Monday, December 13, 2010
Special on My Birthday
I came across a remarkable story in The Daily Telegraph while killing time on this rainy boring day. Well, what could a fella do when he's not into alcohol or tobacco! Here's excerpts of it ... and the twins are due on my birthday! Of course, they could be out sooner ...
A British barrister, Carole Hobson is 29 weeks pregnant with twins which are due on February 23. Nothing unusual? Man, she's 58 years old! The twins will be a boy and a girl and they will not have a dad as they were conceived using donor eggs and sperm without any genetic links to her. The donor eggs came from a 24-year-old Indian woman and the sperm came from a Scandinavian engineering graduate.
Here's a bit more about the story from The Daily Telegraph:
This is, by any reckoning, a truly astonishing story of modern motherhood — and one that raises profoundly troubling ethical questions about the extremes to which some women are willing to go in their bid to have children.
When Carole gives birth, she will be younger by four years than the oldest woman in Britain to become a mother — Patricia Rashbrook, who in 2006 gave birth to a son at the age of 62. She will even be four months younger than the oldest woman to give birth to twins — Janet Bosher, a former nursery teacher who gave birth to twins in 2002 at the age of 58.
But she is the first to undertake such extremes as a single mother, and has taken some deeply controversial decisions along the way.
Not that Carole sees any problem with her circumstances.
‘I have absolutely no doubt about my capability of loving two children who are not genetically mine,’ she says, in her first exclusive interview. ‘If I did, I would never have gone ahead.
‘I am absolutely thrilled to be pregnant with twins, and I can’t wait to see my children for the first time.
‘Age, to me, is just a number. Some people reach 50, just give up and wait to die: but not me. I spent my 20s and 30s trying to avoid getting pregnant, but in my late 40s and 50s I felt incomplete without a child. I want to seize every opportunity that medical science can offer me, as a woman.
‘Some people might accuse me of being selfish, or going against nature, but isn’t it going against nature to perform heart surgery or transplants? I’m no more selfish than any woman who wants a family.
‘People ask me: “How will you cope with twins?” or “How will you feel when they start school and you are 63?” These things do not concern me at all.
‘Yes, I am sure it will be hard at times, but I’m fit and healthy, and I fully intend to enjoy and cherish my babies.’
Nor, it seems, does Carole have any moral or ethical issue with Western women paying for donor eggs from women from poorer countries.
‘That is just the way the world is,’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘If women in Britain are not donating eggs, then you have to take a more global view.
‘As for my children being mixed race, we now live in a multi-ethnic society where it is simply not an issue.
‘I believe a child’s identity comes from being loved and knowing themselves, rather than skin tone. When they are older, I shall take them to their countries of origin so they can learn about their cultures.
‘If there are issues, there are donor conception networks which can give advice and help.
‘I’m not pretending it won’t be hard at times, but, as a parent, my role is to love and help these two babies to become happy, independent individuals.’
What makes Carole’s decision even more remarkable, perhaps, is her profession. A qualified barrister and trained social worker, she works for a national agency supporting vulnerable children through the court process. She has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects parents can wreak on their children, either inadvertently through ill-health, lack of maturity or ignorance, or, in the worst cases, deliberately.
This, however, she says has given her insight into the emotional and physical needs of children. And while she accepts that in an ideal world that means having a loving father, too, she does not consider it essential.
‘Of course, fathers are important to children; but better no father than one who causes emotional or physical damage to a child,’ she says.
‘Through my work, I have seen what some parents can do to their children. On my side, I have maturity and wisdom.’
Perhaps so, but others will no doubt see her decision as reckless. So how did she come to take such desperate measures to conceive?
A headteacher’s daughter, and the eldest of four children, Carole grew up in Lancashire but has settled in Kent.
Her three younger brothers are all married with children, and are what she describes as ‘very traditional, very conventional’.
Indeed, one of them told her she was ‘crazy’ when she announced her decision late in life to try for a child, even telling Carole that her babies ‘would be no relatives of mine’.
‘Some members of my family have been shocked, but I am sure they will come round once they get over the initial embarrassment,’ says Carole, whose elderly parents are both 81.
‘My mother is concerned about my health, but, along with my sisters-in-law, has been very supportive, and we all just hope the twins arrive safely.’
Carole, who has never married, admits that when she was younger she never felt maternal. At 38, she fell pregnant accidentally with twins, but miscarried. She was sad, but also thinks it was for the best because it was ‘the wrong time’ and her relationship not solid enough.
It wasn’t until her late 40s, when she realised time had run out to have a baby naturally, that it suddenly hit her what she’d missed out on.
Involved in a long-distance, on-off, 11-year relationship with a geologist, she asked if he would be the father to her children, fertilising donor eggs through IVF.
‘He wasn’t exactly horrified when I asked him, but he wasn’t keen either because of the logistics of our relationship. He was away a lot, working abroad.’
‘Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was something I could go ahead with on my own. Once you can pass the psychological barrier that this child will not be biologically yours, then you can also accept that the father can be a donor, too.’
Not surprisingly, the relationship with her boyfriend petered out not long after as she embarked on her quest to have a child without him.
It is fair to say that Carole, a single-minded character, went to remarkable lengths to achieve her goal.
It was in 2007, aged 55, that she first travelled to a clinic in the Ukraine seeking help to conceive using Eastern European donors, but was refused treatment when a scan appeared to show a complication with her kidneys.
After further tests in Britain showed her kidney function was normal, she then approached a Harley Street fertility clinic, where she underwent a whole barrage of health tests before being referred to another clinic in Cyprus for the IVF, because of a shortage of egg donors in Britain.
‘I had two cycles, both of which failed, and then, once I turned 56, the London clinic refused to treat me any more because 55 was their cut-off age,’ says Carole.
‘So I went back to the clinic in Cyprus independently for a further two attempts. Each time it failed, I felt heartbroken. But once you get on the IVF treadmill, it’s so hard to get off. It’s a bit like gambling: you keep thinking “Perhaps next time, I’ll be lucky”.’
So in one last throw of the dice, Carole took the decision to fly to Mumbai to visit the Deccan fertility clinic, after learning they accepted patients up to the age of 63.
In recent years, India has, controversially, pushed medical and ethical boundaries by treating much older, childless women, despite concerns over life expectancy.
In 2008, Rajo Devi Lohan gave birth to a daughter at the age of 70, but has never recovered from complications. The same year, 70-year-old Omkari Panwar became the oldest woman in the world to give birth to twins.
Neither of these women is believed to have been treated by the clinic Carole attended.
‘From my research, I could see that clinics in India seemed to have very good success rates, and it was also much cheaper than British clinics,’ says Carole, who liaised by email with the clinic for a year until she was satisfied with their methods.
She paid £3,000 for her IVF in India. This included the fee that was paid to the two donors she selected from the clinic’s books.
The egg came from a 24-year-old Indian mother-of-two, whom Carole selected from an option of eight possible women she was shown details and photographs of. The sperm came from an anonymous 6ft tall Scandinavian engineering graduate. She chose him because — unlike the previous sperm donor she’d used — he shared her blood group, which she hoped would increase her chances of success.
These are the only details that Carole knows about her future children’s genetic parentage, although she says she was impressed by the clinic’s detailed medical analysis of the quality of sperm and eggs.
She admits, however, that British doctors she has visited were horrified over her treatment abroad. They were alarmed at the much higher dose of hormones prescribed by Indian doctors, warning of the risk of deep vein thrombosis (potentially fatal blood clots).
They were equally disturbed by Carole’s agreement to have six fertilised embryos implanted in her womb to increase the chances of success — a practice long considered high-risk in Britain.
‘When I went to my GP for the pregnancy test on my return to Britain, he was visibly shocked when I told him,’ explains Carole.
‘I’d agreed to the implantation of six embryos because I doubted any of them would work anyway. The night before the pregnancy test, I couldn’t sleep, and when it came back positive I couldn’t believe it.
‘It was a bit frightening, and a vision went through my mind of six cots — but when I went for my first scan on July 5, it showed three embryos. The other three had not taken.’
Pregnant with triplets, Carole realised the enormity of her situation. The cool-headed manner in which she decided to deal with it, did, she admits, upset some of her friends.
At 13 weeks, she opted for a selective reduction, whereby a needle was passed into one of the embryo’s hearts and injected with a chemical to stop it beating.
‘The worst part was waiting for the procedure, because I’d made up my mind at six weeks,’ she says. ‘I knew that if I tried to carry all three babies, the risk of disability was much higher, as was the risk of prematurity and the risk of losing them all.
‘I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with three severely disabled children, who might need 24-hour care or be unable to lead independent lives. Everyone wants a healthy baby, not because they are selfish, but for the sake of the child.
‘A few of my friends could not understand or accept why I wouldn’t want to try to keep all three, but it is not a decision I have regretted.’
At 20 weeks, Carole found out the sex of her babies and was delighted to discover she was expecting a son and a daughter. She has already chosen the names Matthew and Freida, but for the moment has nicknamed them ‘Kicky one’ and ‘Kicky two’ because she feels them vigorously kicking each other in the womb.
‘And I’m sure that will continue after they are born,’ she adds wryly.
Carole has nothing but praise for the NHS, which has been supporting her through this pregnancy. She is under the care of the South-East Neo-Natal Unit based at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham.
Without doubt, though, there are some who will question whether the NHS should pick up the bill for a high-risk pregnancy conceived and paid for privately abroad.
Carole prefers to concentrate on the positives, despite the mixed reception from friends, family and medical staff.
‘How you cope as a parent is not about how old you are, and I think my chances are perhaps better than an immature 16-year-old,’ she says.
Having waited so long and spent so much money on her quest to have children, Carole, rather surprisingly, does not intend to be a stay-at-home mum. As a single parent, she will need her salary to support them, so is planning to return to full-time employment following maternity leave.
She has no husband or partner to fall back on for emotional or financial support, or, indeed, to look after the twins should anything happen to her.
‘You only have to look at people like Jade Goody to know that young mothers with children can die early, so nothing in this life is predictable,’ says Carole.
‘But I have three brothers with children who, I hope, will play an active role in their lives and step in should anything happen to me.’
In January, a Spanish male au pair will arrive to help out at her three-bedroomed home in Kent, doing the chores and walking Carole’s two dogs, Milly and Lucy, leaving her free to concentrate on the babies.
‘I have a lot of stamina,’ she says, confident that she can cope with the exhausting, sleepless nights. ‘As the eldest of four children, I was Mummy’s little helper with my brothers.
‘I have spent my whole career working with children. I’m sure the next few years will be jolly difficult at times, but rewarding and enjoyable too.
‘For now, I’m just looking forward to meeting my babies.’