| 7.8°C Dublin

You can't brand women who work and then have a baby a disgrace

'YOU can't ask women to go into the workforce and then brand them a disgrace for having a baby later.'

So, there I was minding my own business and enjoying an otherwise breezy weekend morning, when a news story stopped me in my tracks. Specifically, it was the image attached to the news story that gave pause for thought. Fortysomething TV presenter Kate Garraway, 'enhanced' with prosthetic make-up (to make her look 70) and wearing a fake baby bump, was an arresting sight.

The reason for the striking image wasn't to applaud older women for having children, but to tick them off. As part of a campaign entitled 'Get Britain Fertile' by First Response Early Result Pregnancy Tests, Garraway provided a cautionary tale, wishing that she'd had her babies younger: "I had my second child at 42 and never questioned at the time that it might be too old," she said. "But I do look back now and realise that leaving pregnancy late can be risky as diminishing fertility can stack the odds against you. So I agreed to become ambassador to the campaign – I want to alert women to start thinking about their fertility at a younger age than our generation did."

During Kate's actual, real-life pregnancies, there was nary a lick of worry nor anxiety on the presenter's face as she enjoyed pregnancy, but that's by the by.

She's not alone – a new poll from the market research agency YouGov, on behalf of First Response, shows that 70pc of women over 55 are opposed and uncomfortable with the idea of women having babies at 40.

 

Irresponsible

It's likely that many childless women caught the story as it ran over the weekend and thought little of it, but something inside me boiled. "Oh, how remiss of me," went my inner dialogue. "Somewhere along the line I was so irresponsible as to 'forget' to have kids. I should have just had children when I wasn't emotionally or financially ready. Sure, I might as well have forgotten about work, leapt onto the dole and done the 'real' work of having children, even if I was totally unsure about it.' A huge pfffft to that, seriously.

In many ways, I've done everything right and played the game of life as best I could. I've worked hard for over 20 years, paid my taxes on time and kept the economy going almost singlehandedly by buying shoes and primer. I've cooed and gurgled at my friends' babies, as the refrain 'when will it be my time?' hummed away like a nasty drone in the background.

Alas, in all my sense and sensibility, I now find myself 'emotionally infertile' and out on a limb sans baby. Am I financially stable now? Not especially. Emotionally ready to become a parent? I doubt it. Ironically, not being complacent about such things – not being arrogant enough to assume I can just wing it – might just make me decent parent material.

Commercial companies sticking their beaks in when it comes to women's reproductive choices is one thing. But seriously, what business is it of anyone's? The Get Britain Fertile campaign reeks of condescension, and seems to assume that most women in their 30s aren't giving their biological clocks a second thought as they carry on like swallows who sang all summer. Trust me when I say that this can barely be further from the truth for most single women. So, on top of worrying about when – or whether if – Mr Right will appear, we now have to be reminded that time is indeed running out.

Adding insult to injury, most men in their mid-to-late 30s want to enjoy a few years of unfettered romance with their plus ones before starting families. Many of my single male friends have a wish-list as long as their arm when it comes to women, and youth is very much at the top. One 39-year-old pal wants a girlfriend closer to 30, 'ideally on the other side of it'. He is currently dating a 24-year-old, so more power to him.

As to the idea that women like me spent too much time dedicated to our careers and therefore missed the love boat – well, what were we supposed to do? Sit in the window sill day in day out and wait for a knight on horseback? It's not 'being obsessed with our career': it's called working to pay bills. Funny how so few working parents are ever labelled as career-obsessives.

 

Unlucky

Is it so difficult to understand that many of us simply haven't been lucky enough to find someone we want to spend our lives with? We have no choice but to wait. It's not pickiness, or even a case of the crazies. We're, so far, simply unlucky in that regard. And, as time drags on and you make a good life for yourself, it becomes that little bit harder to make room in that life for any old idiot. I, for one, am in no mood to fold at the table this late in the day.

And surely two older but entirely loving and dedicated parents are better than a younger one who had a child before he or she even felt ready?

As the Get Britain Fertile maddeningly continues apace, it turns out that we in Ireland, on average, start families even later.

"The more you head west in Europe, the more the average age of a first birth goes up," explains Dr David Walsh, of Dublin fertility specialists The Sims Clinic.

"In Ireland. the average age of first-time mothers is 31. I should think that single women make up around 5pc of our clients. There has certainly been a rise in business in the last few years. Many women would have gone to London to specialist clinics in recent years, but are opting to get treated closer to home. Mainly, they're women in managerial and professional jobs, aged 38 to 40. Most of them simply say they've never met Mr Right, and would have hoped to have a family within a relationship but it didn't happen that way for them. Regret is a big thing for them. And stigmatising them for it is very unfair."

 

Prejudice

Having encountered prejudice against older first-time mums, Dr Walsh brands any initiative to get women having children younger as 'hugely hypocritical': "You can't ask women to go into the workforce and then brand them as a disgrace for having a baby later on in life. If anything, we should be supporting women in these decisions and offering them support and information. Forty is the new 30, after all."

Yet the sad fact remains; we may look and feel younger, but in the same way that time waits for no man, Mother Nature isn't keen on giving would-be later mums a break, either.

 

 

The big cliche we see coming through the door is the woman aged 41 or 42 who has run the New York Marathon but has no eggs," explains David. "You can be the fittest or youngest person, but Mother Nature is very cruel."

Tabloid stories about A-list celebs having children in their late 40s offer tales of hope (or lull 30-something women into a false sense of security).

There's no escaping the scientific fact; having a child between the age of 20 and 29 is not just the societal ideal, it's the physical ideal, too. With fertility starting to decline at 27, the average 30-year-old will have just 12pc – barely an eighth – of her original eggs left, research shows. At the age of 35, ovarian reserves take a serious nosedive. The risk of birth defects – among them Down Syndrome and other chromosome-based abnormalities rises significantly. The risk of miscarriage shoots from a one in 10 chance in your 20s to a one in five chance at 35. The chance of having a baby via IVF at the age of 43 drops to about 5-6pc.

It all certainly merits pause for thought ... but to call a woman out for having a child when she is emotionally and financially ready, and not before, is just plain pointless.

A new procedure allows women to (sort of) fight back; GPs now offer an egg count, to show exactly how wide the window of opportunity sits at any given moment. If nothing else, having information makes women like me feel like there are at least some options.

And, come what may in the future – a life packed with either gurgling, gooey baby love or tons of kid-free fun – we needn't take this finger wagging lying down.


Privacy