Shunned by my parents for having an IVF baby alone at 50

Shunned by my parents for having an IVF baby alone at 50: They thought she was selfish, would never cope… and weren’t afraid to say so. But the magic of a new grandchild changed everything

  • Kelly Clarke was three months from 50 when she fell pregnant from an embyro
  • Singleton Kelly had yearned to be a mum and reached out to a clinic in Athens
  • Her parents Ray and Barbara, of Crawley, overcame their worries and are delighted with granddaughter Lyla Rae

Their daughter had dreamed of being a mother for most of her adult life, so you might expect Ray and Barbara Clarke to have been in celebratory mood when she finally announced she was pregnant last July. 

However, rather than wrapping Kelly in their arms and talking excitedly about the soon-tobe new addition to the family, they shook their heads and asked wearily if she had any idea what she was getting herself into. 

For Kelly was three months off her 50th birthday and single. The baby was the product of a donor embryo, created in a lab in Athens, Greece, with a stranger’s egg and stranger’s sperm. 

And Ray, 74, and Barbara, 72, had made no secret of the fact they hoped their daughter’s attempt at IVF would fail. 

‘I remember lying in bed, unable to sleep for worrying [after Kelly had the embryo implanted] and thinking: “Please God, let it not work,” ’ recalls Ray, a retired coachmaker. 

Kelly Clarke, 51, with her seven-month-old daughter Lyla and parents Ray and Barbara at home in Crawley

‘I sent her a message saying: “Having a baby isn’t like having a puppy. It’s a human being, hard work and a huge commitment.” 

‘To say we were shocked when she told us it had worked would be an understatement. 

‘Kelly was on her own, approaching 50, on furlough, and on the verge of being made redundant, so of course we panicked about how she was going to cope bringing a child into the world. We’re in our 70s, so there’s a limit to how much help we can give.’ 

Barbara, a retired pensions administrator, pulled no punches in relaying her own feelings to their daughter: ‘When she told us she planned to have fertility treatment, I spelled out all the pitfalls: how risky it is, health-wise, at 50 to be pregnant and to give birth. 

‘Then there’s bringing up a child at her age — I had mine in my 20s and, even then, it was very hard work. And what about the child — how would they feel about having the oldest mum at the school gates?’ 

Indeed, Kelly was embarking on motherhood at a time when most women are heading for the menopause. Yet her advanced age wasn’t Barbara and Ray’s only concern — they also had grave misgivings about the manner in which their granddaughter was conceived. 

Kelly, who lives in Crawley, West Sussex, asked that her sperm donor be ‘healthy and sporty’. 

The only other information she was given is that he was a 26-year-old Greek architecture student who is 6ft 3in with green eyes. 

Meanwhile, the egg donor was a 24-year-old Polish administration assistant, sporty, into yoga and, like Kelly, blonde with blue eyes. 

‘Kelly is a brilliant mum,’ says Barbara. ‘She’s always loved children, so I had no doubts about her feelings for her daughter, but she’s coped so well and has incredible patience.’

Kelly had to sign forms agreeing she would tell any child born as a result of the treatment how they had been conceived — and that neither of them would attempt to find the donors. 

‘Of course, we thought: “Who are these donors?” ’ says Barbara. 

‘My main concerns were medical, but Kelly assured us they had been fully vetted by the clinic.’ 

Ray chimes in here: ‘But there’s only so much investigating the clinic can do …’ 

Consequently, Kelly’s pregnancy announcement was followed by several months of deep hostility, during which Ray and Barbara barely spoke to their daughter — whenever they did, it would end in a row. 

A previously close family, their rift only worsened thanks to Covid restrictions keeping them apart. 

Meanwhile, Kelly — a former manager at Gatwick Airport, who was made redundant in October last year, as the pandemic took its toll — found herself coping alone as a single mum-to-be. 

Confessing to feeling ‘really sad’, she says today that she felt ‘disowned’ by her parents. 

The mum-of-one’s world has opened up since having Lyra Rae

Her sister, younger by three years, had initially also tried to dissuade her elder sibling from undergoing fertility treatment, telling her: ‘It’s too late, Kelly, you’ve got to give up on wanting a baby.’ 

Kelly had long craved a child and had hoped to become a mother in a more conventional way, but she’d never found the right man with whom to start a family. 

Thankfully, though, once it became a fait accompli, Kelly’s sister gave her support, extending an invitation to stay during lockdown, and offering to act as her birthing partner. 

‘I was so happy when, 12 days after implantation, a home test, which I did alone, showed I was pregnant. I wanted Mum to be the first person I told,’ says Kelly. 

‘But I knew she wouldn’t give me the happy reaction I was looking for. So I called my sister, instead, and she said: “That’s brilliant, but just don’t get your hopes up, Kelly.” 

‘I went to see my parents to tell them in person and it was all very uncomfortable. I said: “I’m pregnant. I don’t want anything from you — not your time, not your money — but I would like your support.” 

‘They didn’t say much, but made it clear I was doing something they didn’t want me to do.’ 

It was her sister who, a few weeks before Kelly was due to give birth, eventually talked their mother and father round. ‘We know people who never see their grandchildren because of fallouts, but our family had always been really close,’ says Ray. 

‘Our relationship with both our daughters was affected — we couldn’t speak to either without it descending into a row — so we had to think hard about whether our feelings about what Kelly was doing were worth jeopardising family life for. 

‘Barbara and I chatted and agreed we couldn’t reverse what was happening and therefore had to get on and accept it. 

‘So I sent a long message to Kelly, apologising, and saying: “We realise we’re putting our feelings before yours and we don’t want this to destroy our family.” 

‘We knew by then that Kelly was expecting a girl, and I added: “When the baby’s born, she will be our granddaughter and loved, just like our other granddaughters.” ’ 

Fast forward to today and Ray, glancing in the direction of eightmonth-old Lyla Rae, snuggled up in her mother’s arms, is uncontrollably choked up, dabbing his eyes. 

Ray and Barbara chat to me while sitting on Kelly’s sofa, having made the 45-minute drive from their own home. It’s clear they could not be more besotted with Lyla, smiling indulgently at her every gurgle. 

Watching this scene, it’s apparent that, far from acting out of malice, they had only genuine concern for their daughter whose experience of creating a family was a world away from their own. 

Kelly was determined to become a mum, despite being single and in her 50s, and her dreams came true

The couple married when Barbara was 20 and Ray was 22 and they had two children, conceived the old-fashioned way, by their mid-20s. 

Ray worked all day, while Barbara stayed home with the girls, and, when he walked through their front door she would leave to start an evening shift, working 6pm to 10pm, to bring in extra money. 

Knowing what a struggle those early years of parenting had been for them, they find it hard to contemplate how Kelly will cope, without a partner or a job — and at twice the age they were. 

Not to mention the difficult conversations that lie ahead with their granddaughter about her biological parentage. 

Kelly, although an undoubtedly youthful 51 — she has been an exercise-fanatic her whole life — will be 63 when Lyla hits the challenging teenage years. 

Does she, I wonder, worry about navigating that phase alone? 

‘I feel like a young mummy. I may not be, but I’m super-fit and everyone tells me I’m like a big kid,’ she says. 

‘I don’t even think about what age I’ll be when she’s ten or 20. We can go shopping, have lunch together. She’s going to be my best friend.’ 

For all the bad feeling that consumed the Clarkes before Lyla’s arrival, it’s clear there is an enormous amount of love in this family. 

Tears flow readily, as they reflect on things that were said before any of them experienced the joy of knowing the lovely, energetic little girl whose conception rocked their world. 

Lyla was delivered on March 31 by elective Caesarean — on the advice of doctors because of Kelly’s age — weighing a healthy 7lb 8oz. Due to a considerable delay before she was taken into theatre, Kelly was so dehydrated after the birth that she became very unwell, even temporarily losing her sight. 

But after being given five litres of fluid intravenously, she recovered. 

Lyla was delivered on March 31 by elective Caesarean — on the advice of doctors because of Kelly’s age — weighing a healthy 7lb 8oz

Within two hours of the birth, she was breastfeeding — something she’d been determined to do, because of the health benefits to her daughter and the maternal bond it creates. 

Barbara and Ray were unable to visit the hospital due to Covid restrictions, but were waiting at Kelly’s home when Mum and baby were discharged two days after the birth. 

‘We cried our eyes out,’ says Barbara. ‘It was so emotional, for Kelly and us. Our only thought was: “Oh my goodness, look at this gorgeous baby.”’

Nearly eight months on, Kelly’s pristine semi-detached home is unrecognisable from her pre-motherhood days, with pastel-coloured toys and playmats strewn across the floor. 

Despite their understandable concerns about how their daughter, who turned 51 last month, would manage the early months of sleepless nights and endless feeding alone, Barbara and Ray are proud — and more than a little relieved — to see she is doing a stellar job. 

‘Kelly is a brilliant mum,’ says Barbara. ‘She’s always loved children, so I had no doubts about her feelings for her daughter, but she’s coped so well and has incredible patience.’ 

For all this joy, however, there remains sadness that motherhood didn’t happen earlier in Kelly’s life when a baby could have been biologically hers, and with a partner who could share the responsibility of parenthood. 

Her 20s were spent with a man about whom she’d been serious enough to accept a marriage proposal. 

One of the reasons that relationship ended after 11 years when Kelly was 31, is that, although she knew she wanted children, she couldn’t envisage having them with him. 

In the years that followed she kissed many frogs, in the quest to find her prince — until eventually, aged 40, she embarked on a long-term relationship. Sadly, after six years and no pregnancy, she discovered her partner had, in fact, had a vasectomy that he had failed to mention to her. 

By now, 46 and single again, Kelly joined dating sites but admits she put off potential partners by mentioning how desperate she was for a baby. 

‘The men were around my age so either already had kids or had decided they didn’t want them. So I gave up,’ she says. 

Her research into fertility centres that would treat women of her age began when she was 48. Fortuitously, she came across the Athens clinic, where an IVF cycle, including donor embryo, cost £4,000 — a third of the price she would have had to pay in the UK. 

It worked first time, though only one of the two embryos implanted survived. Kelly has, she says, immeasurable gratitude for the clinic’s staff who helped her realise her dream of motherhood. 

She admits that while she would have loved Lyla to have a sibling, circumstances mean her daughter will remain an only child. 

‘I want to give Lyla all my attention, so I think it would be foolish and selfish of me, as a single mum at my age, to do it again,’ she says. 

‘I know I’m so lucky to have her, I’m going to count my blessings.’ Instead, Lyla is doted on by her cousins — two girls, aged 12 and nine, with whom she will, no doubt, have a lifelong bond. 

As for telling Lyla about her biological parentage, her mother can only say that moment will come ‘when she’s older’. 

Given that Kelly has no plans to return to the workplace until Lyla is a little older, she is eking out her redundancy money, topped up with maternity allowance, which ends next month. 

A resourceful woman, she will do all she can to give her daughter the best life possible. However, as sole carer and breadwinner, it won’t be easy — irrespective of her age. 

Do Barbara and Ray have any lingering worries today? 

‘I still feel concerned,’ admits Barbara. 

‘Who knows how Lyla will handle finding out about how she came to be? But I think her cousins will be a good support for her through that. 

‘None of us are getting any younger and, of course, we don’t know how Kelly is going to cope in ten years’ time. 

‘But I can’t dwell on that. Lyla’s here and she’s a beautiful, healthy, baby. Kelly is coping. We’re here, to give what support we can, and we’re just going to enjoy it.’

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