I am an older mum. I had my first child at 43 in 2007 and my second at 45 in 2009. I believe the NHS termed me a geriatric mother, even though I was in better health and fitness than many of the much younger mums to be.
In the back of my mind, I was well aware that there would be those who would look on having a child in my forties as being selfish but, in general, most people have been accepting and nothing but kind.
On the other hand, there are those who can’t quite resist trotting out a few of the gems below:
“Oh, was it, you know, a natural conception?”
People are fascinated by how we late mums conceived. It is a reasonable enough question I suppose and I do know women older than me who have travelled abroad for IVF by donor egg.
But why people can’t quite grasp that until you have your menopause, you are still technically able to have a child, I don’t know. Does the method of conception affect your ability to be a good parent? Hardly. And, the answer to the question is, yes it was.
“But aren’t you menopausal“?
The average age for menopause in the UK is 51. And average, maths lovers, means that many women will reach menopause AFTER that age.
“But aren’t you very tired?”
Having a child is tiring. Having two children is even more tiring. Prior to giving birth, I was not spending my days lying on a chaise longue being fed peeled grapes. I could even walk unaided. Younger mums also feel very tired, trust me.
“I suppose you find you’re so much more patient“
Nope. I still have all the patience of my son in the Lego shop. I think anyone who has a child (or adopts, fosters or becomes a stepparent, come to that), goes through a rapid learning curve, taking on all sorts of skills and personality traits that they never previously considered. I’m still as impatient but I am learning strategies to deal with it. Rioja for instance.
“So when you’re reaching retirement, they will only just be going to college?”
Possibly true but given that retirement age will probably reach 70 for all of us sooner or later, I might not quite have a bus pass. Us late mums are hit by a triple whammy – retirement, kids’ university fees and caring for elderly parents.
I think in future the shape of the family will change; extended family will become much more important and child care will be shared through the generations (in a model which already exists in parts of Europe).
I think our friends will play an important role too. Stats say that something like 1 in 4 women born around 1964 (my birth year) are childless. I have many friends who are single, childless and in poor health and I can quite envisage adding them to the family mix!
“But don’t you and your husband worry about dying while your children are still young?”
Of course we do! One of our main preoccupations is staving off illness and making sure we maintain a decent level of fitness. But life doesn’t come with a guarantee and parents can die at any age. I wish I had met my husband ten years ago. I wish my first pregnancy (a year before my daughter) hadn’t ended in an early miscarriage. I wish I wasn’t an older mum. I wish. I wish. I wish.
I would still tell younger women to have children in their twenties and thirties whilst their fertility is much higher, but I completely understand why women choose to have babies in their forties.
For me, the chance to experience having children and build a family would always outweigh anything I could possibly achieve in my career (I was a marketing director for a Welsh law firm).
You can call it selfish if you like. But I maintain that having a baby is always a selfish act. As Richard Dawkins explains in his book “The Selfish Gene“, we are programmed to reproduce to ensure our species’ survival. The drive is more primal than just the urge to paint a nursery and knit booties.
When the time is right we will sit down with our kids and tell them the story of their birth and reassure them that we will do everything in our power to stay with them as long as we are needed. We will tell them that they were wanted, loved and not some random throw of a dice in the last chance fertility saloon.
I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had not had children. I might have had a better wardrobe, more exotic holidays and a flasher kitchen but I think I would have felt dead inside – like my life had been a bit of a waste.
It is, of course, a personal choice and, equally, there are many women who just don’t want to have children and whose lives are just as rich and fulfilled.
But I’m talking here to those fighting against their biological clock whilst wondering if it’s too late or even whether they should try for a baby.
I’m happy to talk about my experience as an older mum but please try to remember that it is the Pacific Salmon that dies after spawning. I’ve never felt more alive.