I am a selfish mother. I know that because Dr Barry Walters, a Perth-based obstetrician has decreed that women who plan to get pregnant after the age of 37 are, ‘selfish and self-centred’.
According to Dr Walters, women over the age of 37 don’t know that these little bundles we create ‘are not just babies – they are babies for a little while and they become people.’ So glad you cleared that up for us, Dr Barry. I had no idea that’s how adults came into being.
But he goes on. These babies become young people who are burdened with ‘having to deal with geriatric parents. It’s just not fair.’
I’m sure Dr Walters was very well-intentioned when he made these comments and then defended them in an opinion piece in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. He claims that he is dealing with the facts and not making a value judgement. But he’s wrong. He is making a value judgement. He has determined that the only motivations for me having a baby later in life, are selfish ones.
This used to be the attack directed at single mothers, particularly teenage single mothers. Perhaps the only acceptable and selfless mothers are those who are married and aged between 25 and 37. That’s not a very broad spectrum of women, is it?
Dr Walters confesses to have been dismayed at the vitriol directed towards him. He shouldn’t have been. The issue of pregnancy timing is sensitive, personal and often fraught. For many women, his comments would have been incredibly hurtful, compounding an already very difficult situation.
What if you marry at 33, choose to spend a couple of years before trying to conceive and then found that you couldn’t without the aid of IVF, which then took a further couple of years to be successful? Selfish? What if you didn’t meet your partner until well into your late 30’s? Selfish? Is it better to settle on a less than ideal relationship so you can have a child in your late 20’s and face the distinct possibility of divorce down the track?
And what about women like me who have a healthy child at 44, without the aid of IVF, free of complications during pregnancy and labour? Am I just a s selfish freak of nature?
Dr Walters bases his argument on the very sobering statistics about fertility and risk to older mothers and their babies. And they do give any woman pause for thought. But his views are coloured by his experience that ‘pregnancy is often a dangerous condition.’ Yes, it can be, but not every time. My experience with obstetricians and midwives was quite the opposite. Whenever I expressed concern or doubt about my age, I was always given reassurance and encouragement. Yes there are risks, that increase significantly with age, but all women, regardless of age can experience complications during their pregnancies and labour.
Babies are not born into the vacuum of a Petrie dish. Babies are, mostly, born into extended, loving families. They are not just someone’s child, they are a niece or nephew, a cousin, a sibling, a half-sibling. they become aunts and uncles and parents in their own right. Family dynamics are complex, not neatly packaged and confined to mum, dad and the kids. Some children may have older parents, but disease, disability and death do not respect age. A child may lose a parent to cancer or a car accident at a young age, not just the ravages of old age. It’s all part of life.
Dr Walter’s opinion is based on the narrow-focus of poor medical outcomes. But parenting is more than just being pregnant and giving birth. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that children will benefit from the life experience their older parents will bring to their parenting. I sometimes feel sorry for my older daughters ( born when I was 25 then 27), because in many ways they were raised by a mother who was trying to work out who she was, maturing and developing a healthy self-esteem. My youngest daughter has a confident, self-assured mother, unselfish (mostly), in her approach to motherhood and parenting.
The choice to be a parent is always, at some level, a selfish one. It is driven by a deep biological urge to reproduce. And what are we reproducing? Ourselves.
Dr Walters is not alone in his views. Let me share with you a couple of opinions from comments on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website and the ABC radio’s 702 Facebook page that shocked me into writing this post.
‘The lack of real thought that many women put into having kids’
‘if you left it too late, get over it”
Or this one comparing having a baby in your mid-40’s to suicide – ‘Just as suicide is selfish, risking your life to become pregnant because “you want to have a baby” or even worse, another baby, is selfish.’ She suggests we older women should volunteer for a charity ‘rather than throw your life away.’
Have you, like me, thrown your life away?