A recent campaign sponsored by the pregnancy testing kit-makers First Response aims to "alert" women to the fertility issues of midlife mamas (35+) who might fancy themselves as mothers one day. Campaign frontwoman Kate Garraway has been on every TV and radio show that will have her declaring that she wishes she had her children at a younger age and that having a baby later in life (as she herself did) is a very bad idea indeed. The tone of the campaign was so patronising that I wanted to fight the corner for - shall we say - "considered parenting".Using Garraway dressed as an elderly primigravida (who's clever idea was that then??), the campaign supposedly aims to raise awareness of women in their twenties and early thirties that fertility declines with age. Garraway (which rather brilliantly auto corrects to 'fadeaway' on an iPhone) uses her own experience as an older mother to point out the difficulties of conception after 35, stating that she was freakishly lucky to conceive at 38 and 42 but wants her younger sistas not to expect the same easy ride if they deign to start so late.
That's great Kate, but methinks you're preaching to the converted. As a 40 year old woman, most of my peers are in that critical 35-40 demographic, I would vouch that every single one of them has been fully versed in their fertility facts from a younger age and have been considering their options long before they turned 35. From my experience, I don't think that it is stereotypical blithe career women who put it off until it is too late, but rather the trend towards older motherhood has been prompted by women in their 20s and early 30s facing a series of issues that I argue SHOULD be considered before they dive in to parenting. Here are the top 3:
1. Financial position
It is easy to write off as mere frippery the issue of finances, but I would argue that while it may be too much to expect to own a terraced house or to have saved enough for violin lessons in advance of your baby's arrival, it is an important consideration to know that you can support your child financially. It is wise to think about how you and your partner will manage work or childcare once your baby comes along. Gone are the days when the simple solution was for one parent to act as the breadwinner and one to stay home. It's possible for some, but it needs some planning. Thinking through the home economics beforehand should not be written off as a wasted exercise.
2. Relationship status
This is one of the main bugbears I have with this campaign. Fertility is not simply a women's health issue and having a baby is not just a woman's choice. It takes two to produce that little bundle of joy and problems often arise when a woman's optimum fertility window is out of synch with her partner. It can take 35 years just to find the right partner, identify that he is keen on kids and agree your worldview on parenting. So why rush it? With 20-somethings being the highest rising percentage of divorcees, I am reminded of this priceless piece of advice my Step Grandfather, Uncle Fred (don't ask, it's complicated) gave to me when I was 31 and single:
"That 'life is short' business is b**lsh*t. Contrary to popular belief, life is long, so choose your partner wisely as you will have to spend a really long time hanging out with them".
Fred is right. Whether you stay together or not, your relationship with the father of your child will influence your children forever, so his part in this is therefore a very important consideration to make ahead of parenting. Perhaps a better focus of this campaign would have been to prompt people to have braver conversations about their future with their partners.
3. Ability to conceiveGarraway really drove home the fear factor in her interviews about the risk of miscarriage and the failure rates of interventions like IVF after 35. What she didn't point out was that these risks are present before 35 too. All I could see this doing was making those who feel sad about a loss even sadder. What is the point of that? What she failed to point out is that miscarriage affects women at all ages and is horrid at any time. There are things women can do before they try to conceive, such as finding out about their hormonal profile from their GP and eating healthily, but it is just not helpful to zero in on the potential horrors.
So, in conclusion, I can't point to a single woman I know who sleepwalked her way through her peak fertility without some kind of consideration as to whether or not she wanted kids, was in the financial position or relationship to do so, or was indeed physically able to conceive. Some of them breezed through multiple spontaneous pregnancies, some went through rounds of IVF, some have smaller families, some adopted, and others are child free. None of them need a smug TV AM presenter to preach to them the First Response facts of life.
Thanks all the same Ms Fadeaway.