When it comes to modern pregnancy, age really is just a state of mind. A reminder of this came this week, when Dr. John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center made headlines by announcing that a 49-year-old patient at his clinic had given birth to a baby conceived with her own egg, frozen when she was 48. Dr. Zhang’s patient is now the oldest woman ever to have a biological child through in-vitro fertilization.
Most fertility clinics make IVF using the patient’s own egg available only to women under 45. But for would-be mothers willing to use a donor’s egg, the sky’s the limit. In 1992, country singer Jonie Mosby Mitchell became the first woman to give birth to a child after menopause. Fifty-two at the time and the mother of four grown children, Mitchell wanted to have a baby with her second husband. "If Social Security picks up the tab," she joked to People magazine after her baby was born, "I just might do it again."
But in the years since Mitchell broke the menopause barrier, the age ceiling has surged upward dramatically—especially in the last three or four years, which have seen women in their 60s, and even 70s, give birth to healthy babies. Here are 10 women who became moms at an age when most parents are becoming grandparents (one of the new mothers is, in fact, a great-grandmother) and how they defied the fertility odds.
Maria del Carmen Bousada, 66
Maria del Carmen Bousada lied her way into pregnancy in her mid-60s by telling a Los Angeles clinic she was 55. Bousada, a native of Spain, spent her life caring for her mother. When her mom died in 2005, at 101, she decided it was time for her to have the children she had always wanted. She sold her house to raise the $59,000 needed to pay for IVF, and flew to L.A. In December 2006, she gave birth to twin boys Christian and Pau. Her announcement shocked Spain, with many calling her desire to be a mother selfish and irresponsible. Bousada shrugged off the critics, saying that if she lived to be as old as her own mother, she might even get to see her grandchildren. Unfortunately, she passed away this year, leaving her 2-year-old twins orphaned. Her family has refused to say who will raise the boys, but her brother told local reporters that they’ve sold the rights to the story to a local TV show to raise funds for the kids’ care.
Rosanna Della Corte, 62
Rosanna and Mauro Della Corte were overcome by grief when their only son, 17-year-old Riccardo, died in a motorcycle accident in 1991. The only way to cope with their loss, the couple concluded, was to have another baby. So in 1994, at age 62, Rosanna gave birth to a baby boy conceived through IVF, using Mauro’s sperm and a donor egg. They named their new son after his dead brother. The older Riccardo’s memory looms over the living one. His photographs are all over the family’s home, and in 2005 Rosanna told British newspaper The Observer that her dead son “was so beautiful, probably better looking than little Riccardo,” who was then 11 years old. The Della Cortes were vilified across Italy when news of the younger Riccardo’s birth came out, with the Vatican going so far as to call Rosanna’s pregnancy an affront to God. The criticism even spurred new legislation restricting IVF treatments, making Italy’s laws on the subject among the strictest in Europe.
Elizabeth Adeney, 66
Elizabeth Adeney’s quest to become a mother began when she was in her 40s. It took two decades, numerous unsuccessful treatments, and a trip to Ukraine, but she has finally given birth to the baby she so desired. She flew to Ukraine for treatment, because IVF is not available in Britain for women over the age of 50. The baby boy weighing 5 pounds, 3 ounces, was delivered by Caesarean section in Cambridge in May 2009. Adeney, who is 66, tries to keep a low profile, but she has defended her decision by telling local newspapers, “It's not physical age that is important—it's how I feel inside. Some days I feel 39. Others, I feel 56.” The fact that she is divorced and has no siblings or other close family members to help her raise the child has intensified criticism of her decision. But she remains unfazed, stating that she is “perfectly capable of looking after [herself].”
Patricia Rashbrook, 62
Child psychiatrist Patricia Rashbrook gave birth to her son J.J. in July 2006. She was 62 at the time, making her Britain’s oldest woman to give birth before the record was broken by Elizabeth Adeney. Like Adeney, Rashbrook had to resort to what is known as “fertility tourism” in order to skirt British laws against older women undergoing in-vitro fertilization. Rashbrook’s husband, John Farrant, is a first-time father, but she has three grown children from a previous marriage. Rashbrook was treated by Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori, who first became famous in 1994 when he helped then-62-year-old Rosanna Della Corte get pregnant. Rashbrook isn’t worried about the impact of her age on her son’s future. “We would not have gone ahead if we'd felt we would not be good enough parents,” she said in a statement to local reporters. “We are both extremely healthy and I have always looked and felt very young, but nevertheless we have younger friends with children who have agreed to act as surrogate parents should anything happen to us.”
Omkari Panwar, 70
Omkari Panwar is not sure when she was born, but she remembers being 9 in 1947, when British rule over India ended. If her recollection is accurate, it means she would have been 70 years old when she gave birth to twins in 2008. Panwar and her husband, a retired farmer who claims to be in his mid-70s, have two daughters who are in their 30s. But it was their desire to have a male child led them to seek fertility treatment at a cost that has left them dependent on charity. They wanted a son who could inherit their land and carry on the family name. They got their boy—but he came with a sister. “We paid all this money to the doctors for a son,” Mrs. Panwar told the London Times, “but now we have the extra burden of another daughter as well.”
Rajo Devi Lohan, 70
In the village of Alewa, in northern India, lives another septuagenarian who has recently become a mother. Seventy-year-old Rajo Devi Lohan gave birth to a baby girl named Naveen Lohan in 2008. Rajo Devi’s husband, Baba Ram is 72. Naveen is the couple’s first child. Rajo Devi and Baba Ram waited more than 50 years for the moment when they could welcome a child into their family. They were married in 1950, when Baba Ram was only 14 and Rajo Devi a girl of 12. Fifteen years later, frustrated with his wife’s inability to have children, Baba Ram went to his in-laws and demanded that they do something about the situation. They decided that he should marry Rajo Devi’s younger sister, Omni. Decades went by, and neither woman became pregnant. So when a neighbor told them about a 60-year-old woman who had given birth to twins in a nearby hospital, the family sold two buffalos, borrowed money from the government, and mortgaged their crops in order to seek IVF treatment. Both sisters underwent tests, but it was decided that Rajo Devi, the older of the two, would be the one to carry the baby. While they are happy to finally shun the social stigma that comes with childlessness, the trio are going to seek further treatment in the hopes of having a son. “Naveen will just get married and leave the house,” Baba Ram told British newspaper The Guardian. “She could be gone in 15 years. Our name will die with us unless we have a boy.”
Adriana Iliescu, 66
Adriana Iliescu, a retired university professor and author of children’s books, briefly held the record for the world’s oldest new mother when she gave birth to a baby girl named Eliza Maria in 2005. Iliescu, who hails from Romania, takes great pride in showing off her entry in the Guinness Book of Records—despite the fact that her feat has since been overshadowed by Omkari Panwar and Rajo Devi Lohan, from India, who have given birth in their 70s. Iliescu, who had two abortions when she was in her 20s, sees herself as a positive role model for women, and is proud of her decision to become a mother in spite of her age. She does, however, acknowledge that it is not an ideal situation. “It is not easy being a mother at my age,” she told the Daily Mail, “and I would advise my daughter to have a child before 30. I believe that it is good to have a child before 30. But if this does not happen, for whatever reason, I believe a woman should try to have a baby at any age. It is the most beautiful thing to think that you haven't lived for nothing, that after you have gone there is some part of you that still continues. If you have a child, you don't have death.”
Frieda Birnbaum, 60
The oldest American to give birth to twins is Frieda Birnbaum, who had her two boys in 2007, at the age of 60. Frieda and her husband of 38 years, Ken, flew to South Africa for treatment because they were unsuccessful in their attempts to conceive in the U.S. The couple has three other children, ages 33, 29 and 6. The youngest of the three, a boy, was also conceived through IVF, and his parents wanted him to have a sibling who was closer to his age. According to Frieda, her decision also stemmed from a desire to remove the stigma attached to older women who decide to have children. “My daughter feels I should be living in Florida having a good life,” she told Fox News. “I hope when she’s older, she’ll see this and understand she has choices. I don’t feel like I’m 60. I don’t know what 60 is meant to be.”
Dawn Brooke, 59
The world’s oldest woman to become a mother without undergoing any kind of fertility treatment is a British housewife named Dawn Brooke. She gave birth to a son in August 1997, when she was 59. Dawn and her husband, Raymond, who is now in his mid-70s, kept their son’s birth private for 10 years in order to give him a chance to grow up free of unwanted publicity. The couple, who got married just a few weeks before their son was born, consider themselves extremely lucky. “We’ve been hugely fortunate,” Raymond told the Daily Mail. “He’s such a fantastic boy.” Dawn’s older son from a previous marriage is now in his mid-30s. According to him, the family was delighted when they heard the news of his mom’s unexpected pregnancy. “We all gave Ray a round of applause,” he said, adding that this should give some reassurance to “women who get to 40 or 45 and think, ‘I’m far too old to have a baby.’” According to the Brookes’ neighbor, “they are devoted to their son and very active. They seem far younger than their age.”
Janise Wulf, 62
Janise Wulf of Redding, California, is possibly the only great-grandmother to also have a toddler of her own. She gave birth to her 12th child in 2006, when she was 62. She also has 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Adam, the baby born in 2006, is the second child Janise had through IVF. His older brother, Ian, was born three years earlier, when Janise and her third husband, Scott, decided to have a family of their own. Janise’s older children from previous marriages range in age from mid-20s to early 40s. Her daughter, Desiree Myers, who had a baby of her own just months before Adam’s birth, told the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper that the family’s “only hesitation collectively was her health and her coming through this. Giving birth is hard at any age, in any body, let alone with her being 62.” But Janise says she’s used to fighting tough medical odds—she was a premature baby and was blinded by high oxygen levels in an incubator that killed her twin sister. According to her, “Age is a number. You're as old as you feel. Every time you revolutionize something or you do something different, there's going to be naysayers.”
Constantino Diaz-Duran is a writer living in Manhattan. He has written for the New York Post, the Washington Blade, El Diario NY and the Orange County Register.