AN INDIAN woman has become the world's oldest mother, after giving birth to twins at the age of 70.
Omkari Panwar and her 77-year-old husband already had two grown-up daughters – and five grandchildren – but were desperate for a son and heir.
And, after she controversially underwent IVF treatment, the couple's wish was granted, when the twins, a boy and a girl, were delivered by Caesarian section.
Their elated father, Charan Singh Panwar, a retired farmer, told how he had mortgaged his land, sold his buffaloes, spent his life savings and taken out a credit-card loan to fund the IVF treatment, which cost 350,000 rupees (4,375).
"At last we have a son and heir," he said. "We prayed to God, went to saints and visited religious places to pray for an heir.
"We kept no stone unturned and God has rewarded us. The treatment cost me a fortune but the birth of a son makes it all worthwhile. I can die a happy man and a proud father."
The twins, born one month premature and weighing 2lb 9oz each, are healthy and expected to survive, according to doctors at Jaswant Roy Speciality Hospital, where they are in incubators.
Mrs Panwar, who has no birth certificate and does not know the day she was born, uses the date of India's independence in 1947 to gauge her age. She remembers being nine when the British Raj left India – meaning she is now 70.
The world's previous oldest mother was Adriana Iliescu, a Romanian who was 66 when she gave birth to a daughter in 2005.
After being told she had beaten the record, Mrs Panwar was indifferent. "I didn't know that," she said. "But if it is true, so what? It is of little benefit to me. "I have not even seen my own children yet – they were taken to a specialist hospital while I was still unconscious.
"I just want to see my new babies and care for them while I am still able."
Talking about their quest for another son, Mr Panwar told how they came about the controversial IVF treatment. "It was while we were looking for every option that one of our villagers told us about a doctor who had treated a 60-year-old lady, who conceived a child," he said.
"We went to Meerut (in Uttar Pradesh] to the Baby Shastri Nursing Home last year, where we met doctor Shashi Singh.
"We talked with him and he told us we could have a child, and through his treatment our babies were born."
Recuperating on a rusty steel bed in her daughter's mud-brick home, Mrs Panwar said: "For eight months, the pregnancy was hectic and very painful. But I have given birth before, so I knew what to expect.
"Sometimes, you have to face the pain if you want something good. All I care about is that my children are healthy. My daughters have got a little brother, my husband and I have got an heir – that is all we ever wanted."
Stunned doctors in the town of Muzaffarnagar, seven hours drive north of the capital, New Delhi, told how they were forced to perform an emergency operation to save the life of Mrs Panwar, eight months pregnant and bleeding heavily, when she was brought to them in the middle of the night.
Nisha Malik, a gynaecologist, who was woken from her sleep to tend to the semi-conscious patient, said: "When I first saw her, I thought she had been in an accident or had cancer.
"I was shocked when this old lady told me she was pregnant."
THE record-breaking birth underlines another trend in India – the overwhelming desire for male children.
According to India's 2001 census, the country has a national average of 927 girls for every 1,000 boys.
The ratio for children from infancy to age six is 798 girls to 1,000 boys in Punjab, 819 girls in Haryana and 916 in Uttar Pradesh.
There is no reason to believe this situation has altered since the census and, indeed, anecdotal evidence indicates that it has become even more exaggerated.
The British medical journal the Lancet recently estimated that 500,000 female foetuses are aborted each year in India solely because of their gender.
In April, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, termed female foeticide and infanticide "a national shame".