Mystery over age of the `oldest mother'

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Welsh farm owner, Elizabeth Buttle, has become Britain's oldest natural mother at the age of 60. Or has she? Jeremy Laurance,

health editor, looks at the tangled circumstances of an extraordinary birth.

Elizabeth Buttle has had a baby boy 35 years after her only other child, a daughter, was born in 1962. The new arrival, named Joseph, has astonished experts but it is still unclear whether it will put his mother in the record books.

The baby was delivered by Caesarean section last November at the West Wales General Hospital, Carmarthen, but details only emerged on Wednesday. Doctors had feared the child would be at risk of a chromosomal abnormality such as Downs syndrome, which is higher in older mothers, but he was born healthy.

Mrs Buttle attributed her achievement to the "clean country air" and expressed a desire to be left to get on with running her farms, of which she owns several around Cwmann, near Lampeter. The father of the boy, Peter Rawstron, also appeared shy of publicity after it emerged that he had left his wife to live with Mrs Buttle. There was confusion, too, over Mrs Buttle's age which was variously reported as 54 and 60. Medical experts said that while a natural birth to a woman of 54 would be exceptional, at 60 it would be miraculous. If confirmed, it would exceed by five years the previous British record held by Kathleen Campbell, who was 55 when she had a her son, Joby, in 1987 in Nottingham.

The confusion appears to have arisen from a discrepancy between Mrs Buttle's hospital medical record, which gives her age as 54, and her birth certificate which gives her date of birth as 10 February 1937, making her 61 next month.

Checks by the Press Association at the Family Records Centre in London revealed an Elizabeth Espley, Mrs Buttle's maiden name, was born early in 1937 in the Chester area and there were no further births registered in the same name before late 1945.

Mrs Buttle, who has been married twice and whose second husband died 10 years ago, said she was delighted to have a new son. "He is my little miracle and he makes me feel like a young woman again. I feel perfectly well and I don't know what the fuss is about. There were no complications and the hospital staff were absolutely marvellous."

Mrs Rawstron, wife of the boy's father, who still sees her husband every day as they run the family agricultural business together, said: "He's been foolish to say the least. I'm very unhappy about the whole situation. Most babies are a cause for celebration but this one is not."

Professor David James, head of fetomaternal medicine at the University of Nottingham, said: "Women cease their periods around the age of 50 plus or minus three or four years. Fifty-four is therefore one end of the possible spectrum. If a woman is well past her menopause it theoretically should be impossible for her to conceive." All a woman's eggs are present in her ovaries at birth. When the last egg has been released, the menopause ensues. The main limitation on motherhood in the fifties is the age of the egg.

West Wales General hospital was making no comment yesterday on Mrs Buttle's delivery, but earlier John Power, chief executive, said women of her age were given special care by the midwives. "We are all delighted the baby was born healthy and has continued to do well."