Monday, 30 December 2013

having babies later

My Mum was 27 when she had me, which is the average age for new mother's now, although back in the 1970s they tended to be slightly younger (according to the Office of National Statistics - and they do know about this stuff). With her advising hat on, she told me that she thought 27 was too young, and I should have fun and enjoy life before I settled down and had a family.  My plan was to wait until I was 30.

When I turned 28, my Mum started asking me when I was planning on having children, and talking about women nowadays delaying their families.  Sigh.  

I know that there's lots of talk about selfish women choosing career over family these days, but I'm just not sure it's true, or at least it's not the phenomenon that it's supposed to be.  After all, again, according to the Office of National Statistics, the age of first time mother's in the 1970s was the youngest it had been for a while.  In 1944, it was 29.  There are lots of things that affect it.  In the 1940s I suspect it was hard to find a man.  Now it's still hard to find a man who wants to have a family, and there are other factors at work too.

I didn't have my first child at 30, because, despite a lot of trying (I was very trying), I didn't find a man to have children with in time.  However, I was only a bit late.  My first child was born when I was 31.  Some people are not so lucky in their search for Prince Charming.  

Some people do put work first.  Of course they do.  Having children is absolutely awful for a woman's career, so if you want to make something of it, you're best to wait until you're established, or indeed, not have any at all.

This matters more in some places than in others.  If you're in London, for example, and want to stay there, then you're going to be spending a lot on housing - you might not get the option to have children until later.

Men's fertility declines with age.  Their sperm becomes less and less fit for making little people as they get older.  And yet, it still seems to be women who get all the flak for 'leaving it too late'.

Robert Winston, our favourite moustachioed TV scientist, was on Woman's Hour over a year ago (here's the podcast), discussing IVF for older women with a panel. All that stuff about how your body is better at parenting if it's younger (although not too young), and you shouldn't leave it too late, etc.  But then Robert said:
"[Women coming to have IVF later in life] is going to continue to happen ... because, in our increasingly mature society ... - mature in terms of how we develop our relationships - people are leaving valuable relationships 'til later and later ... and I think it's an important cause for stability."
He went on to suggest that we should improve services to increase fertility in later life.

This to me was a revelation! Totally thinking outside the box (ahem).  Moving away from all the trashing of older mother's, which really comes down to victim blaming when you think about it.  What a positive way to look at things!  Of course, it does raise questions, but let's look at those instead of criticising people eh?  Looking at improving services to increase fertility in later life may prove fruitless, but it's got to be worth looking at, as it may be easier than changing all of society.  We have to recognise that we're all living longer than we used to, so what would be the harm in having children at say, 50?

Have you had children?  Did you start your family later than you might have done?  What slowed you down?  What do you think might be the problems for parents in their late 40s and early 50s having children (if they did manage to improve fertilisation technology)?

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