Britain's oldest new mother has spoken movingly of her joy at giving birth to a healthy baby boy, conceived by IVF treatment in the former Soviet Union.
Patricia Rashbrook, 62, a child psychologist, dismissed critics who say she is too old, declaring: "He is adorable and seeing him for the first time was beyond words. Having been through so much to have him, we are overjoyed. His birth is absolutely wonderful."
Dr Rashbrook's story is mired in the ethical uncertainty of a new medical world that enables couples to defy the natural end to their fertility. Josephine Quintavalle, of the lobby group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core), said giving birth at that age was undignified and "absurd". "It would be difficult to find anybody in this country who thinks it's a good idea, and I don't think it's an example to be followed," she said.
But Dr Rashbrook does not see it that way: "We would not have gone ahead if we'd felt we would not be good enough parents."
A woman older than Dr Rashbrook is also hoping to join the growing band of couples around the world who do not believe they are too old to become parents. Pauline Lyon, who 11 years ago became Britain's oldest mother at 51, and had another child at 55, has said she wants to try for another baby. She is now 62.
The figures show that in 2002 there were 24 babies born to women over 50 after IVF treatment in the UK.
Dr Rashbrook and her husband John Farrant, 60, from Lewes, East Sussex, described how JJ - their baby's nickname - weighed in at 6lb 10oz and was born to the sound of Elgar's Salut d'Amour (Love's Greeting), which was played at the couple's wedding.
"It is a deeply moving piece of music," Dr Rashbrook said, "with an emotion which matched ours both at our marriage and his birth. We are looking forward to taking him home - family life has already begun." Her husband, a management consultant, added: "I was struck by his beauty in miniature, his perfection. Before his birth, I thought I would weep copious tears, and goodness knows I brought along enough hankies, but when I first saw him I was awestruck. I thought: 'Here he is after all this waiting and we'll be together for ever because I'm his daddy.'"
The couple met eight years ago and married in 2003. Dr Rashbrook has three grown-up children from an earlier marriage, but her husband's previous marriage was childless.
"Before Patti, I never really considered children," Mr Farrant said. "From the day we first met, Patti recognised something in me I had never acknowledged before. On our first date, eight years ago, she saw my sadness after I replied 'No' when she asked me if I had any children. Then she said: 'You would have made a wonderful father', and we both recall tears coming to my eyes. Now I have tears for a different reason. By some amazing miracle, I am a father."
After much soul-searching the couple went to see an Italian fertility expert, Professor Severino Antinori, who has pioneered the treatment of women over the age of 55.
The couple underwent four unsuccessful IVF attempts at Dr Antinori's clinic in Rome and a fifth in the former Soviet Union. A donated egg was fertilised using Mr Farrant's sperm. The birth was carried out by Caesarean section.
Dr Rashbrook, who will be in her 70s when her son is taking his GCSEs, hit back at critics, saying: "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."
She added: "The sight of John holding JJ for the first time is one I shall never forget. From the moment I met John, it felt like there existed a baby-shaped space between us. Now that space has been filled with our wonderful son."Reuse content