Kensington Palace announced this morning that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting a baby due next spring. The happy news made headlines all over the world, and royal baby fever has officially started.
Today’s announcement is also good news for all those women who live under the pressure of a ticking biological clock. How many times have we heard that past 35 your chances of having a baby are very low? And, of course, that even if you do, you will probably have a high-risk pregnancy and a baby with a whole host of potential genetic problems.
In the medical world, a “geriatric” pregnancy is one that happens when a woman is over 35. At 37, the Duchess of Sussex makes for a relatively young mother, considering that many women are having their first child in their early forties – yet this is still the term used to stigmatise her choice.
Medically, it has been proven that fertility does indeed decline in your late twenties with a substantial decrease by the late thirties. However, if a woman is reproductively challenged, she will be so regardless of age. The fertility statistics still in use nowadays are also extremely old, and contemporary studies do paint a rather different picture when it comes to “older women’s” fertility. The 2004 David Dunson paper found that 82 per cent of women aged between 35 and 39 fell pregnant within a year.
Similarly, the potential complications – namely chromosomal abnormalities – are not all that much more likely in a woman in her 30s than her 20s. And the idea that the older a woman is the more risk there is to the child fails to take into account a key factor: that women’s mental health is just as important as physical wellbeing.
Like the Duchess of Sussex, I became a first-time mum in my late 30s. I’m happy I waited – in fact, I see it as one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made. By that point I had lived my life, I was happy in my own skin and able to put things in perspective – crucial given the challenges we face as new mothers.
But of course, as women we are held to impossibly high standards. We are supposed to have children – but not too young and not too old; we must sacrifice everything for our children yet still be successful and attractive. Our choices and decisions will be scrutinised and criticised long after our pregnancy, and it starts with this offensive and outdated terminology.
When George Clooney became a first time dad at 56, no one called him a geriatric dad. The same goes for Alec Baldwin who just had his fourth child at 60 or Mick Jagger who at 73 had his eighth and last child. For now.
We need to put an end to these unfair double standards, which make women feel self-conscious and inadequate from day one. Hopefully, having Markle’s pregnancy play out in the public eye – which it surely will whether she likes it or not – will show women that having a child in your 30s isn’t something to be scared of, and inspire the medical community to ditch such sexist, outdated and useless terminology once and for all
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