregnancy which is basically everywhere and in a way that goes beyond flattering in the final countdown months and weeks. However, she does not hide from the cameras or shun interviews or appear embarrassed by her plus size pregnancy figure as you might expect from most former size 0 sex symbol celebrities. Instead, she appears to embrace her new full figure and weight gain with confidence, humor and grace which I think is our best take-away from her example.

I’m sure Jessica will have her enviable figure back in no time she is fulltime breastfeeding her baby in addition to recently signing a $4 million deal with Weight Watchers. (The rest of us would have been happy to have this deal for free, given the appropriate childcare, transportation, overall support for our house and older children, support for our day jobs, meal prep, housecleaning, etc) However, since this is Jessica Simpson, who I would like as my new BFF, I can’t help but support and cheer her on!

Time Magazine Cover is Not an Accurate Portrayal of Nursing Moms

Jamie Lynne Grumet on the Today Show

Time magazine recently caused a stir with their provocative cover photo of pretty young mom, Jamie Lynne Grumet, shown nursing her nearly 4 year old son while he stands on a chair next to her. Although we at TummyStyle fully support nursing mothers, we don’t feel this photo accurately captures the essence of the nurturing experience of nursing your child. It appears that the photo shoot was designed elicit a shock factor to draw attention to the magazine by showing a older than average child nursing from a chair like he is drinking from a water fountain as the mom reveals her breast to the world and strikes a pose in form fitting clothes.

At TummyStyle we support breastfeeding but we do not support fueling the controversy of different parenting styles and choices regarding nursing and its duration. Breastfeeding is unquestionably a healthy choice for your baby, but we’re all on the same team here and need to support rather than divide moms on choices regarding breastfeeding and how long they choose to nurse child.

It’s hard work being a mom whether you nurse your child until kindergarten or bottle feed your baby. The support we as moms get from our spouses, families, friends and community is the “village” we need to do our very best for our children.

Pregnant Woman Struck By Lightening

A pregnant woman and her unborn baby were struck by lightening a few days ago.

The woman, Kelly Lough, was getting into her husband’s car during a storm while holding her umbrella.

There was a large flash and big boom, she stated, and she felt a jolt of electricity flow down her right arm and out the left as well as her toes.

The doctors think that maybe her old pair of rubber soled shoes that she had intended to throw away were what might have saved her life by providing a bit more insulation than the pair of high heels she had intended to wear.

Ms Lough was rushed to the hospital and she, as well as her unborn baby, were found to be both perfectly healthy. The weather officials believe that Ms Lough was probably struck by one of the minor side bolt and not the main branch.

The National Weather Service puts the odds of being struck by lightening are 1 out of 775,000. Our own TummyStyle statistician places the odds of a pregnant woman being struck by lightening at 1 in 100 million!

1 in 5 Canadian Women Having Babies Later In Life

The study by the Canadian Institute of Health Information notifies that one out of five babies born in Canada are of mothers who have given birth at around 35 years of age, and older.

According to the study, among babies born between 2006 and 2009, 17.9% of them were born out of mothers who were 35 or above. Also, it has been notified that the rate is highest in B. C. as compared to other provinces, as 22.3% of the babies were born to the mothers aged 35 and above.

It has also been revealed that B. C. has the highest rate of pregnant mom aged above 40, as 3.9 of the pregnant women fall in that age group.

Experts say that the women who become pregnant after 35 have twice more chances of suffering from gestational diabetes and those above 40 are thrice more likely to suffer from the ailment compared to the women who become pregnant at an early age.

Gestational diabetes results in delivery complications due to the high blood pressure condition and it can occur when pregnancy hormones obstruct the insulin from metabolizing sugar and other carbohydrates.

A study by the Canadian Institute of Health Information indicates that 20% of Canadian mothers are having babies when they are older than 35 years. British Colombia has a higher rate at 22.3% compared to the other provinces at 17.9%.

Studies have shown that women above 35 are twice as likely as other younger age groups in having gestational diabetes and women about 40 when pregnant are three times as likey.

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. While there may not be any symptoms present some symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections, including those of the bladder, vagina, and skin
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss in spite of increased appetite

Most women with normal pre-natal care should receive a gestational diabetes test if they are over 35.

Baby Carseat Recommendations

Parents are constantly given advice on how to care for their children, but the recent recommendations for car seats should not be overlooked. This is because forward-facing kids are far more likely to die (1). The long standing belief that children should ride in a rear-facing seat until they are 1 has been extended to 2 years, or longer, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These new policy statements were issued on March 21st, 2011 and are based primarily on a 2007 University of Virginia study. The study found children under 2 are 75% less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear (4). Toddlers have relatively large heads and small necks, in which the bones are structurally immature. If a child is forward facing, his or her neck can fly forward during a crash which can cause spinal cord injuries (3).

Parents should be aware that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, they are making the ride less safe for their child. It is better not to risk it and delay the switch as long as possible. Parents are often reluctant to keep their child rear facing, as they believe the child’s legs will be bent during the ride, they will have nothing stimulating to look at, or just be unhappy facing backwards (2). But if the child doesn’t know any differently, they will think it’s just the way it is. In this position, 2 year- olds are not more likely to break their legs in a crash and they are not necessarily any less comfortable.

Luckily, adhering to the recommendations is becoming easier for parents, as “most car seat makers have increased the amount of weight the seats can hold” (3). Ten years ago rear facing car seats only accommodated children up to 22 pounds. Today, nearly half or rear- facing seats hold 30 pounds.

Sources:
1. Chicago Tribune
2. Examiner
3. MSNBC
4. NY Times

Woman, 61, gives birth to own grandson in Chicago

By Deborah L. Shelton of the Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — 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 when she gave birth to her own grandson at age 61.

Casey, possibly the oldest woman to give birth in Illinois, was a surrogate for her daughter, Sara Connell, who had been trying for years to have a baby. Connell and her husband, Bill, are the biological parents of the child Casey carried, which grew from an embryo created from the Chicago couple’s egg and sperm.

Crying and praying, Connell and her mother held hands as Finnean Lee Connell was delivered by cesarean section at 9:47 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9.

When the baby let out a cry, “I lost it,” said Sara Connell, the first family member to hold him.

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 because of wider use of in vitro fertilization and other 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 had 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?”

She suggested that they forget about it if they found the idea repulsive.

“I won’t do this just to make me happy because, believe me, I could find other things to do,” she remembers writing, laughing at the recollection. At the time, she was 10 years past menopause.

Several months later, the family discussed the idea with experts at the Reproductive Medicine Institute, where they had sought help six years earlier. The couple said they had considered adoption but preferred to have a biological child.

“The idea of having a family member being open to doing this for us was so extraordinary for us,” Sara Connell said.

Bill Connell said he appreciated his mother-in-law’s offer, though he didn’t think it was doable at first. Any further reservations evaporated when he saw she was serious, he added.

“I just wanted to make sure the science was there,” he said. “I didn’t want us to subject ourselves to another very risky, possibly devastating, scenario. Infertility is one thing, but putting your mother-in-law in danger kicks it up to another level altogether.”

At first, Casey’s husband also wondered if it was even possible for his wife to have a baby in her 60s. Then he worried that a pregnancy could jeopardize her health or even her life. But he set aside most of his concerns after she cleared medical tests and doctors gave a thumbs-up.

“What made the difference for me was when Kris said it was a calling from deep within herself,” Bill Casey said. “You can’t get any more compelling than that.”

Casey underwent multiple tests to evaluate her medical and psychological health, as required by Illinois law on surrogate births. The family also drew up a mandatory legal agreement.

The risks of genetic abnormalities were low because Connell’s egg would be the one fertilized. But if any such issues were detected later, Casey said she and the Connells agreed that she would carry the baby to term regardless.

Then she took hormones to prepare her uterus for pregnancy. She got pregnant on the second cycle of in vitro fertilization with an embryo transfer.

“If you give the uterus hormones, it will act like a young uterus,” said Dr. Carolyn Coulam, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Institute. Coulam’s oldest patient was in her late 60s at the time she had a baby. She lived in another state.

“It usually is a function of the age of the egg, not the uterus, whether or not the pregnancy will be successful,” Coulam said.

Still, some fertility programs have age limits for gestational surrogates. At the University of Chicago Medical Center, the upper limit is 55, said Dr. David Cohen, chief of reproductive medicine.

“The issue comes up because as a woman gets older, the risks she takes in pregnancy clearly go up — everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to premature delivery and infant death,” Cohen said. “So one has to be clear about what those risks are.”

The medical center evaluates cases involving older surrogates in an ethics consultation.

“It’s not written in stone,” Cohen said. “One is left with deciding each case individually, and those decisions are made after a very serious discussion with everybody involved. I personally would not throw stones at somebody who decided to go ahead in this situation as long as she clearly understood her risks.”

Peaceman described Casey’s health as excellent throughout her pregnancy, but he emphasized: “It takes a significant commitment to be a surrogate in any circumstance. To take on this type of physical burden at this age is not anything anybody should take lightly.”

After her C-section, Casey had a complication with her kidneys.

“After delivery, her urine output was lower than we expected and there was no discernible cause,” Gerber said. “We wanted to be extra careful, given her age, so we gave her close attention. With relatively little intervention, it turned around.”

Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, had no ethical objections to the idea of a 61-year-old having a baby, as long as she had undergone a thorough medical and psychological evaluation.

“It seems like an unquestionably loving and generous thing for a family member to do,” she said.

“It’s a great story to tell the child,” Johnston added. “It’s one of those situations where outsiders might wonder if it’s OK or healthy. But the experience of that child and his family will be that it’s good. . . . If they treat it as good, it will be experienced that way.”

Casey, who has a quick wit and laid-back manner, plans to return to her Virginia home with her husband in about two weeks, where she is ready to adopt a more conventional grandmother role. Finnean is her first grandchild.

“From the very beginning, the moment I’ve wanted is the moment the baby is in their arms,” she said at her daughter and son-in-law’s home weeks before the birth. “I’ve been clear since after my third child that I didn’t need to have any more children, and as much as I will be delighted to be a grandmother, I don’t want to take a baby home.”

Sara Connell said she was grateful for her mother’s loving, generous spirit and what she called “her special gift.”

“It grew beyond the two of us having a child,” Connell said. “It was about the closeness with my mother, and our family having this experience that was unique and special.”