Don’t tell my husband, but I’m thinking of having another baby.
On paper this is a terrible idea. I already have two young children who refuse to sleep through the night, and I can’t actually afford an additional child, in terms of income, stamina or available bedrooms. But, at the age of 44, I still kind of want to have a third baby – just to put the wind up the sort of people who criticise women for having children later in life.*
The Washington Post tweeted this week: “She had a son at 47. Was that selfish — or great?” While this linked to a relatively positive first-person piece about “later” motherhood, many people took issue with the headline, calling it sexist, ageist, clickbaity and judgemental. Others pointed out that Robert DeNiro, George Lucas and Mick Jagger had children at the respective ages of 68, 69 and 73. Where, they asked, was the “selfishness” of these men being debated? Or is age only an issue when it comes to mothers?
I don’t believe having kids later in life is selfish at all. My first son was born when I was 39, and his little brother arrived three days shy of my 42nd birthday. For so many reasons, this was the perfect age for me to start a family. However, over the past four years I’ve received a lot of criticism for my choices.
Some has been blatant, for instance when I shared my story in an earlier article and a reader complained that I was giving false hope to other older women “with dwindling fertility”. Some has been veiled, like the lady at toddler group who, on learning my age, said: “Oh how modern! Of course I’m sure you’ve thought through what to do if you die soon, and everything.”
Exactly none of these critics ever asked the age of my husband (five years my junior; I know). And none of it has convinced me I’m wrong. Here’s my take on some of the arguments I, and I’m sure many older mothers, hear regularly.
1. Older women have riskier pregnancies and it’s the babies who suffer.
It’s no secret that pregnancy risks climb with maternal age (in many areas, mothers over the age of 35 are still labelled “geriatric”, with that famously decrepit crone, Meghan Markle, their current poster child).
During my first ever 12-week check-up, I learned that the little life I’d seen kicking happily away on the scan was unlikely to survive the pregnancy. Thanks to various factors, including my age, that baby had a one-in-18 chance (where anything over one-in-150 is considered ‘high risk’) of developing a chromosomal abnormality called Edwards’ Syndrome, which babies don’t tend to survive.
He did survive, but more than one kind soul has cited my experience as a reason why I shouldn’t have had children.
The thing is, so many factors increase pregnancy risk. Air pollution from city living. Your blood type. Simply having the temerity to be black, Asian or Ashkenazi Jewish. To argue these groups should avoid reproducing is arguing for eugenics.
Plus I was free of gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy, and the baby scored very low for all chromosomal abnormalities. And to top it all off, I was – gasp – older this time around.
2. Younger parents make fitter parents.
Apparently 21 to 35 is the “ideal” age to give birth. Between these ages I was a smoker with zero upper body strength and constant panic attacks. These days I don’t smoke, have a better handle on my mental health and, while I’m not a gym bunny, I can carry a sleeping four-year-old and a toddler upstairs.
There just isn’t enough time in life. You graduate at 22, maybe settle on a career by 26, work your bum off for five years, and then suddenly it’s time to have a baby? What if you’re made redundant? What if you have to care for someone?
What if, like me, you still haven’t decided if you want kids, spend 10 years in a relationship that doesn’t go anywhere, and find yourself alone with no romantic prospects at the age of 35? I’m lucky that my story worked out, but the timeline for women’s fertility/career/general “adulting” is far too pressured.
3. You’ll be a burden on your children.
I had to arrange for my grandmother’s elderly care. I planned her funeral, chose her coffin, wrote her eulogy, and watched the priest constantly mispronouncing her name while delivering it. I’ve cared for my mother through her ill health; taken her to hospital; placed her in a home.
All of it was horrible, and I’d rather my kids didn’t have to do it for me – which is why I’m an organ donor; I have a will, and I’m planning and paying for my own funeral.
3. Older parents make younger orphans
My parents were 30 when they had me, and the picture of health. But my father died unexpectedly when I was a child and my mother became chronically ill soon thereafter, and has been in and out of my life ever since (largely out, now).
There are two unexpected positives from this situation: firstly, although I only had my father for 11 years, his guiding principles of compassion, curiosity and humour are still my guiding principles through life.
Hopefully I’ll stand my own children in similar decent psychological stead, however long I stick around. All the women in my family seem to see their centenaries, so with any luck I’ll be around for a while.
4. You’ll embarrass your kids.
Look, we live in a small provincial town. I have visibly at least partially foreign heritage. One of my kids has a rather florid name. Neither my husband nor I do a job that’s particularly impressive to children (“Hey kids, have you heard of the word ‘snark’?”). What’s more, I do the school drop-off in leopard-print sweats and Converse because I still think I’m cool.
My kid has so much to be embarrassed about before we even get to the part where I’m old. Not to mention the fact it’s literally my job to embarrass him.
On a final note, I don’t look my age. I’m short and rotund and have the face of a chipmunk, so people frequently mistake me for someone much younger, if not an actual chipmunk (and please don’t think this is a brag: my face is ageing much in the way of an overripe tomato).
During both my pregnancies, at least one person had a go at me (without knowing my age) for being a young mum. One old lady at my GP surgery audibly tsk-ed and waggled her finger at me, saying: “Babies having babies, shame on you”.
In conclusion, have a baby whenever you damned well want, because you cannot win (*and sheer peevish pettiness is a valid motivator at any age).