Older mothers: The birth of the 'retirement baby'

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Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, former co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, has just begun an arguably even more all-consuming gig: that of first-time mother at the age of 64, having quietly welcomed the arrival of a baby girl called Pia.

Mick Jagger, meanwhile, is knee-high in nappies (once again) at 73, thanks to the December arrival of six-week-old Deveraux Octavian Basil.

Janet Jackson has just given birth to a son at 50, and Nicole Kidman recently revealed that she is still hoping for another baby at the age of 49, despite several "heartbreaks".

Back in the real world, there's Annegret Raunigk, a 65-year-old German grandmother of seven, who became the oldest known woman to give birth to quadruplets in 2015.

It is impossible to pretend that fertility is still the preserve of the young and nubile. Blame those expanding middle years - old age now starts in the late seventies, and youth seems to persist long after the 30th birthday. But if meeting a first-time mother in her forties is no longer at all unusual, will the advances of reproductive science soon mean procreating in your sixties no longer remains the preserve of men?

Perhaps this is purely the logical progression from a generation of exhausted career women - urged by their mothers to get on the ladder before they started a family - to a new era of post-profession parents, postponing the whole childrearing shebang for retirement and thus escaping all the stress and juggling.

Yet how does an elderly woman have the physical health and strength for pregnancy - let alone playgroups, homework battles and the teenage taxi service? And can an ancient papa really have a positive connection with his kids when there are so many decades in between?

Tim Child, medical director at Oxford Fertility, and associate professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Oxford, says that sixty-something motherhood is still unusual. "There is no limit to the age at which eggs from a donor - or ones previously frozen - can potentially implant in a woman's uterus. So it is medically absolutely possible to achieve pregnancy after menopause, but there are risks to the woman herself when she is pregnant and to the foetus, too."

For this reason, British reproductive clinics only see women up to the natural age of menopause, between 50 and 52 (men are subject to no age limits for fertility treatments). But UK patients can be treated abroad and then monitored in Britain - which is when complications can occur.

"Some of the main issues are to do with ability to carry a pregnancy. Older mothers are more likely to have pre-eclampsia, diabetes and bleeding. All complications go up significantly - and even more so in the sixties."

Not least because the heart of any sixtysomething is not as healthy as it was. "Cardiac output goes up significantly to keep oxygen passing through the placenta, so pregnancy puts a huge strain on the heart."


And while a uterus supported with hormone replacement therapy has been shown to be perfectly able to carry a pregnancy, a vaginal birth may not be possible. Older mothers are also at increased risk of premature delivery - fine at 34-36 weeks, he says, but at 24-26 weeks it could mean lifelong health problems or worse.

The alternative is surrogacy, which is on the increase, according to family law expert Harjit Sarang, with British couples spending between $50,000 and $172,590 in Georgia or Ukraine, or even more in America.

"Couples get turned away from IVF clinics after 50, so they go abroad," she says. "It's really good for older parents. By the time they come to me for advice about legalities, they are only concerned about logistics. They never have concerns about parenting, they are excited."

Psychotherapist Christophe Sauerwein was "shamed" as a child for the 45-year age gap between him and his father. He sees that attitude less now, but points out that children of older parents do have an omnipresent awareness of mortality.

"They fear and acknowledge that they will lose their parents sooner rather than later," he says. "It is not comfortable for a child. It is a permanent subconscious fear and it will have an impact on life. The child may grow up very needy or develop a detachment, an early independence."

The only circumstances in which late parenthood truly concerns him, however, are when "last-minute children" are conceived. "Having a child in a rush, from fear of ageing or because of a feeling that your biological mission isn't complete, is very selfish," he says. "The child grows up with a responsibility it can never fulfil - it starts life with a sense of failure because it failed to fix its mother's fear of death."

Tim Child believes that though attitudes to older parents are evolving - "We used to treat up until 45, then we moved our age limit to 50. And you could argue, what is difference between a healthy woman of 48 and 54. It's an arbitrary line" - the current upper age limit in the UK is correct. "It balances the desire to achieve a live healthy birth with a healthy mum during pregnancy."

The Telegraph, London