The miraculous misconception

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The Independent Online
IT SEEMS most unfair that when it comes to adoption the rights of the child are paramount, but when it comes to tinkering around with fertility, the rights of the child come nowhere at all. It cannot be desirable for a woman of 58 to have a child, however much she wants to, because she will be in her seventies when it is entering its teens. The argument that men can have children into their seventies and therefore women should too is no use - there comes a point where biology should not be flouted and childbearing is it.

What really worries me, though, is not these few, freak cases but the effect on women's attitude to motherhood generally. I already notice that younger women seem to think that childbearing is something that can be postponed until it is convenient for their careers. In fact it is never convenient for one's career and women who wait for the ideal moment might well wait for ever.

Until now there has at least been a cut-off: they would try for a baby till 40 or 45, but then give up and get on with their lives. Now they might go on dreaming of motherhood into their dotage. Yet caring for children is essentially a young person's job, as I was vividly reminded the other week when I had a stint of it myself. The physical reasons are obvious, but there are even more pressing psychological ones: you need flexibility, a cheerful pragmatism and an ability to tolerate mess and muddle that are harder to find after 30.

Women who plan their lives too carefully, who demand the perfect career, the perfect home, the perfect lifestyle, before embarking on the perfect baby, are already demonstrating one major disqualification for parenthood: perfectionism. That is why I am also very worried by women who want to have children without fathers - if they can't compromise enough to share their life with a man, how can they compromise enough to share it with a child?

Of course, it's all very well for me to talk: I've had my children. I am aware that there will be women reading this who are not so lucky and to them I apologise. But there is so much materialist pressure now to make late motherhood fashionable that someone must speak for the alternative view. It suits the state, the media and some pioneering doctors to promote the idea of 'miracle babies' and to push the age of childbearing ever further back, but it suits the child to have young parents - and preferably one of each sex, living happily together ever after. That is the true 'miracle baby' nowadays but, like all miracles, it is increasingly rare.

ONE HESITATES to accuse an eminent psychiatrist of being mad, but I would just like to float the notion that the good doctor Anthony Clare might be suffering from folie de grandeur. The evidence is as follows. For the first in a new series of In the Psychiatrist's Chair, he chose to interview William Roache, the actor who plays Ken Barlow in Coronation Street. He probably thought it would be a challenge. But of course the sane person knows that there are some challenges - jumping into an erupting volcano, for instance, or fighting off a pack of Rottweilers with one's bare hands - that are better avoided.

Mr Roache, it will be remembered, sued the Sun two years ago for saying he was boring. The result was a Pyrrhic victory: he won the libel case but was made to pay the legal costs which far exceeded his damages. Now every journalist knows that it is a libellous thing to repeat a libel, so I shall not dream of doing it. But I found Dr Clare's interview with Roach, well . . . dull, frankly. Mr Roache described himself as 'a very normal person who slumps in front of the television'. He chatted - though 'chatted' gives a rather over-animated impression - about his belief in astrology, Druids, cosmic cycles, natural harmonies, reincarnation, and he assured Dr Clare that 'self-involvement is a permanent process'. I hope Dr Clare has not succumbed to the belief that he can make anyone interesting: that way madness lies.

ANNE DIAMOND is one of those annoying people who always does everything slightly better than you expect her to. I admired her campaign against cot deaths, and now I am forced to admire her latest incarnation as a Daily Mirror columnist. She was particularly thrilling this week on the press coverage of Judy Finnigan.

Ms Finnigan is the Judy half of Richard and Judy, the married couple who preside over ITV's Good Morning. They interviewed me once, and I got the strong impression that she was the brains and he the beauty - especially when she told me, long before Camillagate, that the Prince of Wales was having an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. Anyway, she was the victim of a grunge photographer this week, snapped on holiday in Antibes in a pink bikini and looking a bit Rubensesque. There was absolutely no story attached - she was sunbathing with her husband - but the tabloids duly went to town - 'Finnigan or Thin Again', 'Wish You were Rear', etc - in an orgy of gloating over the fact that she looked a bit flabby.

Anne Diamond came charging to the rescue: 'This is Fleet Street fascism. It's the fault of male editors who still believe women are to be gawped at and bitched about . . . How the editor of this particular organ, David Banks, has the nerve to poke fun at Ms Finnigan, or anyone else less than 20 stone for that matter, I have no idea.' Bravo]

THE OTHER day I had a phone call from a reader saying: 'You don't know me, but I invented the rabbit.' Oh really? I said, putting on that wary, got-a-right-one-here voice one uses for nutters. He asked if I'd seen any rabbits and I said yes, in fact I was in the country last weekend and there were masses of them. I said I knew a place in Yorkshire, near Grassington, where they had black ones that climbed trees. I was racking my brains for more fascinating facts about rabbits when he informed me, curtly, that the rabbit was a mobile phone. He rang off, obviously convinced I was a nutter. Oh well.