Is There A Perfect Age To Have A Baby?

13 September 2010

Somewhere in a parallel universe lives 21-year old woman. She is blessed with a flexible career, a soul mate, a healthy disposable income and feels ready to become a mum.
 
Back in the real world, the chances of all this happening in tandem are slimmer than Posh’s thighs. So when is the ‘perfect’ time to have a baby? This is the question that I tussle with in Cherry Has A Baby, a documentary showing tonight at 9pm on BBC3.
 
The media loves to criticise mums almost regardless of how old they are. Teen mums are too young, career mums are too selfish and older mums are too, well, old. Mother Nature would like us to have babies in our early twenties - but then she didn’t spend almost two decades cramming for exams and praying after countless job interviews.  

Before making this documentary I felt that the mid 30's was the perfect age to sprog. But the more women I talked to, the more this idea was challenged.

To have a baby in your early teens is undoubtably tough. One young mum I interviewed openly wished she had waited, recognising the adverse affect it'd had on her future aspirations. Living in a Mother And Baby unit, with only sporadic appearances from the father, she found motherhood hugely overwhelming. Many of the young mums there were aware of how they were viewed. They argued that they were not just a bunch of "Vicky Pollards" and in fact were doing the responsible thing after falling pregnant. After talking to these girls it's clear that they aren't all the "feckless" and "irresponsible" "benefit bums" we so often read about. However, whilst I do feel that teen mums are unfairly vindicated as a group, I was left in no doubt that the teenage years are a very difficult time to become a mum.

But the teens aren't the only group that are criticised by the press. I've read so many stories condemning older mums for being selfish and for being incapable of caring for their child sufficiently. But this was absolutely not the reality when I met Angela, who is now a mum in her late-40's. She was desperate to become a mum and had been trying for 12 long and expensive years. With a body to die for, a huge support network and as much energy as a nubile teenager I could see that any child of hers would be loved and cared for with all the passion a mother could have. Once again, preconceptions were trashed.

Even my previous theory that the 30s were the 'perfect age' was challenged. Tijen, a gorgeous, feisty and successful business owner seemed to 'have it all'. However, after years of hard graft and commitment to her business, she was incredibly fulfilled by her career and could have happily waited another 5 years. But like many career women, the biological clock was ticking away in her well-groomed head.

So after an amazing roller-coaster ride, I now believe that there is no 'perfect' time to have a baby. There are so many factors to be weighed up by each individual woman - career aspirations, financial situation, support network, physical health. It is an entirely personal decision. I personally feel that the most important of these is the support network - for me, it has been the most crucial element. But, in terms of timing, flexible learning and increasingly flexible workings mean we've never been freer to choose.

Cherry's documentary Cherry Has A Baby is on tonight at 9pm on BBC3; www.cherryhealey.com


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