Christina Patterson: Our body clock is there for a reason

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The Independent Online

It's nice to see a pair of wrinkled hands clutching a baby. In this age of fragmented families and eternal middle youth, it's nice to be reminded that there's a role for the entire extended family in the complex business of bringing up a child. It's nice, in fact, to be reminded of the full spectrum of human life in all its richness: a richness so beautifully summed up by the shepherd's comment in The Winter's Tale that "thou met'st with things dying/ I with things new-born."

It's slightly less nice when the wrinkled hands wrapped around that peachy new flesh are attached to the woman who has just given birth to it. This week saw yet more revelations of a sixty-something woman cooing over her new acquisition and murmuring about the love she was going to lavish on it. It's hard to give a precise price-tag for this little miracle of modern science, but it's certainly going to dent that pension more than a boob job or a facelift. This week's specimen, Janise Wulf, from North Carolina, has clearly not had a facelift. Her face is cadaverous, her eyes sunk in shadows; her long hair hangs in wispy strands. She looks, I'm afraid, like the mother in Psycho.

Unlike the 66-year-old Rumanian woman who regretted her earlier abortions but last year rejoiced in her long-awaited status as new mum, Wulf has been breeding for the past 40 years. She has 12 children, 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Children, for her, are clearly like chocolate muffins - like most Americans, she just can't resist another. "I believe you're only as old as you feel" she says, "and in my mind and body, I still feel as though I'm in my thirties."

In this, she is clearly unusual. A number of my friends who have given birth in their late thirties feel as though they are in their sixties, and those who have given birth in their forties feel about 100. In spite of what the fertility experts say - the fertility experts who lecture women about their ticking body clocks and selfish careerism - these are not women who have been so busy climbing the corporate ladder that they quite forgot about procreation until it got a bit tricky. These are women as bored and frustrated with their jobs as everyone else, women who would have loved to do the family thing while they were young and elastic, but who clung to the old-fashioned idea that a child might actually benefit from two parents - and one of them was nowhere in sight.

And so when love, or something like it, finally struck, it was straight from candlelit dinner to IVF, or yoga, or acupuncture, or whatever would turn those fading ova into a little Ella or Sam, and then on to changing nappies on dolls in East Dulwich or Crouch End and finally the nightmare labour that usually ended in an emergency Caesarean. And then, of course, the journey through sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and childcare challenges, more often than not accompanied by the fading faculties and growing demands of fast-ageing parents. They are loving mothers, and they're doing their best, but it's not ideal.

Clearly, nature is no guide. Nature would, like the Pope, have us pregnant from 14 to 40 and then dropping dead from exhaustion. Not, for each of the 20 or so children produced during this time, necessarily the best start in life. Life is a compromise, but the contraceptive revolution does allow us to use a new reproductive organ. It's called the brain, and it has a wonderful spin-off called common sense. Let's use it. Yes, even in America.

A case of artistic indulgence

Monica Saieva, above, the 36-year-old artist who yesterday brought much of west London to a halt, may want to consult Osama for tips on going into hiding. Those left stranded by her scattering of cardboard boxes full of soft toys, trainers and nails may well feel that instant incarceration in some home-counties Guantanamo would be - for such idiocy - an apt reward.

It wasn't immediately clear whether her act was the result of a desire to spread a little artistic sweetness and light - a kind of "hello flowers, hello trees!" artistic naivety - or of serious psychosis. It now emerges that it was neither. It was, in fact, a "statement" about terrorism.

I suppose you couldn't expect much more of an artist whose website pontificates incomprehensibly about the "dominion" of "an ancient and revered realm". She is hardly the first artist to commit the sin of banality, but to inflict her nutty narcissism on a good tranche of the nation's commuters is going too far. Stupid, stupid girl.

* Well, John, it would be over-egging the pudding to say that I am, like Pauline, "devastated", but I'm certainly a bit upset. For all those years, you had, if not my heart, then at least my grudging respect. While effete public schoolboys, whose silver tongues came with their silver spoons, sneered at your heroic battles with the English language, I stood by you. I believed that behind those mangled malapropisms there lurked the soul of a good man, a man whose fists were subject to the occasional Parkinsonian twitch, but whose red-faced rages were a reassuring indication of a refusal to be tamed or spun. I was wrong. That contorted prose concealed, it seems, not tortured intelligence, but cliché. Feisty wife duped for bottle-blonde secretary, younger than their marriage, chatted up at the office party. How tediously, unutterably, despicably dreary.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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