My gorgeous little accident: Debbie amazed doctors – not to mention her grandchildren – by getting pregnant naturally at 53 while on the Pill. Here she shares her joy… and exhaustion!
Life-changing: Debbie Hughes with her son Kyle, who she conceived naturally at 53 even though she was on the Pill
Peering at the two blue lines on the pregnancy test, Debbie Hughes reached for her reading glasses to check that her eyes weren’t deceiving her.
Fast approaching her 53rd birthday, she thought she was too old to conceive naturally and, besides, she was on the Pill. It was impossible, she thought, her stomach ‘lurching with shock’.
Panic rising, she re-read the instruction leaflet convinced there must be some mistake, or that the test was faulty. A second positive test, however, left no room for doubt.
‘When I saw the two blue lines my heart was thumping so hard I thought it would burst out of my chest,’ says Debbie, a grandmother-of-two. ‘My first thought was, “I’m too old, this can’t be right”.’
Debbie had only taken the test because her partner Paul Clarke, 45, a heavy goods vehicle driver, had joked ‘Are you pregnant’ when she complained of a bloated tummy after they’d shared a pizza.
‘I’d put on a bit of weight and, after Paul’s remark, I became paranoid I might be pregnant, even though I thought I had more chance of winning the Lottery,’ she says.
‘When I rang Paul, he was in complete shock. He said: “No way! You must be joking. Have you got your glasses on”’
Only Debbie did have her specs on and she wasn’t joking — as two more hastily bought home pregnancy kits would confirm later.
Today, the embryonic life, which showed up as two blue lines in October 2010, is a bonny seven-month-old boy called Kyle.
Believed to be the third oldest British
woman to conceive naturally, Debbie must surely be the first such woman
to do so accidentally, while taking the contraceptive pill — a feat made
all the more remarkable because she and Paul enjoy what Debbie
describes as a ‘once in a blue moon’ love life.
It was only when Debbie’s partner Paul remarked on her growing abdomen that the thought even entered her head that she might be pregnant
Despite her fears that the baby might
be born with abnormalities because of her age, Debbie refused to even
consider a termination and went on to have a ‘textbook’, problem-free
And so, on June 22 last year, Kyle was born naturally, weighing a healthy 7lb 11oz, just one hour after Debbie was admitted to Northampton Hospital.
A joyous occasion undoubtedly. But is motherhood something she really wanted to embrace again when most of her friends are discussing the menopause, or (like her) adjusting to life as a grandmother
And quite apart from the physical demands of a young baby, there are practical concerns, too; namely financially supporting Kyle through to adulthood at a time when Debbie might be considering a more leisurely retirement spent doting on her grandchildren.
Debbie, a jewellery shop saleswoman, was made redundant at the end of last year, shortly after she discovered she was pregnant.
She is now fearful she won’t find a new job at her age; not to mention one which offers flexible hours and enough pay to cover childcare costs.
It is an exhausted, still slightly shell-shocked Debbie, now aged 54, who opens the door to her home in Daventry, Northamptonshire.
The living room is scattered with the kind of plastic toys she thought she’d never buy again, and the family scene inside is rather confusing to say the least.
There is baby Kyle, all chubby cheeks and peachy complexion, staring up at his much older, 6?ft tall brother Mark, 26, who has come to visit his Mum and admits that the new family set-up is ‘a bit weird but nice, too’.
Toddling around the room are Mark’s daughters — Debbie’s grandchildren, Lydia and Nicole, aged two and three respectively — who are also somewhat older than their ‘Uncle Kyle’.
First-born: Debbie in 1980 (aged 22) pictured with her first daughter Hayley, who died aged 17
‘I love being a grandmother,’ says Debbie with a laugh, who admits she has less energy these days to devote to the girls.
‘And it’s a lot easier than being a mother, because you get to hand them back at the end of the day.
‘Kyle’s with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He wakes up crying every half hour at night and I feel like a robot every time I get up to go to him.
‘It’s exhausting, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s like a precious little gift I never expected to receive.’
And where is Kyle’s father, Paul To complicate matters, he and Debbie have never lived together and keep separate homes; a situation Debbie has no intention of changing.
Indeed, they’d only been dating less than a year when Debbie accidentally became pregnant.
‘I like my own space, and so does Paul,’ says Debbie. ‘After the shock had worn off, Paul was thrilled about the pregnancy.
‘He comes round every day to see Kyle, and loves him to bits, but I’m used to being independent and he’s away a lot working, anyway.’
Debbie, who despite the sleepless nights looks much younger than her years, appears to be taking everything comfortably in her stride. But then, she’s had plenty of practise.
She had the first of her four children at 21, so though she felt a bit rusty at first, bringing up baby is a bit like riding a bike — once you know how, you never forget.
‘It’s no different to when I was a mum in my 20s, although I am a lot more tired this time round,’ says Debbie, who has been married twice.
‘Kyle is a very active, inquisitive little boy, so he needs a lot of stimulation, but I’m a typical Northern girl and just get on with it. I never feel lonely or blue because I have a fantastic network of friends,’ she says chirpily.
‘Most of them are now talking about hot flushes and the menopause, telling me “you just wait”, but I still feel 21, both mentally and physically.’
‘I was 42 when Brandon was born and I thought I was pretty old then,’ said Debbie
First married in 1979 to a printer, Debbie — the Manchester-born daughter of a bank messenger — gave birth at the age of 21 to her first child Hayley, followed by son Mark six years later.
The marriage ended after ten years, the couple having grown apart, and Debbie was content being a single working mother, doing a variety of retail jobs, including sales and cashier work.
But her world fell apart when her daughter Hayley — who would have been 33 this year — died tragically, a week before her 18th birthday, after choking to death in her sleep.
‘Losing my daughter Hayley completely destroyed me,’ says Debbie. ‘I couldn’t sleep, eat or function. My weight dropped from 9?st to just 6?st. I thought I’d never recover.’
Debbie was 40 when she met her second husband, a heavy goods driver who she married in 2000, and was desperate for another child.
She did not conceive quickly, however, and was convinced she was too old.
‘It took us almost two years to have our son Brandon, who is now 11. I was 42 when he was born and I thought I was pretty old then,’ says Debbie.
‘I was thrilled, because Brandon was very much planned and wanted, but my then hospital consultant was furious with me for having a baby so late in life.
‘I remember him storming out of the room when I refused to have chromosome tests or an amniocentesis to check for abnormalities. ‘He said women shouldn’t even be having babies at my age.
‘But having lost one child, there was no way I could ever terminate a pregnancy. I knew that come what may, I would love that child.’
When her second marriage ended in 2008 — a result, she claims, of her husband’s infidelity — becoming a grandparent filled her with a new joy.
Certainly when she started dating Paul, an old friend and father to a teenage son, in 2010, she was looking for no more than romance and companionship.
Their relationship was one of pleasant restaurant meals, drinks parties with friends and cosy nights in, when Paul wasn’t working away — which he did often — hence a rather infrequent sex life.
To this day, Debbie has no idea how her contraceptive pill failed. She insists she took it every morning and can’t remember being ill or taking any medication which may have rendered it ineffective.
Indeed, for the first four months of pregnancy, she didn’t have a clue she might have conceived. She had no morning sickness, no tiredness and was still having periods. It was only when Paul remarked on her growing abdomen that the thought even entered Debbie’s head.
‘We were both in a state of complete disbelief,’ says Debbie, who has now been fitted with a more fail-safe form of contraception, “just in case”.
‘We were shocked, worried and delighted all at the same time. Because of my age I was very concerned about the risk of miscarriage, or birth defects, so I was very anxious and flustered when I went to see my GP.
‘His eyes almost popped out of his head when I said “I’m pregnant”. He was more shocked than I was, and said “Wow”. He asked me: “What do you want to do”
‘I know that for some women an unplanned pregnancy at 53 might fill them with dread, but there were no doubts in my mind.
‘I knew I wanted this baby and was prepared to accept whatever consequences there may be, so I told him I didn’t want a termination.’
Debbie’s midwife was the same woman who’d helped deliver Brandon and, far from being disapproving, she acted as if it was the most normal thing in the world. ‘She was wonderful. She just went: “Hi Debbie, nice to see you again. Don’t worry about anything, you’ll be fine.”
She immediately found the baby’s heartbeat and estimated that I was probably between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant.
Back home, her news was greeted with astonishment from the rest of the family. Her elder son Mark couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and asked: ‘Mum, are you sure’
Debbie says: ‘I asked Mark: “Would you be ashamed of me for having a baby at my age” and he said: “No, never”. Then he said: “Whatever you decide, you will always be my mum.”?’
At Debbie’s first appointment with her consultant, a fertility expert, there was further amazement when he too discovered her age.
‘When he asked me how old I was and I said “53”, his first response was: “Oh yeah, you’re joking aren’t you” But when he looked at my notes he said: “Goodness me, so you are.”
‘Then he asked me if I’d had egg donation and when I said “no”, he said: “I’m astounded, I will never forget you.”
He wanted to know all about my family history and wondered if my fertility might be linked to genetic factors.’
Though both her parents have passed away, Debbie’s grandmother was aged 40 and 41 when she had her two daughters and Debbie’s younger sister has just had her third child aged 42.
According to reports published in 2005, scientists have identified a genetic profile that appears to enable women over the age of 45 to conceive naturally.
A team of researchers from Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital told a major European fertility conference that this particular genetic combination appeared to slow ageing of ovaries and protect against cellular damage.
Normally, a woman’s fertility declines sharply after the age of 35 and by the age of 40 has a 5 per cent chance of conceiving naturally each month compared with a 20 to 25 per cent chance for a 25-year-old.
It is, of course, extremely rare for a woman to conceive naturally in her 50s. British housewife Dawn Brooke, who was revealed in 1997 to have become the world’s oldest natural mother at 59, is believed to have been on Hormone Replacement Therapy, which experts said could have triggered the pregnancy.
Before the birth of Mrs Brooke’s son, Harry, the British record for the oldest natural birth without fertility treatment was held by Kathleen Campbell from Kimberley, Nottinghamshire, who, aged 55, had a son, Joby, in 1987.
Debbie Hughes has now joined this rather rare and exclusive club with the birth of Kyle, who — to add to his uniqueness — was delivered still inside the amniotic sac, or ‘caul’, which according to folklore is a sign of good luck.
‘When Kyle was born they had to take him away and remove him from the sac, so it was Paul who followed him to make sure he was all right, and to count all his fingers and toes. Paul was in tears he was so proud,’ says Debbie.
‘When they finally put Kyle in my arms, I was just overwhelmed with love for him. The maternal instinct just kicked in. They kept us in hospital for a few days and word quickly spread about the 53-year-old mum, so I had almost every nurse popping in to say hello and have a look.
‘But I don’t feel remotely embarrassed, nor do I feel too old to be a mum. When I go to baby and toddler groups, no one has ever asked me if I’m Kyle’s gran.
‘Some people might say: “Oh when he’s ten, she’ll be 63, and when he’s 20, she’ll be 73.” But for me, age doesn’t come into it.
‘Anything can happen in life. Younger mothers can die, too, and grandparents often look after or bring up children.
‘I don’t judge other people about the choices they make, so I don’t see how anyone has the right to judge me.
‘Kyle wasn’t planned, but we are thrilled he’s here and I’m determined to stay as healthy as I can to make sure I’m around for him for as long as possible.
‘I’ve had some women of my age say to me: “Oh, I don’t think I’d want to be in your shoes”, but equally there have been other women who’ve said to me: “You know what I rather envy you”.’