Woman, 63, to give birth

Is she mad, misguided or just plain selfish? You have to be a bit of all three to have a baby at 63, says Sarah Brealey. There was a collective intake of breath as a woman old enough to be drawing her pension announced that she was expecting a baby.

Is she mad, misguided or just plain selfish? You have to be a bit of all three to have a baby at 63, says Sarah Brealey.

There was a collective intake of breath as a woman old enough to be drawing her pension announced that she was expecting a baby.

Patricia Rashbrook already has two adult children, but is now expecting a baby boy with her new husband. It is a scenario that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago - or probably even 20, for that matter. In many way it sums up how our society has changed: the medical advances that make miracles happen; fragmented modern families where divorce is common; the social changes that mean that 60 is seen as a beginning not the end - and not least the idea that money can buy anything.

Dr Rashbrook is reported to have spent £50,000 on fertility treatment at a controversial doctor Severino Antinori's private clinic in Italy.

She is a consultant child psychiatrist with the East Sussex Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, though her husband John Farrant says she is known as plain Mrs Farrant at home.

An “anonymous friend” told the Sun newspaper that “She wanted to seal her love for John with a baby.” Isn't a wedding ring good enough? If he doesn't already know she loves him, then that sounds like a problem no hapless baby should have to sort out.

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Dr Rashbrook is an extreme example of a trend towards older motherhood. Nationally, the numbers giving birth in their 40s have tripled in the last 20 years. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has seen 20pc increase in 40-plus mothers since 2003, though there are still fewer older mothers locally than the average. The latest figures show that 2.3pc of mothers delivering at the hospital are 40 or older.

Dr Rashbrook is not alone in giving birth in her 60s. In February great-grandmother Janise Wulf, from California, gave birth to her 12th child at the age of 62. At least the British woman is not a grandmother yet, though with children aged 26 and 22 she could easily be.

The oldest woman in the world to give birth is thought to be Adriana Iliescu, from Romania, who had her firstborn in January last year at the age of 66. As a mother already, Dr Rashbrook presumably has more of an idea what she is letting herself in for.

But the fact remains she is at increased risk of complications. The fact that she is pregnant at all - after just one cycle of IVF treatment, according to Dr Antinori - is surprising. From the age of 40 women are not even offered IVF on the NHS because of its low success rate. Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy rates increase with age, as does the risk of having a baby with problems such as Down's syndrome. Though Dr Rashbrook is reported to be fit and active, she has a higher risk of all sorts of problems from early labour to diabetes.

Perhaps this is one reason why older dads do not come in for the same stick. Des O'Connor was more or less patted on the back after becoming a father again at 71, though some of this is downright sexism. A baby has as much right to grow up and know its dad as it does its mother. Women may at least take consolation in new research published this week showing that male fertility is also at the mercy of time, and that it drops significantly after 40.

But the heart of this issue is the baby, and what his future will be. He may be bullied for having a mother who looks like his grandmother. He may mourn her when he is still a teenager. He may bitterly miss his independence, for as he becomes an adult his mother will be an old woman who needs looking after.

This is certainly the view of pro-life groups, who see her as selfish.

Josephine Quintavalle, from Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “She is being selfish and sometimes greater love is saying no.”

Canon Michael Stagg, spokesman for the Norwich diocese, said: “The General Synod, considering these issues, said every child was a gift from God, but I believe that such treatments should only be administered to women who would normally be able to have children.

“Bearing in mind when the child is 21 the mother will be 84, we share the general reservations that many people have, while wishing everyone in the circumstances well.”

“He or she is going to be without a mother or father at the most crucial moment of adolescence or when that child is growing to maturity.”

But the child psychiatrist has defended her position as the soon-to-be oldest new mother in Britain.

In a joint statement with her husband, she said: “We wish to emphasise that this has not been an endeavour undertaken lightly or without courage.

“A great deal of thought has been given to planning and providing for the child's present and future well-being, medically, socially and materially.”

“We are very happy to have given life to an already much-loved baby, and our wish now is to give him the peace and security he needs.”

With any luck, she will succeed. But whether her son sheds a tear over her absence on his wedding day, or being unable to show his firstborn to his mother, she will never know.