July 4, 2008 -- A 72-year-old woman who has two children and five grandchildren has given birth to twins, making her the world's oldest mother.
Omkari Panwar delivered twins, a boy and a girl, by Caesarean section last week.
"I am very happy," Charam Singh, 75, the father of the twins, told ABC News through an interpreter.
Singh was reluctant to speak because he has received negative publicity for his wife's having children at such an advanced age. Even many people of his village in India's state of Uttar Pradesh haven't supported the decision. Still, he and his wife are happy.
"The desire for a male child has always been there, but God did not bless us with a male child," he said of the son who is a product of in vitro fertilization. "Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers."
Panwar, also known as Rajkali, and her husband, a retired farmer, were desperate to have a male heir. Boys are highly valued in India, particularly in rural areas. Traditionally, many Hindus believe that death rites must be performed by the closest male relatives, making the need for a male heir especially important. In addition, although the dowry system is officially banned in India, many Indians still practice it, making daughters a more expensive proposition.
In India, it's common to abort female fetuses, although it is illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of a fetus to pregnant parents. In some Indian states where female abortion rates are high, the government will pay parents to raise and educate daughters to create a more balanced male-to-female ratio.
The septuagenarian couple spent their life savings and took out a loan from the bank for Panwar to undergo in vitro treatments. For the couple, the desire to have a son was most important because they wanted to carry on the family name. They know that their son may never be able to care for them in the traditional way because of the age gap.
Panwar had a difficult pregnancy. Singh said that he never thought his wife would make it through the pregnancy and that the in vitro treatments were painful. But she survived.
"It is a miracle," he said. "Now, she is very happy."
The frail woman was in serious condition when she arrived at the hospital. Her blood pressure was high and she was bleeding.
"I arranged to have blood transfusions and made lots of preparations to save her babies and her life," said Dr. Nisha Malik, who performed the emergency Caesarean section.
Malik told ABC News that Panwar had a difficult pregnancy, suffering from back pain and was on bed rest for eight months. She said that Panwar looked about 65 years old.
"I was really shocked," Malik said of hearing that Panwar was older, a fact based on the woman's own estimates as she doesn't have a birth certificate.
Although the babies were born a month premature and had a low birth weight, the twins' doctor at Sushila Jaswant rai Hospital located near New Delhi told ABC News that the babies are doing well.