Dilemmas: I'm desperate to get pregnant

At 36, Wendy hears her biological clock ticking and she longs for a baby. Her partner of three years is also broody, but theirs is an on-off relationship. Should she try to find someone more stable, at the risk of never having children?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

When it comes to women in their late thirties getting pregnant with any old bloke just so they don't miss out on motherhood, mutters of "What about the child?", "Not fair it not having a father", "Selfish", start being heard in the Ironside household. Of course, it's quite easy for me to say that, as I already have a child, but I hope that were I now 36 and getting broody, I'd at least try to find a man to have a child with who was committed to being a father, if not a partner.

And this, it seems, is the incredibly fortunate position that Wendy finds herself in. She may not have found Mr Right, but she's found that rare bird, a broody bloke. I've had lots of letters from married women who want to have children, but their husbands' minds are set against it. I've even had letters from men whose wives have refused to have children. But Wendy's man is up for fatherhood. And I think she should grab this chance of a family while she can.

We've all got anecdotal evidence of friends who've had late babies. But the truth is that women's fertility starts to plummet after the age of 35. No one knows exactly why, but one theory is that some older women's eggs start getting old and wrinkly, like seeds that have lain in a cupboard too long. Another theory is that the lining of a woman's womb starts drying up and fertilised eggs simply can't implant there, like seeds thrown into a sour field. (Excuse the medical aside, but I write as one who tried to get pregnant at 39 and failed.) Even if Wendy were to meet Mr Right in the next year - and there are few enough nice men available, as anyone in their thirties will tell you; they're not left in the stable for nothing - it would probably be another two years at least before they'd consider a family, and by then she'd be 39. Her chances of pregnancy might have been lost for ever.

Now, what about the child? Since Wendy's relationship with her boyfriend is so unstable, I think they ought to make contingency plans, quite coldly, about what happens to the child should they split. They should agree, before it's even born, whether it should live with her or her boyfriend most of the time, and that whatever happens each would always allow the other to have unlimited access. They should agree that they would never stop their in-laws from visiting, and that neither would leave the country for the next 15 years - or, if they do, to do it in tandem. They should agree that they're not having a baby to save their relationship or to bind them together, but because they have a lot of love to give a child, even if they don't always have enough love for each other.

By openly acknowledging the instability of their relationship, and discussing the options in the event of a split, they have, paradoxically, a chance to make life for their child more, rather than less, secure than that of children of parents who aren't prepared for divorce. And if they can't agree on these ground rules now, then perhaps they should think twice about pregnancy.

Finally, they should remember that having a baby together is far more binding than marriage. You can always get divorced, but once you have a baby you're related, as parents, until you die.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

This may work well for you

Go for it only if you are happy, willing and able to go it alone. If this man also wants to have children, hopefully he will be able to provide the stable, committed relationship with them he appears unable to have with you. I was in a similar situation - our son is now nine years old. Co-parenting works well for us and our son. However, it's not everyone's cup of tea.

CAROLINE BUCKNALL

London N4

Full discussion is the key

It is wonderful that Wendy's man is broody too. They should "go for it" - but discuss and confirm their relationship first. Wendy is intelligent and will have chosen to go out with a man bright enough to be father to her children. Sharing the fun and trials of parenthood will bind them together as never before. Wendy knows she has not many childbearing years left. Perhaps her man realises that his ability to become a father reduces with age.

JILL WILLIAMS

Knebworth, Hertfordshire

Take a responsible attitude

A child, ideally, needs two loving and committed parents. We often hear claims of people's "right" to have a child, yet we are in danger of widening the chasm between rights and responsibilities. A child is neither a commodity nor an accessory to life; it is a life in itself. Too many women regard the menopause as a "closing down sale", so they'd better procreate. Wendy should examine her motives and ask not "what can a child do for me", but "what can I do for a child?"

NANCY RYAN

Wirral, Merseyside

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Since he was two, my 10-year-old son from my first marriage has spent equal time at each parental home. I now have twins of four with my new partner. The problem is, my son's mother and her husband have a life of conspicuous materialism, while we're more frugal. And at his mother's the boy is allowed to watch films he can't watch here, and can go to bed when he likes. My son is starting to find the standards of our home relatively Draconian. He's starting to behave like a spoilt brat. I love him, but question whether to-ing and fro-ing between different lifestyles is good for him. I feel we could bring him up better, but his mother would never consent. Should the status quo continue, or should one parent let go and allow him to spend more time in one environment? How flexible can children be?

Yours sincerely, Simon

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from . Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk, giving a postal address for a bouquet

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