The 'Right' Time for Motherhood?

Some women are attacked for being 'too old' to have children (selfish!), some for being 'too young' (irresponsible!), and yet others for choosing to remain childfree (even more selfish!). Lorraine Smith discusses recent press coverage of pregnancy and women's choices.

Lorraine Smith, 29 May 2006

I was shocked to read on The Guardian website 'Comment is Free' that Sarah Boseley feels the decision of Patricia Rashbrook to undergo fertility treatment in her 60s, "plumbs new depths of selfishness". I understand the Guardian 'Comment is Free' website is for opinion pieces which, by their very nature will have bias, but it still amazed me that somebody could pour so much scorn on such a happy event. In a country where the fertility rate has fallen from 2.95 children per woman in 1964 to just 1.77 in 2004, and where experts have acknowledged that we need to start having more children in order to maintain the current population, it is quite a surprise that anyone willing and able to have a child would be criticised for doing so.

It's not just women over the age of 40 who get given a tough time in the press for becoming pregnant, though. The first to be publically attacked were young mothers. Teenagers shouldn't be having babies, apparently, even though a large proportion are probably very caring and loving parents. Unfortunately, the recent revelation that a 12-year-old girl is to become the UK's youngest mother after having unprotected sex on a drunken night out, aged just 11, has not done anything to calm those concerned about Britain's dubious honour of having the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

it still amazed me that somebody could pour so much scorn on such a happy event

Non-mothers, like myself, are also criticised for not having babies in a country with an ageing population that needs to increase its birth rate. Who will look after us in our old age? Who will pay for our pensions? Well, by the time we get to 65, the retirement age will probably be 75 and the extra ten years in work will have tired us out so much that we'll only be claiming a pension for five before we die of exhaustion, so I don't think there's too much to worry about in that respect. Perhaps I should be putting the money I'm not spending on children into my pension fund. That way I could better defend myself against accusations of selfishness thrown at me for my decision to remain childfree. Although I don't agree with these accusations, I can understand them, but not when the same people start saying that women who do have children are also selfish. With so many people - OK, newspapers - having a problem with older women becoming mothers, it is becoming increasingly clear that, while women really must have babies, it should only happen between the ages of 20 and 40. To bring another life into the world before then is irresponsible and afterwards, plainly a totally selfish act. Dammit ladies, why won't you all conform?

The reasons stated by some as to why a woman of 63 should not be even thinking of becoming a mother again seem rather silly to me. Surely, no one knows when they're going to die. Just because someone is in their early 60s does not mean that they will have any more time ahead of them than a 30-year-old. I knew a woman who was extremely fit and healthy past the age of 95, and another who was diagnosed with cancer and died within a year, aged only 37. I realise that becoming a parent later in life means the chances of dying while your offspring are still relatively young is increased, but I don't think it's a reason not to have children. Surely 20 years with extremely loving and caring parents is better than a lifetime with uncaring and abusive ones?

Dammit ladies, why won't you all conform?

Children are always embarrassed by their parents, even if they are 'trendy' young rock stars or actors, so just being old doesn't make this more likely either. I remember thinking one school friend's mother was her grandmother at first, but she was such a lovely woman that this type of mistake was never an embarrassment to my friend. Whereas, some classmates with younger mothers used to cringe as they tried to be 'cool' when they had people round for tea. I would also like to point out that not everyone runs around and plays with their kids, even if they're in their 20s. In fact, many grandparents in their 50s and 60s do far more of that than the little ones' parents do. Children soon grow out of running around in the garden with mum and dad, preferring the company of friends, so why should this be an issue?

Sarah Boseley asked, "How can it be right for a couple in their early 60s to have a baby?". I don't think we should be telling anyone how to run their lives. If medical advances can be used to help women desperate but unable to have children, why should we impose an age limit unless it's a medical necessity? Why is IVF OK in one case and not another? I used to think that fertility treatment was unneseccary in a world where there are so many children in need of a loving home, but I have come to realise that this was a rather short-sighted view. Perhaps the people who have dismissed Patricia Rashbrook as selfish should also reconsider the facts. But, then again, this is just another opinion piece. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, after all.

About the author

Lorraine Smith

Lorraine Smith is a devoted auntie of four who is looking forward to supporting herself during her twilight, years with a job at a supermarket.

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