Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson


It’s time we stopped asking older mothers why they’re having babies

Robyn Wilder is 41 and pregnant with her second child. Just like the first time round, it's either assumed she had IVF or she's criticised for her "selfish" choices

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By Robyn Wilder on

It is 2014 and I am at my very first midwife appointment. My midwife, briskly efficient, has taken blood from my body, requested and received an (only slightly spilled) urine sample and is now making a note of my vital statistics. When she gets to my age (39), a vague frown crosses her face and she writes “geriatric pregnancy” on my notes.

“How many rounds?” she asks, briskly and efficiently. “Of IVF? How many rounds?”

“Oh, none,” I stumble. “No IVF. I didn’t, er, IVF.”

The midwife stops writing and looks at me: “How many previous children?”

“Er, none,” I reply, palms starting to sweat. 

Despite myself, since being pregnant I have read tabloid piece after tabloid piece about how “older” mothers are selfish – a scourge, an abomination. I worry that I’m going to get a lecture. I worry that I am wrong to have a baby at this age. Perhaps the midwife picks up on this, as she offers me a brief, busy smile.

She explains that my “advanced maternal age” brings slightly higher risks of miscarriage, chromosomal abnormalities, early birth, pre-eclampsia and labour complications. “Besides, your age is barely the issue,” she tells me. “You’re petite, so you may end up with a a bigger bump and back problems. Your weight and –” she checks my notes, “– various ethnicities bump up your risk for gestational diabetes, and we’ll have to keep an eye on your mental health as you have existing issues.”

At this point, I am feeling pretty shitty about my mishmash of physical and psychological flaws. My poor unlucky unborn child, I think, sorrowfully.

The midwife flashes me another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it smile. “Don’t think whatever you’re thinking,” she says, gesturing towards the waiting room. “Half the women out there are older than you. And many younger women are having much more troublesome pregnancies.” 

Until I was approaching my forties, the idea of being a mother filled me with the sort of horror you feel in those nightmares where you’re driving at speed and suddenly the brakes don’t work. A disaster waiting to happen

And we are done talking about it. For pretty much the entirety of my pregnancy. I’m given extra tests and scans, and occasionally I’m asked if I’m “sure” I haven’t had IVF (from what I understand, it’s a pretty memorable series of processes), but that’s it. I do end up with hyperemesis and gestational diabetes in the end, plus lightheaded pockets of anaemia and a slightly traumatic birth – but these aren’t necessarily age-related – and all is well in the end.

It’s only when, in the early days of motherhood, I venture out to mother-and-baby groups that I feel anything akin to judgement. Mostly it’s just assumptions from some quarters – “How many rounds of IVF?” I’m asked again, “How old are your other children?”, and then, sometimes, I’m treated to the hushed tones of people who have decided you’ve been “trying for a while” but have “been unlucky”. I don’t walk around saying “I conceived naturally!” or “I just didn’t know I wanted a baby or feel ready until now!” because that feels like a kick in the face to those who found conception difficult, and were desperate for a baby.

But it’s the truth. Until I was approaching my forties, the idea of being a mother filled me with the sort of horror you feel in those nightmares where you’re driving at speed and suddenly the brakes don’t work. A disaster waiting to happen. It has taken me almost 40 years to become a person – and not just basically a child, as I was in my twenties, or an anxiety-ridden collection of self-soothing, self-validating behaviours, as I was in my thirties. While all this was happening, I was slowly building a career, meeting someone I wanted to spend my life with, settling down, calming down and – for want of a less woolly term – listening to myself and what I wanted. Turns out what I wanted was what I had, and then maybe a child or two. Also a Labrador and a Maine Coon. These choices weren’t for everyone, but they felt right for me.

Once, a woman at a mother-and-baby group did ask if I felt “selfish” for “leaving it this late”. “I mean, when your son is 30, you’ll be nearly 70 and he might have to take care of you.”

I think about this: “Well, I come from a long line of women who had kids late and lived into their nineties. I’m a freelance journalist, so I’m unlikely to retire, and I’m going to plan and pay for my own funeral.”

The truth is, though, I’m here for a good time, not a long time. I mean that literally. Sticking around 30 years into my dotage could do more harm than good but, right now and right here, I can teach my son the important life lessons I wouldn’t have figured out as a younger, nervier woman. My own parents aren’t around and haven’t been for a while. I have learnt, the hard way, the importance of self-care and self-reliance. And I plan to pass that on to my son.

My sons. It looks like I’ll be delivering my second boy a few days after my 42nd birthday. And, this time, I refuse to apologise for it. Or for the Labrador and Maine Coon that are surely in my future.


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Illustration: Naomi Wilkinson
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