Woman has baby. You wouldn’t think that it would make headline news (unless, of course, it was Kate and Will again), but it has. Not because the mother-to-be is a boss at Marks and Spencer; lots of women in senior positions have families. Not because the impending birth was announced on the stock exchange: this is standard practice thanks to rules which state that investors must be informed if a senior director will be away from their desk for more than three weeks.
But simply because the woman in question, Laura Wade-Gery, is 50. If she was 30, even 40, it might have merited a line or two somewhere halfway down some of the business pages. But she’s not. She’s 50. And that is headline news.
The implication (in some cases it’s rather less subtle than that) is that motherhood at 50 is, at best, slightly outlandish and at worst, selfish, stupid and wrong. But who’s right? And, more pertinently, how old is too old to have a baby?
It’s a question I have been asked many times since I stuck my head over the parapet and wrote a book about giving birth at the grand old age of 43 (and a quarter). I’ve been accused of being “mad” to have had a child at this age (really? It is, without question, the best thing I have ever done, or will ever do).
I’ve been asked a hundred times if I’m exhausted. Well, yes, but that has everything to do with juggling work and motherhood and writing books/training for a marathon on the side. Show me anyone of any age who wouldn’t admit to being a bit on the tired side after a 12-hour day wrapped around two school runs and a half-marathon power walk once the child is tucked up in bed.
I’ve been told I’m selfish – because I’m going to die sooner than my 35-year-old counterparts, and that’s not fair on my child. Mid-30s and early 40s … not exactly a gaping chasm between them is there? Bad things happen to people of all ages. Some things you can control (yes, I eat healthily, exercise, I don’t smoke) and some you simply can’t. Of course I could be hit by a bus tomorrow – but if I do, it won’t be because the driver of the 143 has a thing about women who give birth over the age of 35.
People have always had babies in their 40s. Not first babies, it’s true. There are no guarantees, of course, and leaving it late intentionally is not something I would advise any woman to do. You can’t argue with the facts – fertility does start to decline in your mid-30s, and it’s naive, at best, to think you can postpone trying for a family until your 40s and be guaranteed success.
According to the tabloids, pretty much every woman who waits to start a family does so in order to further her career. But I didn’t. Nor did over 95% of the 100-plus women I interviewed for my book. For most of us it was down to circumstance, not choice. I never set out to have a baby at 43. But then I never set out to meet someone I wanted to start a family with at 39 either. But that’s how the story unfolded, and I was lucky – oh so lucky – to get pregnant and to become a mum before time ran out.
I am now 50. The same age as Wade-Gery. Would I contemplate having another baby now? Much as I would have loved a second, the answer has to be no. People tell me that age is just a number, but the truth is that I do feel different from how I did in my early 40s.
I live a full life. I work, I love spending time with my family, I have (to the amusement of school friends who voted me and two other classmates “least likely to ever own a pair of trainers”) discovered a passion for exercise. But I don’t feel up to coping with the rigours of a newborn, to going through toddler-taming and potty-training and all the rest of it at this stage in my life.
So is 50 too old? For me, without question, it is. And yet, I understand the yearning to have a child. So I understand too why Wade-Gery is prepared to turn her world upside down to become a mother. And I wish her luck. – By Cari Rosen
Image – AFP