Kirstie Allsopp (a British TV presenter) has whipped up quite the storm in a tea cup with her comments urging women to get themselves settled in the family way before opting for a higher education. She states that many women end up with fertility issues because they are going to university and getting their career on track before thinking about babies. By the time they opt for motherhood their biological clock is no longer on their side.
Doing things the other way around, in her opinion, would be a better tactic. First a family and then university in your 40s or beyond. She’s not saying don’t get educated, just that there are other ways of doing it without sacrificing a family life and facing problems in your 30s getting pregnant.
She’s had her fair share of negative press over her comments (headlines for the sake of headlines in many cases), as well as those who say she absolutely has a point. Whatever you think when you read her interview she has achieved something incredibly positive – a debate. She has people talking about fertility issues and age, discussing the right time to have a family.
And I think she has a valid opinion. There is no arguing against the medical facts; maternal health risks increase as a woman ages, not just for a mother to be, but for her baby too. Getting pregnant gets harder too.
I was 33 when I became pregnant the first time. The nuchal scan done at that time showed a minimal risk of having a baby with a chromosomal condition such as Down Syndrome. By the time those same tests were done during my third pregnancy when I was 38 the results produced a shockingly much higher risk ratio. In the space of those five years there was a huge, dramatic change.
And once I had a newborn at home for the third time it was also obvious that those five years made all the difference. In fact, the eighteen months that had passed since my second son was born already made a marked difference. I was much more tired; sleep deprivation had a huge effect on my own health. Being a new mother just got tougher as I got older. That’s nature. That’s a fact.
However, my personal circumstances were never such that I considered having a baby in my 20s. I met my now-husband when I was 27, not far from 28. I’d known him all of nine months when I moved to the Netherlands. That just wasn’t the time to start a family. I found a job. We found a small house, one foot on the property ladder. We talked about children but we wanted to be more settled. We wanted a bigger house first, space for a family. We wanted our finances to be more secure. We didn’t want to be worried about every euro and cent providing for our family.
In 2005 my partner and I went on a road trip across part of the western side of the United States. That was the result of a conscious decision to make a trip that we wouldn’t necessarily do with children. At least not young children. That was a last blast, go with the flow holiday before consciously trying for a family. By May the following year we were expecting our first son.
And that is our story. And every single couple on this planet has their own story. We were ready in 2005 to commit to having a family. Once we felt we were in a good position financially, emotionally and physically to start a family. Others make less conscious decisions. Some couples become parents when they least expect it. Some couples have struggles to become parents that they could have never have imagined. It is always a personal journey into parenthood.
Do I wish we had started a family whilst we were a little younger? Sometimes yes. But at the end of the day I have three healthy little boys and I feel that I have more to offer them now as a mother than I would have done in my 20s when I was hardly more than a kid myself.
My parents were more than a decade younger than us when they became parents. My mum said once that she felt that she hadn’t had a real youth – she was raising two children instead of going out and doing the things that a 20 year old does. Their reasons for having children young were very different and less conscious than our decision to wait until we were in our 30s. Their story is very different to ours. But our two different stories beg the question: is there ever a perfect time to enter parenthood? There are sacrifices whatever the age. There are pros and cons, whatever the age.
And that is just the point. Every story is different. Every couple is different. At the end of the day, whether you are a teenager, or in your 20s, 30s or 40s when you make that decision to have a baby, in whatever circumstances that may happen, you work with what you have. You take each step at a time and you grow as a person, and hopefully as a parent. But. There is a but. That but is that fertility decreases as we get older.
What Kirstie Allsopp has achieved is discussion, some of it less respectful than it could be, but she is right that the issues that women face when they decide to have a baby in their 30s or beyond should be talked about. Reality should be a topic of conversation. Women want it all and sometimes Mother Nature calls us out on that – the biological clock is a real thing and it is not something that a student in her early 20s even contemplates whilst enjoying cheap pints in the student union bar (I speak from experience). Perhaps now, thanks to Kirstie, she will.