NEW YORK -- A 51-year-old mother with Multiple Sclerosis gave birth to her own grandchild, acting as a surrogate for her daughter. And the pregnancy had a very unexpected and welcome side-effect.
One-month-old Mila James is spending a lot of time snuggling with parents Mandy and Jamie Stephens, but it was a very special gift from grandma that allowed her to come into this world.
After they were married, Mandy and Jamie couldn't wait to get pregnant.
"We started trying right away," she said.
They had some trouble and eventually opted for IVF, and there was success. The 20-week ultrasound looked perfect, but just a month later, tragedy struck. Mandy went into early labor and lost the baby boy she named Theo.
"There's so much excitement," she said. "You carry the baby for so long and then it's all ripped apart and taken away. Your whole world stops."
Mandy's mom Sherri felt the pain too.
"Watching your child lose a child is the definition of sadness," she said. "I can't describe it any other way. It breaks your heart."
Because Mandy's cervix opened early, doctors warned them a premature birth could happen again.
"So we had a lot more tough decisions," she said. "Adoption? Surrogate? And that's when we had some family step in."
Sherri decided that if they needed somebody to carry their child, she would volunteer. It was an easy decision for her, who at 51 had three grown kids of her own.
"My children are the best thing in the world to me," she said. "And to be able to give that to your own child, I can't even describe it."
But there could be complications. Sherri was a high-risk pregnancy because of her age and her diagnosis of MS, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system.
"My husband was probably more concerned than I was, because I was all in," she said.
While there were risks, there was also a potential health benefit for Sherri, whose MS was in remission, and becoming pregnant might help keep it that way. Researchers think that protective changes in the immune system during pregnancy keep the disease at bay.
There were two tries at IVF, and by November of last year, Sherri was pregnant with Mandy and Jamie's baby.
"Pregnancy was easy," Sherri said. "I was very fortunate. I was playing tennis a week before I delivered, working out with my trainer. But the delivery at 51 was way harder than the delivery at 33 with my last baby."
Mila was born four weeks ago, and mom, baby and grandma are all doing great.
"It's indescribable," Sherri said. "There are times I look at Mila and say, we did this, you know? We gave her what she wants. Not that you ever make up for a baby you lost, but you give someone that hope, you know?"
"How do you thank someone for the ultimate gift in life, which is life?" Mandy asked.
"You don't have to," Sherri said. "I have a grandchild now. That's the best thank you."
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Woman with MS delivers own granddaughter
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