A retired teacher who gave birth at 57 through IVF now admits that she was too old to have a child. Susan Tollefsen sparked an ethical storm after becoming Britain’s oldest first-time mother when she had daughter Freya using sperm from her partner Nick Mayer, who is 11 years her junior, and a donor egg.
Now aged 61 and separated from Mr Mayer, she believes there should be an age limit of 50 for IVF treatment for women in the UK. The pensioner said she had split from Mr Mayer in part because of the ‘shock’ of having a child so late in life.
She said: ‘Freya is without doubt the best thing I have ever done in my life, and I have no regrets. But with the benefit of hindsight I recognise that perhaps some of my critics were right.
‘I get a great emotional feeling when I look at her, and a sadness when I realise time’s running out. If I could change just one thing, I would wish to be younger so I could enjoy watching Freya grow up, get married and have children of her own. ‘If I’m completely honest, my experience has taught me that 50 should probably be the cut-off limit for having children, but until you have them it’s almost impossible to appreciate that. ‘It’s so true that you only learn by your own mistakes, and my mistake was not to have had her sooner.’
Mrs Tollefsen, a former special needs teacher from Laindon, Essex, gave birth to Freya in 2008. The strain exposed problems that already existed in her relationship with Mr Mayer, and she is now bringing up Freya on her own on a tight income, which includes her pension. Freya stays with her father, a warehouse manager, every other weekend.
‘I’ve never regretted having Freya, but I’ve had to pay a heavy price for my dream of being a mother,’ Mrs Tollefsen added. ‘It’s cost me my relationship. ‘You think you’re madly in love with someone and you just don’t realise what they’re going to be like after you’ve had children.’
Mr Mayer, 49, said: ‘We’re living separately for various reasons. I’d prefer us all to be living together but that’s just not the case – but who knows what’ll happen in the future.’
Mrs Tollefsen also acknowledged the age gap between herself and other mothers at the school gates. ‘They are nice people but we are so different – we are from different generations,’ she said. ‘I have little in common with most of them. They talk about nights out and music and things that just don’t involve me. Sometimes I envy them their youth and infinite chances. I realised, belatedly, that I wanted a sibling for Freya but regretfully I had to devote the time to nursing my parents. But perhaps more than most I now know the real value of the time that’s left to us, and I don’t intend to waste a moment.’
She added: ‘A lot of the criticism I faced was based on my age, with claims that Freya would be abandoned in the event of my death. But Nick is still in his 40s.’ She also lamented the fact that older fathers do not face the sort of criticism she encountered, saying: ‘They get a slap on the back.’ Josephine Quintavalle, a co-founder of the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, praised Mrs Tollefsen’s candour. ‘One has to admire her honesty in coming forward and speaking frankly about the difficulties about being a mother so old,’ she said. ‘We can only hope that this acts as a warning to others who are in their later years and considering having a child.
‘One has to feel sorry for her, because she took advantage of something society offered her. But I think it shows that we need to have a bit more respect for nature, which seems to know how hard it is to look after a child when you are older. There is a very good reason the menopause comes when it does. IVF and egg-donating are creating a lot of unnatural situations.
‘As a society, we have to start to look at all of these issues from the perspective of the child and ask what is best for them. ‘The ideal situation for a child is to be with a two parents who are young and healthy enough to look after them.’
Article: 7th November 2011 www.dailymail.co.uk
Read more about IVF and egg donation.