Woman who became mother at 57 admits she was too old for IVF
Published 08/11/2011 | 09:28
BRITAIN’S oldest first-time mother has said an age limit should be set for women wanting IVF treatment after admitting struggling to bring up a child in her sixties.
Susan Tollefsen became a mother after receiving IVF treatment at 57 from a Russian clinic in 2008, where she conceived daughter Freya.
Many criticised her decision, saying she was too old to become a parent.
At the time, Mrs Tollefsen defended her choice and pointed out that her partner Nick Mayer was 11 years her junior – and would therefore be around to care for their daughter Freya during all of her childhood.
However, she says the couple have now split and concedes her critics were right as she encounters the difficulties of bringing up a three-year-old child alone at the age of 61.
Mrs Tollefsen, who is deaf in one ear and having a knee replaced, also agrees that, with hindsight, there should be an age limit of 50 for IVF treatment for women in this country.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, 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.
"I’m doing my best to raise her to be completely independent but the prospect of her being taken from me, if I die, particularly when she’s still young, breaks my heart."
Government guidelines recommend doctors do not offer IVF to women over 40 on the NHS, and private clinics will generally refuse to treat women older than 50.
The health watchdog NICE is considering whether to scrap the age limit in favour of treating women based on tests which estimate how many eggs they have left.
She also admits that Freya’s arrival dramatically changed the dynamics of the house. "Right from the start it was a shock, and shock’s not good for the elderly!" said Mrs Tollefsen.
Like so many parents with young children, the pressures and responsibility began to pull the couple apart.
"I felt as if my whole world revolved round Freya and yet Nick was passionate about West Ham. I felt there was four of us in this family – me, Freya, Nick and the Hammers," she said.
"Every Saturday he wanted to go and watch them, either home or away, and some weekdays. I felt as if he didn’t want his life to change at all after Freya came along, even though mine had changed completely.
"I realise that we didn’t communicate well. That wasn’t a problem when we only had ourselves to consider, but it became an ever-widening gap after Freya was born."
Mrs Tollefsen talked about parenting a child at a time when many peers would be thinking of retirement and watching their grandchildren growing up: "One thing I didn’t realise I would encounter is the difference between myself and some of the other mums at the school gates. They are nice people but we are so different – we are from different generations.
"I have little in common with most of them. They talk about nights out and music and things that just don’t involve me. There are times when I feel on the periphery among them. 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.
"One advantage of being my age is the wisdom you gain from experience and I intend to make the most of every second I get to share with my daughter – I never want it to end."
She also confesses how tiring is it at times to cope, after separating from her partner and moving out of their home in Laindon, Essex, to live nearby. She brings up Freya on her own, on a tight income that includes her pension, while her daughter sees her father every fortnight, staying with him for a weekend.
"I never imagined it would work out this way,’ Mrs Tollefsen said. "I’ve never regretted having Freya but I’ve had to pay a heavy price for my dream of being a mother. In fact, 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."