The women who wish they hadn’t left it so late to start a family

Angela Epstein

Last updated at 10:01 AM on 5th March 2012

At 38, Katilena Alpe found herself the mother to two fatherless babies

At 38, Katilena Alpe found herself the mother to two fatherless babies

Katilena Alpe wearily settled her 13-month-old twins in their cots and flopped down in an armchair after another exhausting day. Any minute now, she would hear the eagerly anticipated sound of her husband’s key in the door as he returned from a business dinner.

But that moment never came. Simon, a tall, handsome City trader collapsed on leaving the restaurant, having suffered a heart attack. By the time the ambulance arrived at hospital, the 48-year-old, who had been married to Katilena for 20 years, was dead.

‘It’s still a blur, four years later,’ recalls Katilena. ‘The phone rang and I heard words like “Simon” and “hospital” and then I don’t remember much else.’

At 38, she found herself the mother
to two fatherless babies. In the following months, as Katilena battled
with grief, a reproachful voice nagged away at her: the twins would
never know their father, why hadn’t she agreed to start a family sooner

that having them earlier would have had any impact on Simon’s fate,’
reflects his widow, now 42. ‘But had we started years before, the
children, now five, would have known their father and he would have
played a part in their lives for much longer.’

keeper of her husband’s flame, Katilena, a tourist industry executive
from Kingston, Surrey, ensures Freddie and Athenais know all about
Simon. She shows them pictures and tells them stories.

‘They want to be involved. When they saw photographs of us in India
before they were born, Freddie asked: “We were there, weren’t we” I
said, “Yes, darling,” so he could feel included as part of his memory.

‘I tell them that Daddy is no longer here because one day he felt ill and went back up to heaven. They accept that.’

who has suffered any kind of emotional upheaval — from relationship
upset to a life-changing tragedy — is bound to be plagued with

But it seems the fallout from
postponing a family is, for some women, one of the biggest ‘what-ifs’
of all. And, as the trend for women to have children later in life
grows, it is an issue more will have to face.

According to the Office of National
Statistics, the number of live births to mothers aged 40 and over in
England and Wales has nearly trebled — from 9,717 in 1990 to 27,731 in

Tragic: Simon relaxes with his twin babies Athenais and Freddie

Tragic: Simon relaxes with his twin babies Athenais and Freddie

There’s no shortage of famous poster girls for late motherhood: Arlene Phillips, a mother at 47; Jane Seymour, 44; Christie Brinkley, 44; Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding, 48.

There are arguments for both early and late motherhood: a young mother is more likely to conceive quickly and suffer fewer complications in her pregnancy, but then lacks the emotional maturity and financial security of an older woman. Thanks to IVF, more women feel confident about waiting until well into their 30s and 40s before choosing to start a family.

‘I was 18 and Simon was 27 when we married,’ says Katilena. ‘I thought we had so much time together — why wouldn’t I I worked in travel and tourism so we travelled a lot, we loved eating out and collected antiques. I never felt broody, even though, as time passed, all around us friends were starting families.

‘By the time he hit 35, Simon started
talking about having a family. But I was still in my mid-20s and just
getting into my career. Like most
young people, I simply assumed we had all the time in the world.’ Aged
34, Katilena felt the time was right for a baby, but after repeated
disappointments, the couple had to embark on a course of IVF. She
finally became pregnant with the twins aged 37. It was, Katilena says,
‘a joyous time’.

There has been a 70 per cent increase over the past decade in women having children over 40

‘Simon was a wonderful father, hands-on as soon as he got back from work. Even when the children were really small, he showed them books and talked to them. They added a whole new dimension to our relationship.’

Then, just over a year later, tragedy struck. ‘Simon was stressed just from working hard, but he had no pre-existing health problems. His death was the most terrible shock,’ says Katilena. ‘His family were wonderful — absolute rocks — and my mum was by my side all the time. But with two young babies to look after, I had no time to properly mourn. From that day I had to be mother, father, and breadwinner. If I had my time over again, I’d have my children sooner.’

Heather Stephen, 49, also regrets taking so long to have her first baby, because the delay destroyed her dream of having a large family. Heather, from Crowborough, East Sussex, says babies weren’t even on her radar in her 20s; she spent those years partying and building a career as a writer. At 34, however, she met IT worker Neil, 47, and married him months later. They began trying for a baby straight away, but it took a year to conceive their son Joe, now 12.

‘We were aware of time ticking on, so
within six months we tried for another baby,’ says Heather. ‘But it took
five years and four miscarriages before I conceived our daughter,
Ellie,’ she says. ‘There were no medical reasons why I kept losing
babies. It was just down to my age. I started too late.

‘At my age, the more I miscarried, the
more likely it was I would keep doing so or have a still-born baby. So I
gave myself a target as I hit 41. If the next pregnancy ended in
miscarriage I would stop trying.’

Proud parent: Ruth Graham with son Harry

Proud parent: Ruth Graham with son

Happily, it didn’t, and Ellie was born in September 2005 when Heather was 42. She couldn’t face the anguish of trying again. ‘I was one of two myself and always felt that I wanted more children than that — at least three or four,’ she says.

‘I loved the idea of the large family, the big, noisy, crowded household. Of course, I am enormously lucky to have two healthy children. But there is a part of me that feels a pang because I so yearned to have more.’

Heather also admits she feels her age when coping with energetic little ones. ‘I find being an older mum so demanding — the arguments, the bickering, the homework. Ellie wants constant attention.

‘I find the constant ferrying around exhausting and I also feel old next to other mums in the playground. One pupil is the child of Eighties pop star Gary Numan. When I saw Gary in the playground, I was amazed, but all the other mums were too young to recognise him!’

Like Heather, Ruth Graham, 52, a solicitor and mother to eight-year-old Harry, focused on establishing her career before thinking about getting married and having children.

‘I was absolutely determined to make it
to partner level,’ says Ruth. ‘I wanted to make sure I was financially
secure and that I was where I wanted to be professionally. Only
then would I consider children. The problem is that your career can eat
up a lot of your youth, so when you do decide you want children,
you’re already fighting the clock.’

The problem is that your career can eat
up a lot of your youth, so when you do decide you want children,
you’re already fighting the clock

In Ruth’s case it turned out that her first husband, whom she married in her early 30s, couldn’t have children. She says: ‘We were trying and nothing happened. That produced tension in the marriage and we divorced when I was 40.’

By then Ruth, of Rossendale, Lancashire, tried to come to terms with the fact that she had left it too long to have children. ‘I always imagined having a little girl with the red curls and freckles that run in my family.

‘I couldn’t see my life without children, but I worried if it would ever happen. But, luckily, I started seeing a man who understood that I may never be able to have children.’ The pair married and within a few months, Ruth found she had become pregnant at the age of 45. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I had various tests to check for Down’s syndrome. It was such a relief when Harry was born healthy and well.’

The marriage, sadly, didn’t survive. Ruth says: ‘I love Harry to bits, he’s a fantastic child. Having him at 45, he was bound to only be an only child, but what saddens me is that waiting this long means I won’t be here to see his children grow up.’

Katilena, meanwhile, insists: ‘I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Waiting was my choice. But it’s been very hard. Christmas, family holidays — these are times Simon loved and would have adored to spend with the twins.

‘Simon would have brought so much more to their lives.’ She is, she says, finally open to the possibility of meeting someone new to share her life with. Simon was an incredible man,’ she says. ‘So intelligent, attractive, humorous and interesting. And such an amazing father. Having children late is a gamble — and in my case, though I have my gorgeous twins, it didn’t pay off. We thought we had another 30 years together and there was no rush.

‘My advice to other women would be that, if they are with the man they love, they should grab the moment and not wait. You don’t know what’s around the corner.’