Wednesday, 23 July 2014


The last time I was pregnant I was 36, and I was declared a geriatric mother.

I was so annoyed.  I had been declared obese for my first two pregnancies, and I was really chuffed with myself for losing the weight for this one. Now I was just old. 

Great. Thanks for that.

We are always hearing that people are having babies later, although there seems little evidence of that at my school gates.In fact the Growing up in Scotland study (which has a very impressive dataset and makes me wish I was still a government researcher) shows that births amongst older mums and also teenage mums is going down, while births amongst 20 something mums is going up.

But for some health professionals, even being in your 20s isn't young enough. Even though you're not 'officially' geriatric until you're over 35, some mums have been called 'old' when they're not even over 30! Friends in Scotland had 'older mum' written on their notes at ages 28 & 29!

The problem is that age categories are used as a pretty blunt instrument. If you've filled out a questionnaire you may be familiar with the age groupings. If you're over 35 you are lumped into the 'geriatric' group, although little attention is paid as to what you as an individual are like. By the statistics anyway.

Blunt instruments like this are useful for flagging up potential issues which health professionals should be checking, but they are professionals, you'd think they'd know, and if they really need a tool like that, maybe they could come up with another term. 

Categorising people because of age can actually end up being the cause of problems.  Too much medical intervention is not good for anyone, and that is exactly what Tracey experienced. Having had children earlier in her life, she had two more when she was 39 and 40. She said:
The thing that annoyed me was how different I was treated after I turned 40 with my last one... I was treated like I was stupid. Well that's how I felt. I kept getting told I was a red flag because I had turned 40. I was no different from I was 39. I felt!
When having baby at 39 I was in the labour room bouncing on a ball walking around we went for [a drink]. I had a quick labour and little girl was never at any risk. At 40 I was hooked up to a monitor and told I had to stay on bed. My labour was long and my wee boy got stuck and was stressed and so was I! So my last labour was my worst of them all.
I feel it could have been better if they had treated me the same as I had been treated at 39. Luckily my wee boy was born healthy.
We can't know, of course, what would have happened if Tracey was allowed to use a birthing ball and walk around for the birth of her son, but all the evidence shows that keeping as active as possible through the birth improves outcomes and reduces interventions.  Being strapped to a bed while you're in pain is stressful, and stress makes your body avoid giving birth.

I was really lucky for my geriatric pregnancy. I had a truly awesome midwifery team who gave me a LOT of support, helping me stand up to consultants who were so used to dealing with problems that they started their discussions with me by telling me there were limits to when I could have a caesarian, rather than asking what I thought about what was happening to my body (I must admit, I had extra attention from consultants because my baby was BIG, and I did end up having a section, because it was the right thing to do in the circumstances, and not just in case).

It's not just medical professionals who get judgey if you're an older Mum. Family and friends can too.  My Mum reckons that I chose to have fun in my 20s, before settling down a bit older. I don't remember that. I remember taking a while to find a man worth having children with and willing to have them with me.  I'm glad I did. On this subject Jac said:
...if you're an 'older' mum a lot of people think you're selfish & have put your career first! Er no, I just waited till I met the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with & have a family with. And I didn't meet him until I was 29.
At the other end of the spectrum, younger Mums come in for flack too. Sarah is pregnant with her third child. She was lucky enough to meet her ideal man early in life, and didn't waste time in starting a family:

...with my first when I was 18 ... the midwife took me into the wee room and started saying 'don't you worry we'll have you sorted with clothing grants, milk and food vouchers and everything you might possibly need' then when she asked about the dad I think she expected me to say he wasn't around but then after 20 million questions about if we lived together and did he work then she kept asking price brackets of how much he earned. She was flabbergasted when I finally just told her his salary and that we were living together and he was supporting me. She turned round and said 'oh! Well you won't get any of those benefits then!'
Then with my second I'd not long turned 20 when I got pregnant and we went through the 20 million questions again then was asked if it was the same dad (made me feel awful).
But this time I feel like I'm not looked down on and pitied as I was then I'm treated like a person who has made the decision to have a family and no one has questioned me about who the dad is and if I need financial help it's just assumed that I'm normal, which would have been nice in the beginning.
It may well be that there are behind the scenes reasons why the NHS wants to classify mothers according to age, but assuming the worst doesn't help anyone, and indeed, as in Tracey's case, it can harm.

There is an assumption that your 20s are the ideal time to have children, and there's even people ('experts' even) who advise women to go ahead and do it then, even if they don't have the relationships and finances in place.  Surely it's better to wait and do it when you can afford to look after your children in a loving home?  We can't all be as lucky as Sarah.

Yet again, it comes down to the fact that it's the person that needs to be treated, and age is just one facet of the person.  

If you've had babies, how old were you? And did anyone have anything to say about it?

Some names in this post have been changed.  Many thanks to everyone who helped me out with this post.

Other posts you might be interested in:

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Where I'm at in First Draft - Chapter 41.
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