As we celebrate Mother’s Day in North America this weekend, it’s that time of year when many of us acknowledge all the things our mothers have done for us not only during our childhood, but also well into adulthood. From late nights soothing sickly tummies and temperatures to cheering us on at games, graduations and school plays, mothers are one of the undeniable cornerstones of society.
We usually expect mothers to start the child-rearing process early on in life. In previous centuries, it wasn’t uncommon for women to get married in their teens and to start a family before they turned twenty. These days, in the western world at least, having children is often delayed by couples who choose, rather, to pursue careers and travel earlier in life before settling down to start a family. However, with the ‘biological clock’ worry still undeniable influencing the decision on when to begin thinking about a family of one’s own, many of us can’t help but wonder – when is it really too old to start having children?
There are several stories about women who have given birth at a very advanced age. These stories are the exceptions, of course, and are far from being the rule. But as more of us decide to put off the babymaking until later in life, the following women’s stories are not only fascinating but educating; they defy the laws of aging and biology that we usually accept as immutable. Regardless of their aging bodies – and thanks in large part to controversial technological advancements which have made these miracles possible – these women managed to give birth and survive to raise their children.
10. Elizabeth Buttle – 60 Years Old
Elizabeth “Liz” Buttle made headlines when she was 60 years old and gave birth to her son, Joseph, in Wales in 1997. She was one of the first older mothers to give birth, which sparked much controversy. Buttle made headlines and was declared “a miracle mum”, garnering all the more attention and respect due to the fact that the father of the baby left her. But once news broke out that she had lied to the public and had in fact used in-vitro fertilization, her fall from grace was as quick and dramatic as her rise.
9. Frieda Birnbaum – 60 Years Old
Frieda Birnbaum is the oldest woman in the United States to give birth to twin boys. When she was 60 years old, she gave birth to the twins named Joshua and Jarrett. But this wasn’t her first venture into motherhood, as she became a mother at the age of 26 with her son Jaeson, and then had a second child named Alana four years after that. After her two oldest moved out of the house, Birnbaum and her husband experienced empty nest syndrome, and the attendant desire for another child.
The couple decided to try for a third child. Unfortunately, Frieda miscarried in her forties, which is when she began going through fertility treatments. Through in-vitro fertilization, she became pregnant and gave birth to her son Ari at the age of 53. With the support of her husband Ken, Birnbaum wanted to get pregnant again, but couldn’t find a center in the United States because of her age, so she went to South Africa. She was also experiencing disapproval from her oldest son, who was married and had two kids of his own. But regardless, she went through with it, and became pregnant with her twins.
8. Patricia Rashbrook – 62 Years Old
Patricia Rashbrook is one of Britain’s oldest mothers to give birth. She received in-vitro fertilization treatment in Russia, and in 2006, gave birth to her son. The psychiatrist based in Lewes, East Sussex already had three adult children from her first marriage, but wanted to have a baby with her husband John Farrant, who became a father for the first time with this pregnancy. The couple spent approximately £10,000 using IVF and a donor egg, and the pregnancy finally happened at the fifth attempt.
7. Rosanna Della Corte – 63 Years Old
If you really want to tick off the Vatican, have a baby at the age of 63. It is speculated that Rosanna Della Corte chose to have another baby out of grief after her 17-year old son Riccardo died in a motorcycle accident. In 1994 at 63 years old, she gave birth to her son (also named Riccardo) using in-vitro fertilization, which sparked much outrage in Italy. The Vatican declared that the baby was “an affront to God”, and Della Corte received much negative backlash for her decision.
6. Papathiammal Subramaniam – 64 Years Old
Papathiammal Subramaniam gave birth to her baby in 2004 at the age of 64, and was one of the oldest first-time mothers in India. Her baby was technically a test tube baby, and doctors used the egg of a 30-year donor and her husband’s sperm – her husband was 74 at the time. Because Subramaniam had gone through menopause 20 years earlier, she had no eggs to give. After birth, her baby boy had to spend some time in an incubator under close observation.
5. Adriana Iliescu – 66 Years Old
Currently 75 years old, Adriana Iliescu became the mother of 9-year old Eliza Maria on January 16th, 2005 when she was 66 years old. Iliescu is a retired university lecturer as well as a children’s author based in Romania. Her journey to motherhood began in 1995 when she began taking hormone treatments to reverse menopause. In 2004, through in-vitro fertilization, Iliescu became pregnant with triplets. The sperm and the egg were given from two anonymous donors. One of the three fetuses died after ten weeks, and the last two fetuses weighed only a little over 3 pounds after 33 weeks. The doctors originally planned to perform a cesarean after 34 weeks, but complications that led to the death of the smaller fetus caused the surgery to be moved forward and Eliza Maria was born. Eliza stayed in the hospital for around six weeks after birth.
4. Bhateri Devi – 66 Years Old
Bhateri Devi was 66 years old when she gave birth to triplets via cesarean in a hospital near her village in India, in 2010. In India, there is no law regarding fertility treatments and age, so Devi and her 70-year old husband were able to employ in-vitro fertilization using a donor egg and the husband’s sperm with the help of Dr. Anurag Bishnoi. The couple had tried for decades to have a family, and when Devi hit menopause, all hope seemed to be lost. In the Indian culture, women are often under pressure to have babies who will be heirs to the family property once they are passed.
3. Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara – 66 Years Old
Maria del Carmen Bousada de Lara was 66 years old when she gave birth to twins, and 130 days older than Iliescu. Even though she was born and raised in Spain, Bousada received her fertility treatment from a United States facility, and lied about her age so that she could receive in-vitro fertilization. The Pacific Fertility Clinic’s maximum age for treatment is 55, but because Bousada mother lived to be 101, she felt she would live long enough to raise her children. To pay for the fertility treatments, Bousada sold her house for $59,000 and decided to move forward with having children after her mother died.
In December 2005, Bousada gave birth to twins (two boys) named Pau and Christian, making her the oldest woman to give birth according to the Guinness Book of World Records. However, just two years later, while still living in Spain, Bousada passed away from unknown causes. A newspaper claimed that a tumor was found shortly after giving birth, but nothing concrete was confirmed. Just as her pregnancy and birth sparked debate, her death raised questions about fertility treatments in older women.
2. Rajo Devi Lohan – 69 Years Old
Rajo Devi Lohan was 69 years old when she gave birth to three underweight babies, which were conceived through in-vitro fertilization. She and her husband, Balla, were farmers who lived in a poverty-stricken village of Hissar, India; they took out loans to pay for the IVF. In a culture where motherhood is a goal, Lohan felt she was falling short, and so she found a doctor, Anurag Bishnoi, who was willing to provide fertility treatment.
Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Lohan’s pregnancy and birth was less than smooth. Her womb ruptured and she suffered internal bleeding, and she also had to have a complex surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. Lohan stated that her pregnancy (and the whole process in general) made her unwell, and that she was healthy before. She also states that she wasn’t warned about the medical complications that were possible or that her health could deteriorate so rapidly. Just 18 months after giving birth to triplets, it was announced that Lohan was dying. However, she is still alive and expressing that the desire to live to see her daughter get married is giving her strength.
1. Omkari Panwar – 70 Years Old
In a desperate mission to have a son and give her husband an heir, Omkari Panwar became the oldest mother in the world when she became a mother to twins. In 2008, in the hospital of Muzaffarnagar (about a seven hour drive from New Delhi), she gave birth to twins prematurely, a boy and a girl, both weighing about two pounds. Pamwar and her husband Charan already had two adult daughters who had children of their own, but the couple were desperate to have a son. Panwar went through in-vitro treatments, and stated that pregnancy at such a young age was not only more difficult, but much more painful as well. To pay for the IVF, Panwar’s husband sold the family buffalo, took out a credit card loan, spent life savings, and mortgaged his land.