Chicago couple Sara and Bill were like many newlyweds—soon after their fairytale wedding, they wanted to start a family. "We came home and started [trying to conceive] pretty quickly after that," Bill says. "About a year into it, that's when we started looking around saying, 'Wait a minute. Why isn't this happening?'"
Like many women in their early 30s, Sara, a life coach, says she never thought getting pregnant would be so difficult. In search of answers, Sara made an appointment with fertility specialist Dr. Carolyn Coulam. "The problem was that she was not ovulating, so we put her on ovulatory-inducing drugs," Dr. Coulam says.
For a year and a half, Sara took the medication but still wasn't able to conceive. That's when Dr. Coulam suggested in vitro fertilization, or IVF. Bill's sperm was combined with Sara's egg, and Dr. Coulam implanted an embryo in Sara's uterus. The couple waited and prayed for a miracle. "We thought if this is the way to have kids, let's be grateful that this medicine exists and go for it," Sara says.
After Sara's first IVF treatment, she became pregnant with twin boys. "We were over the moon," Bill says.
But, five and a half months into the pregnancy, tragedy struck—Sara went into premature labor and delivered stillborn twins. "To leave the maternity ward with death certificates instead of your infants, it was just devastating," Sara says. "To this day, it's hard to almost breathe when I'm talking about it."
Even after losing their twins, Sara and Bill refused to give up on having a child. Eight months later, they tried IVF again, but it ended in more heartache—another miscarriage. Sara had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder since her first miscarriage, and she says this was almost too much to bear.
At home in Virginia, Sara's 61-year-old mother Kris was grieving along with her daughter and son-in-law. Newly retired, Kris was also doing some soul-searching and reexamining her life. "I spent time thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life and what would really, really give me joy," Kris says.
Soon after, Kris says one of her friends offhandedly mentioned a story she'd read about a post-menopausal woman who had given birth. The story sparked an idea. "I was thinking of times [when I had] that quintessential joy, and it was when I was pregnant with my daughters," she says. "Then, suddenly, it came to me that maybe I could do this again and be part of that joy for Sara and Bill."
At the time, Kris says she and Sara weren't especially close—they saw each other at the holidays and spoke on the phone every week or two—but they didn't discuss Sara's infertility.
So Kris says she decided to write her daughter and son-in-law a letter, which outlined her offer to carry their child. The letter read: "Somehow beyond all reason and rational action, I want to share a wish with you aloud. My wish is that I could carry your baby. Yes. Since 1987, there have been post-menopausal women who have given birth in vitro, so why not me? And please, please, please don't feel any pressure, just love. Always, Mom."
Sara and Bill's reaction to this unconventional offer was better than Kris could have imagined! "When she presented the idea, I just felt like, 'Oh, I've been given a lifeline,'" Sara says. "I was blown away. I really didn't even have words to put to it except that something in my heart said, 'Try. Go for it.'"
Since Kris was in her 60s and 10 years into menopause, the odds were stacked against a successful pregnancy, but Dr. Coulam said she was willing to try. After testing to confirm Kris was in good health, Dr. Coulam gave Kris hormones, including estrogen, to prepare her body for pregnancy. "I didn't feel anything but the shots," Kris says.
Then, Dr. Coulam transplanted Sara and Bill's embryo into Kris' uterus. "Just waiting for that pregnancy test, I was trying to just surrender, but I couldn't really," Kris says. "I just wanted to be pregnant."
The good news came just eight days after the procedure—Kris was pregnant with Sara and Bill's baby! "We screamed, and we hugged, and we jumped around and then thought we shouldn't jump around," Kris says.
Six months into the pregnancy, Kris temporarily left her husband of 37 years in Virginia and moved to Chicago to spend more time with Sara and Bill. "We could have found medical support in the Washington, D.C., area, but I wanted the baby to be at home before he was born too," Kris says.
Although getting pregnant wasn't difficult, Kris found being pregnant exponentially harder than she remembered. "I was nauseated all the time, so it was hard," she says. "I was really tired."
One of the benefits of living in Chicago while carrying Sara and Bill's baby was that Kris didn't care how people reacted to her appearance. "I think the lucky part was I wasn't at home," Kris says. "People in Chicago didn't know me."
Kris says she decided not to tell many friends in Virginia either. "I was in early first trimester really before I left, and I wasn't showing when I was in Virginia. [So we told] a few friends that I see every day," Kris says. "They were pretty incredulous at first. ... Then they were worried."
Kris says she didn't worry—she felt peaceful and confident during her pregnancy—and the nausea and discomfort didn't bother her much. "The only thing I wanted was to see that baby in [Sara's] arms," she says. On February 9, 2011, Kris got her wish.
After 30 hours of labor, Kris' doctors decided to perform a C-section. Sara was in the delivery room with her mother when her son, Finn, was born. "I sat right next to my mom. We were holding hands," Sara says. "Then, all of a sudden, they said, 'Here he is.' I'm just waiting, and then I hear the [crying]. I just started to sob. My mom is crying, and it's the most profound moment of my life."
Unfortunately, Bill was in the waiting room when Finn was born. "I got kicked out of the [operating room], so it was like 1965," Bill says. "I was pacing back and forth waiting for the nurse to come out."
In April 2011, nine weeks after giving birth to Finn, Kris says she's feeling back to normal. "I didn't have to get up at night and take care of the baby," Kris jokes.
When Kris thinks back to what sparked this idea in the first place, she credits the vision board she put together after attending one of Sara's life-coaching sessions. "I think [the vision board] worked better because it was new to me," Kris says. "It was just intuitive, and I put together, cut out pictures of things that just kind of appealed to me at the time."
Kris included the phrase, "After menopause, women have a new choice," on her board. "At the time I wanted to cover up the word 'menopause' and put 'retirement' because I had recently retired, and I thought, 'I need to choose what I'm going to do now,'" Kris says. "So clearly I was not supposed to cover up the word 'menopause.'"
There were also photos of children and a silly, smiling ostrich on Kris' board. "I wanted to find something to do in my retirement that made me feel like that [ostrich]," Kris says. "[Something] that made me feel over the moon."
Sara and Bill say they love everything about being new parents. "He's been an easy baby; he's fun," Sara says. "I think we are so ecstatic to get to be parents now that we find it all wonderful."
With medication, Sara was even able to breastfeed. "I didn't get much milk, but I was able to breastfeed at the beginning, which is really good for the immune system of the baby," Sara says.
After Finn was born, the nurses brought him to Sara, and she says he latched onto her breast right away. "It was one of those amazing moments," she says. "It was incredible."
Oprah says she's in awe of the sacrifice Kris made for her daughter and son-in-law. "It just, to me, it feels like such an extraordinary act of love," she says.