Yvonne Roberts: Old mothers don't make yummy mummies

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The Independent Online

Research from Denmark last week suggested that Britain is among the worst nations in Europe for providing IVF. But among those women who have been through it successfully, it is the moneyed older mothers , apparently, who have it all - career, cash, Hermès handbags, the unlined face of a teenager. Yet still they are miserable, at least according to Michael de Swiet of Queen Charlotte's Hospital, north London.

Research from Denmark last week suggested that Britain is among the worst nations in Europe for providing IVF. But among those women who have been through it successfully, it is the moneyed older mothers , apparently, who have it all - career, cash, Hermès handbags, the unlined face of a teenager. Yet still they are miserable, at least according to Michael de Swiet of Queen Charlotte's Hospital, north London.

Half of all pregnancies to women aged 40 and over end in miscarriage, and the mothers-to-be are more likely to suffer health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure and to produce children with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's syndrome.

It gets worse. While seven out of 100,000 pregnant women aged 20 to 24 die because of complications, the death rate rises to 35 per 100,000 for the over-40s. Part of the problem, according to the doctor, is that some women just aren't good breeders. Of course, there is another side to the doctor's gloomy view of vintage motherhood. A size 16, twentysomething Vicki Pollard on 5,000 calories, 40 fags and 10 alcopops a day will be no match for a Pilates-addicted, GI diet-obsessed, teetotal older career woman who is determined that, bang on schedule, she will conceive.

This fortysomething mother can also point out that Down's syndrome children are born to more mothers under 35 because they don't have access to some antenatal screening such as amniocentesis. Anyway, Down's syndrome children can be much wanted, too.

Older mothers fared well in a mother-and-baby study begun in the 1990s known as the Leicester project. It tracked younger and older mothers and their children for several years. The children of older mothers were better behaved and more focused, while the mothers suffered less post-natal depression. The older mothers had also had their share of dancing on tables, so they tended to spend a greater amount of time with their offspring - they were, however, more fed up than younger women with their partners. The number of older women having babies has trebled in the past 15 years. Now 10 per cent of women have their first baby after the age of 35.

Women have long had children well into their forties, but in the past these were only conceived naturally and were sometimes the 13th or 14th arrival in the family. The modern à la carte approach to children - "ordering up" a first child at what is deemed to be the "right" time for the adult - may meet the grown-up's needs, but in its very control it doesn't always bode well for the child.

A first-time mother of 45 or 55 (once ovarian banking gets under way, there'll be queues round the affluent block for an ovary transplant) accustomed to doing what she likes, when she likes, arguably has even less concept than the younger mother of the implosion that is a newborn baby.

She may also find it more difficult to adjust to the idea that having a baby isn't the same as bringing one up, with all the anarchy that this involves.

A child conceived after several tries at IVF, anyway, has an enormous amount of expectation to meet - even more so if it's a "last chance" baby. Death is also a consideration: some mothers die young. But do we really want a generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings burying their parents long before their own children are born? The counterargument to this usually involves Rod Stewart. If men can be dads at 60 then why can't women?

The response is that men don't, as yet, provide most of the childcare. And when they do, they too should think twice before embarking on paternity at an advanced age - if, that is, they really believe that a child's interest should come first.

Late motherhood is bound to accelerate as long as the workplace continues to exact its present heavy penalty for becoming a parent in mid-career and children are viewed mainly as an obstacle. All the more reason for the arguments against a late pregnancy being openly discussed along with the anti-consumerist notion that you can't always get what you want.

I was 36 when my first baby was born, 46 for my second. Both children were unplanned and conceived naturally. They are both a joy and a delight and have opened up new worlds. But, like thousands of baby boomers, I also have ageing and frail parents, so which comes first - watching the school play or going along for my dad's hospital appointment 70 miles away? And how do I ensure that when my youngest is 25 she isn't faced with parents even more dazed and confused than at present - and involuntarily dependent?

Not a wide world

So, William Wales is going forth, "into the big wide world", to use his own phrase, to undertake a series of "work experience placements". Unlike many undergraduates, he will not face a long term of unemployment. He will not be required to temp in the office of a glass-bottling company for a fiver an hour. He will not have to lie in a job interview and say that ever since he was a little boy all he'd ever wanted to be is a local authority visiting and verification officer, salary £25,000 per annum (because this is his 89th job application and now, anything will do to pay off the debts). No, Prince William in his royalist virtual reality version of the "big wide world", is initiating a kind of National Service for trainee monarchs. This will include a spell in the City, time on a country estate learning about land management (and the family has more land than most to manage), and a stint at mountain rescue, which will probably please his bodyguards no end.

He might also give the Army a go - a generous gesture since, once he is king and nominal Colonel-in-Chief, the uniform, with those impressive, plate-sized epaulettes much favoured by his dad, will come free with the job. This "grounding" inadvertently gives an insight into the aimlessness of royalty. They appear, wave and disappear. If William really wants to discover more about the people he will one day rule, why not step outside the very Establishment placements he has selected and get down and dirty with the proles?

A stint as a teacher, spin-doctor, hospital porter, DJ, care worker or even in today's Rolls-Royce of occupations, plumbing, might teach him more about why a growing number in the population, given the choice, would much prefer to be citizens rather than Her Majesty's subjects.

F F F

At the Queen's Buckingham Palace garden party, someone has clearly been taking liberties with the instruction, "Let them eat cake." Guests, on average, consume 14 items of food. Some are obviously stashing the odd slice of Battenberg away to be mounted at a later stage and placed on the grand piano along with little Billy's football trophies.

This shameless taking and driving away of the Queen's gateaux is yet another sign of the crimewave sweeping middle England. Soon, the average suburban family will find they have been "done" for hiring the (illegal) nanny, clobbered for saving a thousand pounds by taking the children on holiday in term time (even with a £50 fine per child it still makes financial sense), and penalised for smoking in a public place. Where will it all end?

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