When mummy is old enough to be granny: A woman of 58 who became pregnant after fertility treatment sparked an ethical controversy; but many people become parents in middle-age or beyond. What problems do their children face, and what are the advantages?
Thursday 22 July 1993
THOMAS WAS A GIFT TO ME IN MY 60TH YEAR
I CONFESS to being polyphiloprogenitive, and to a certain irritation when I say I've had nine children and people look at me with astonishment. They think, quite naturally, of the mother, or mothers; and these days they sigh - whether because they wish for children or find this obscene, it is hard to say. I know I find nothing extraordinary in having so many children. They are all fine children (even if the oldest shuffles up towards 40), have given me much pleasure, and I would not have it otherwise.
Thomas, the youngest, is only five (which is what his twin sister would also be had she lived) and was a gift to me in my 60th year. The next youngest graduated from Oxford this year, so the gap is some 15 years. I have assisted at all but the first of their births, and it never ceases to amaze me how potent and atavistic is the charge from seeing the young born. Seeing twins born to a woman I love brought me, as every birth has, close to the vital things of life, things so fundamental that they cannot be explained.
But when Madame told me that she was pregnant, I realised there was also something selfish in bringing into the world a child who might not know his father for long. That is one of the pains of age, and it is an unthinking mother or father who does not take this into account. When Thomas is at university, if I am lucky, I will be 80.
It is undoubtedly true that children conceived in later life have a special and precarious position. His mother is a mere 38 now, and can be, indeed is, single-minded in her devotion to him; whereas I am of many minds, and he is both a joy and a charge.
The peculiarities of Thomas's life, however, are many. He is well aware of being a twin, and of having a sister with the angels. He is also aware of being in a generational confusion. He lives in a world populated by nephews and nieces who are something like his own age, while his true siblings must seem every bit as old as myself. Not an only child, he is one to all intents and purposes. And I no longer have the limitless energy of the young parent, nor even, always, the kindness I should have.
But as the child of an aged father, he has a kind of wisdom and balance that his siblings didn't attain until they were considerably older. The dinner table at which he grows up is populated by greybeards whom he will not know in adulthood. He will have many losses, myself among them. But I do not think that he, any more than I, would wish it otherwise. Life is a very precious gift and in return for that he can bring me back not only to the early days of his siblings, but also to the wonder of my own childhood.
The love I bear him is that much greater for his being a late gift, and for my knowing that it will continue to illuminate me, should I live long enough, when my oldest are seeing their first grandchildren into this world. I suspect his brothers and sisters also feel a certain awe: that he is so young and yet enjoys such a long past and such a long future.
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