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A baby boy at twenty-two.
I will start, as I did in life, with Leo. My pregnancy was a surprise. Cradling a tiny pink baby against my chest my twenty-two-year-old self was subject to a few tuts. My bare ring finger enticing stranger’s consideration that I would not achieve anything significant beyond bearing children and draining the economy. Circumstantially perhaps I was not as ‘ready’ as was socially accepted, but did I feel young? Not particularly, I had been to university, and held down a well-paid job so didn’t blink an unwrinkled eye at my age. A teen mother could now have a seven-year-old, I rationalised.
Did I miss out on the freedom of being a twenty something, travelling to Thailand and drinking to much tequila?
Perhaps, but was I handicapped by having a toddler? My Masters achieved as a single mother would put two fingers up to that supposition. Hard words relate to my frustration, my embarrassment, to the memory of strangers transparently searching my face for age. Bubbling with exhausted insecurity I would round 22 up to 25 and still there were furrowed brows. Being in my early twenties did NOT make me any less of a good mother. My body definitely recovered faster. Maybe it was my size eight bottom that led to being asked if I was his nanny.
A mother again after eight years.
When expecting Norah my partner and I owned a house, had savings, forehead creases and being nearly a decade older I thought I would escape ageist judgement. Tiredly wheeling a gurgling, talc scented baby along supermarket isles people are drawn over like moths. Smiling at the cornflower blue shade of her eyes, nostalgia splashes across faces reminiscing on times with their own children and grandchildren. There is sweet satisfaction of being close to a human being that is so obviously new.
As part of the usual Q&A loop of ‘is she sleeping through the night yet?’ I loose count of the times that people ask, ‘Is this your first baby?’
Perhaps I just look like I have no idea what I am doing. When I shake my head gently, and happily report that it is my second smiles are frozen for a minute and ‘oh’ has been a more common response that what I would like. Often a diversion about the weather is made. Admittedly whilst my mother’s genes granted me a baby face, I don’t look young anymore. To many sleep deprived nights and Snickers binges. So, I am too young for two but not for one? This is without mentioning that my son is eight and swiftly catching me up height wise.
Age is just a number.
Entering into a search engine, ‘what is the best age to have a baby?’, Hundreds of pages of articles will fill your screen with blue toned titles. If we are talking biologically, the optimum period for childbearing is between 20 and 35 years of age. Conceiving and bearing a child is only a fraction of the journey. Every woman’s body and life circumstances are different.
Fertility is a complicated creature.
Planning for a baby can involve a complex calculation of your age, financial solvency multiplied by your career stability, divided by emotional readiness plus your relationship (or lack thereof) minus your tiny flat. So, what? The perfect age to have a baby is 26 (as long as you are married, have bought a home and earn a combined salary of £30k?!) Talk about hurdles. Perhaps then the question should not be best age to have a baby but the best time to have a baby?
Then again, having two unplanned pregnancies, I have learnt that timing, in fact, isn’t everything.
Was I less responsible at 22? Did having no overdraft and more life experience at 31 save me from PND and times where I have had no idea what I am doing? Nope and nope.
Pregnancy at 35, 40 and 50.
A mother at the older end of the parenting spectrum is classified as one that has her first child after the age of 35. Being just a couple of years shy of that bracket ‘old’ is not a label I am ready to adopt. Statistics have seen an increase in fertility and birth rates for this age group thanks in part, to medically assisted contraception. One in five. Contrary to the stereotypical view of ‘selfish career women’ living it up before contemplating having children, the reality is that there are many reasons for later life motherhood, ranging from the little matter of wanting to be in a stable relationship to having difficulties conceiving.
On a side note/rant, there is nothing wrong in wanting to work, what is wrong is a lack of system in which bringing up children doesn’t require a forfeit in career, or social standing.
A couple’s route to parenthood is, surely, rightly, nobody’s business but their own?
Does motherhood have an age limit?
For the baby of an older mother, and for the mother herself granted the health risks are increased. On the other hand, there is an emotional maturity and life experience of a woman at 40 that I think, translates well to motherhood. There are ups and downs to being an older mum as there are ups and downs for the younger mum.
A friend explained her frustration at being mistaken for her child’s grandmother. Mumshaming in any form, is ugly.
I can’t say I am Switzerland in the age debate. Reading a news article about a seventy-year-old having twins my judgement reared its ugly head as I wonder at parents not seeing their child grow or live to see grandchildren. Though that said who knows what tomorrow brings for any of us and what of grandparents that take guardianship of children that have lost parents? Would you rather them be removed from their family and be fostered with a younger couple? Likely not.
Being a young or old mum doesn’t stop love.
So, what is the best age to have a baby? Who knows.
You can be a good mother at 17 or 47, it is life and its swings and roundabouts which may make the journey easier or more difficult.
All parents whatever their age feel insecure and shamed, judged inwardly and outwardly. It’s because people can be inappropriate, sometimes with ignorance or sometimes rudeness but that is a reflection of them rather than us and our capabilities.
Having a baby is a great leveller. When you’re mixing with other parents it’s all about your baby, how they’re sleeping and feeding and so on. No one asks you how old you are as you all just look zombie level tired.
How old where you when you had your first child? Did you face stigma? Was there a right age for you?