Rachel*, 50, says she wishes she’d had her daughter Emma, now three, 15 years earlier
When I was in my early 30s and my girlfriends and sisters started dropping like flies off the social scene – and off the career ladder – and into the abyss of motherhood, I was busy enjoying my freedom and building my career. “There’s loads of time for all that,” I thought. And there was simply never a good time to have children – there was always another holiday to plan, another personal goal to achieve, another promotion to strive for.
However, when I married my husband at 40, I suddenly became aware of a clock ticking inside my ovaries. Six years and a few rounds of IVF later, I fell pregnant with Emma and became one of the 250,000 British mothers older than 40 giving birth every year – a figure that has risen by 15 per cent in the past five years.
But ask me my thoughts on having children later in life and I will, perhaps somewhat hypocritically, furrow my brow. I am lucky enough to still have my mother around – she is 74 and bright as a button. Hopefully she will live long enough that Emma will remember her, but realistically it will be a vague memory. So Emma will grow up without grandparents.
More important to me is the realisation that my daughter and I won’t enjoy the long relationship I have enjoyed with my mother. The National Vital Statistics Report in the US states that when a mother gives birth at 50, she’s lucky if she sees her child’s 32nd birthday. If the father was 50, he’s lucky if he sees his child’s 30th.
OK, it’s not like she’ll be raising herself from ten, but there are definitely implications – emotional and physical – of having older parents. According to US magazine The New Republic, once you hit 40 your baby has a 30 per cent chance of having an extra chromosome appear – and Down’s syndrome is a possible result of this. They also suffer higher risk of premature birth, spontaneous abortion and other issues. And it’s not just the age of mothers that increases risks – babies of fathers aged 36 are twice as likely to suffer from genetic mutations than those born to fathers aged 20; and babies of 50-year-old dads have nine times the risk of autism and three times the risk of schizophrenia. And don’t get me started on the risks associated with fertility treatment – one fertility drug, Clomid, has been linked with 500 birth defects, says The New Republic.
Emotionally, ‘last-chance kids’ suffer from feelings of a generation gap between themselves and their parents; embarrassment about their parents’ ages and appearance; fear of parents’ illness and death and, of course, loneliness owing to not having grandparents or siblings and cousins their own age. Not only that, but they will likely end up being forced into caring for their ageing parents.
At the end of it all, it’s an individual’s personal choice when they have their child, and I’m not judging anyone but myself. But the fact is, I probably won’t be here for her wedding – and if I am, I’ll look more like a granny than a glam mother-of-the-bride. I don’t regret having Emma – she is the sunshine in my life. My only regret is putting my enjoyment of my youth above her enjoyment of hers. When I look back at my motives – my important career and my high-living lifestyle – it seems so selfish to have spent my springtime years living it up, only to dedicate my autumn years to my child. It was frivolous, idealistic and a decision I now seriously regret.
Do you disagree? Read the other side of the debate:
"Why I’m still looking forward to having kids at 40"
*Rachel’s name has been changed
This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine
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