Becoming a mother before thirty...


Becoming a mother before thirty...

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday. He is 35. I mention this utterly unremarkable information because it is precisely that; nobody is particularly interested by his thirty-fiveness.

His three and a half decades on this planet are worthy of nothing more than a “happy birthday” and a quiet meal in the new tapas restaurant around the corner, at which point I will say, “well done you for being born and turning 35 almost entirely without incident”.
About three weeks later, I will turn 35; and my age becomes a priority. They say, “ooooh, 35, tick-tock!” and “so, are you going to celebrate by giving your child a sister or a brother?”, as if it is ever appropriate to ask someone you are not involved with if they are planning on having sex tonight.

When I turn 35, there will be no reason to drink sherry and eat chorizo. Instead it would be much better if I spent the day in the dark, getting used to the sensation of tumbleweed blowing through my womb and ovaries.

Being everything

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. No, scrap that. Not sometimes. All the time. Nothing you do is ever enough; even if you gave birth while doing a hand-stand and typing out an accounts report, there’d still be someone telling you off on Twitter for making other women feel inferior.

Women are expected to be everything, and please everybody:  from mothers and wives to executives and models. We  are also expected to do these before we turn 40 because after this we...what, exactly? Become irrelevant? Invisible? Or do we just expire from exhaustion caused by trying to cram absolutely everything into a period of time that is, relatively, absolutely nothing? I need to lie down just thinking about it.

Fertility ‘time-bomb’

Recently, a letter written by Professor Geeta Nargund, consultant gynaecologist, to Nicky Morgan was leaked. In the letter, Professor Nargund wrote about the “fertility timebomb” in the UK and that women should have a baby before they turn 30. She urged the Education Secretary to make it compulsory for young girls to be taught about their fertility.

“I have witnessed all too often the shock and agony on the faces of women who realise they have left it too late to start a family,” wrote the lead consultant for reproductive medicine at St George’s Hospital in South London.

“For so many, this news comes as a genuine surprise and the sense of devastation and regret can be overwhelming. And so often the cry will be, ‘Why did nobody warn me about this?’”

Really? Because ever since I was about 21, I have been aware of having a biological clock, one with alarms set about every two minutes - alarms that cannot be snoozed. By the time I turned 30 (single) I had already resigned myself to being as barren as the Gobi Desert. I was lucky to meet a nice man at 31 and have my daughter at 32, but I have no expectation of having another.

A thought-provoking piece that was published in The Atlantic two years ago revealed that a large body of research on the correlation between age and childlessness was based on French birth records from the late 17th century through to the early 19th century.

Research that was carried out in 2004 found the difference in fertility between a 28 and a 37-year-old was only four percentage points.
In fact, the more I read that piece, the more I start to think that reports of fertility “dropping off a cliff” at 35 are not just grossly exaggerated, but part of some patriarchal conspiracy to remind women that their main purpose is as a glorified womb.

Sadly, there are still people who cannot have children and for whom science has proven useless. I cannot imagine their pain and I am sure they would not want me to. I am sure, too, that they would not want Professor Nargund to use their plight as a tool to highlight the “costly and largely unnecessary burden on the NHS” caused by IVF, or a stick with which to beat already pressurised woman.

Blueprint for women?

Men don’t get mixed up in the milestone maddness, and this is not because they can continue siring children into their nineties. It also because we don’t expect all men to have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. We don’t expect them to have it all.
However, there seems to be some sort of blueprint that women need to stick to: career, marriage, house, baby, career, another baby; and anyone who fails to adhere to this has somehow failed at being a woman.

The onus is always on the female, even after marriage and baby; note how often men refer to looking after their own children as “babysitting”, and how it is almost always the mother who ends up having to sort out childcare.

Kirstie Allsopp – who made similar comments to the professor’s in an interview we did together last year - was pilloried for her views, but we should give her credit for also mentioning that men need to be educated, too.

This I feel it is worth repeating: “There is a huge inequality… And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25 and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say, ‘Let’s do it now.’ But men need to know, men need to be taught in school that there is a responsibility, that if you love someone, decide if you want to have a child with that person or not.”

And perhaps that is what Professor Nargund should have been demanding from Nicky Morgan. Because as long as fertility and childcare are seen as nothing more than silly “wimmin’s issues”, women will never have equality.

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