August 08, 1977 12:00 PM

It was a storybook marriage—he was a dashing, Italian-born businessman and she a beautiful, internationally famous cartoonist. They wanted to have four children, and after the birth of two sons it seemed that they would. Then tragedy struck. In 1975 doctors diagnosed cancer and gave him only a short time to live. As his condition worsened, she remembers that “sometimes it was possible for him to make love with me, and sometimes it wasn’t.” When he died in March 1976 she went into seclusion with her children in their elegant home in Surrey outside London. Then, last winter, the neighbors noticed something strange about 35-year-old Kim Casali—she was pregnant. “Her husband had been dead for too long,” says one, “so, obviously, we all thought the father must be someone else.”

But it wasn’t—and the birth last month of 10 lb. 8 oz. Milo Casali uncovered mother Kim’s amazing secret. The infant had been conceived seven months after his father Roberto’s death, she revealed, by artificial insemination. “I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kim, who had persuaded Roberto to leave a sperm-bank deposit. “It’s my life, my decision, my baby.” But the unusual pregnancy was not easy, and Kim often had to reassure herself that she was doing the right thing. “I’m not a heroine, an angel or a freak,” she insisted. “I’m just a normal mother having a normal baby.”

Public reaction seemed to indicate otherwise. London’s gossipy dailies drowned the story in gallons of ink, quoting Kim abundantly (“I’ve never hurt anyone; why should people want to hurt me?”). As if to underscore the uniqueness of the birth, England’s legal community bounded into the fray, with opinion divided as to baby Milo’s rights of inheritance. “The only body that can sort this out is Parliament,” insisted one barrister, while the official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, weighed in with another verdict: “Immoral.” Most Britons, though shocked at first, came down on the side of babies and motherhood.

The Casalis first met in Los Angeles in 1967. Kim, a New Zealander, was vagabonding around the world; Roberto was working for a computer company. The young lovers exchanged notes, and Kim often embellished hers with little drawings bearing an affectionate caption beginning “Love is…” Roberto showed some to a friend on the Los Angeles Times, and the famous “Love Is…” comic strip, now syndicated in 60 countries, was launched. Married in 1971, the Casalis eventually settled in England and watched the strip grow into a million-dollar industry. with lucrative spinoffs in greeting cards, note pads and key rings marketed in a dozen countries. Their happiness, Kim maintains, was complete. “I’m a romantic,” she says. “I met Roberto and never looked at another man.”

With the grim news of his illness, the couple set off on a worldwide cruise that Roberto hoped would restore his health. He was often too sick to leave their cabin. On a sentimental stopover in Los Angeles, he couldn’t even muster the strength for a ride through the Hollywood Hills, where he had once cut a rakish figure behind the wheel of his Italian sports car. “I just kept trying to convince him that his dreadful pain would get better,” says Kim. It did not.

After his death Kim visited the family planning center where the sperm was stored “four or five times” and finally became pregnant. She tried to keep busy supervising construction of a backyard swimming pool and looking after Stefano, 5, and Dario, 3. “I’ve got lots of good friends,” she says, “but there’s no substitute for a husband who loves you. I never felt so alone in my life.”

Though she had hoped for a daughter, Kim says Milo is “just terrific—I reckon by the size of him that he’ll be eating steak and chips when he’s 6 months.” She says there is no chance of having more of Roberto’s babies; the sperm is gone. As for someday marrying again, she says only that she’ll “consider it if someone asks me, but I have other things to think about now.” One of them is how and when to explain to her new son the circumstances of his conception. “I just hope he’ll have been loved enough and feel secure enough to be able to cope with it,” she says. “And I’m hoping that he’ll look like his father.”

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