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Standing up for Mothers

May 22, 2013

After being told I was too old for  Mother and Baby magazine, perhaps I’ve finally been made sensitive to the fact that I’m an older mother … defensive almost, which is rather irritating, but, and maybe it is me, it really seems that big swathes of the media this week have it in for mothers in general, not just older mothers but mothers more broadly.

A piece on being looked down on for breastfeeding in public by a young TV presenter appears to apologise for it and infer that it really shouldn’t be done … saying she feels ‘looks’ and disapproval … maybe it is all in her mind, but I feel that writing such stories doesn’t help the situation. I guess some would argue that if someone as lovely and widely recognised as Edith Bowman gets disapproving looks then what hope do ‘normal’ mothers have … I think it more likely that people are looking twice simply because of who she is. I have never had a negative look or comment (other than once from a member of my own family) about breastfeeding publicly … and me an older mother too. Lordy the taboos I’m breaking at the moment! I am discrete, generally wearing fairly baggy clothes that she can sneak under or a huge diaphanous cardigan which I can wrap round my hungry little limpet. I love the intimacy and closeness it brings particularly in a public place where we are in our own little world. I am lucky, I can breastfeed and I have been able to make the decision to carry on … and that, as far as I’m concerned is OK. It’s also OK that friends decided not to even start breastfeeding in the first place … we are fortunate in this world to be able to make that choice. When you are pregnant you are given facts and figures about breastfeeding, about benefits, how it works, why it is good for mother and for baby and also (at least I was) facts about the law surrounding breastfeeding in public… based on all that you are told or choose to listen to and your own circumstance you are free to make your own decision as to what works best for you and your baby.

Today the press is full of stories on co-sleeping, SIDS and cot death … many presented in a very insensitive way to those who have been through the harrowing experience of loosing a child. The BMJ has published research which infers that there is a fivefold greater probability of babies that share a bed with parents (whether or not the parents smoke, drink, take drugs) dying of SIDS …the press release I found from BMJ open, having read the article on the BBC website has the very woolly, confusing and unsupported phrase, “The authors of this analysis estimate that around 88% of all SIDS deaths while bed sharing would not have occurred if bed sharing had been avoided.” They can’t know that as they don’t know what causes SIDS, nobody does … are they saying that dangers of suffocation or being squashed are higher from bed sharing … that may well be the case but surely those deaths don’t count as inexplicable grim cot death? Those of us following the harrowing story of the death at 9 months of Matilda Mae (who wasn’t sharing a bed with her parents at the time she died in her little cot) have learnt, at what at times feels like first hand, how a parent will question and blame themselves, the anguish of loosing a child in inexplicable circumstances. Ill presented and even more poorly reported findings like these only serve to worsen the pain and the blame. Jennie and her family have been incredibly brave in sharing their story and so many people, in their turn, have offered them love and comfort, my thoughts and prayers have been with them all over the last few months.

After child birth, new mothers are given leaflets on the risks of co-sleeping and recommendations on how to do it safely and when it is safe from … from then it is their decision (and I’m referring to the non drinking, non smoking, non drug taking mothers). Again, educate, raise awareness and then allow people to make an informed decision. For me I had Hope swaddled in her little basket and then cot bed by the side of my bed until she was about 10 months and wouldnt’ settle back into her bed after a night feed. That has worked for us, every night she starts the night in her bed but often around 5am she comes into bed with me, it often means I end up sleeping sideways at the bottom of the bed with the covers on the floor as I am paranoid about her getting smothered in her sleep, but as a general rule, we sleep well and it means she is close if she has a bad dream, teething pain or needs to feed … and for someone inherently lazy like me it is much easier than having to get out of bed and go into another room. I have friends who have taken the controlled crying approach and their child has slept every night in another room … again whatever works for them. We are not all Gina Ford … we all do things differently, and we should all be sensitive to passing judgement on one another.

There is a constant undercurrent in the press about older mothers … selfish harridans that we are … career obsessed, wealthy mothers who offend passers by with their audacity at having children later in life. This week that undercurrent seems to have risen to a flow … there was a YouGov survey that said rather oddly, 70% of women over 55 are opposed to the idea of other women having children over the age of 40. I am sure that there are also polls that talk about women being opposed to other women having children when they are younger … this survey has generated a flurry of self righteous bile. What it doesn’t highlight is the fact that for most women having children older it isn’t a life style choice, but simply the cards they have been dealt, the way circumstances have transpired for them. Perhaps someone couldn’t find the right partner, was unable to have children younger and spent years having tests, wasn’t in a position to have children, or had been with a partner who didn’t want children … everybody has a different story. My generation was encouraged to get a career and not to have a child until we were married, other friends found themselves in a whole variety of circumstances some able to conceive early, others able to conceive late with no problem at all … the idea of saying that women oppose other women taking a decision to have children when it is right for them seems plain rude to me and really a rather strange finding. Yes people might express surprise (one or two friends laughed when I told them I was pregnant in a “sooner you than me”) way but they all were, without exception, supportive and subsequently joyful and loving toward Hope and I.  I had incredible treatment on the NHS … yes I had a few more scans than other younger mothers but the pregnancy ran smoothly (other than when I tripped up and fell over and had to be monitored to ensure the placenta wasn’t coming away and when I was involved in a taxi accident in London and the baby stopped moving inside me) … I had to be checked out after those two mishaps but neither were age related issues. Other friends, almost 20 years younger than I spent full months of pregnancy in hospital … I didn’t, I walked every day, I took obsessive care of myself and look where I am now … blissfully happy with Hope.

The thing, however, that has annoyed me the most this week and I think is a shameful way of marketing is a campaign by a pregnancy test brand to, “Get Britain Fertile”. I find that condescending in the extreme. The campaign is a cynical marketing exercise and the website has nothing there at all in the way of support or advice.  I do believe that it is important to discuss declining fertility after the age of 35 and make sure that knowledge about fertility is part of both boy and girl reproductive education. I think it is worth featuring on daytime and evening TV from time to time … it is a fact that fertility declines and it is also a fact that some people simply presume that if they need IVF it will work. This isn’t always the case as so many people know … again spread the knowledge and allow people to make informed decisions. Now, back to the ill thought out ‘Get Britain Fertile’ campaign … it is using a poster of an ITV presenter who herself had children in her mid 40s … but it isn’t showing her radiant and curving from when she did become pregnant in her 40s, she has been made up to look almost 70 and is sporting a bump that looks smooth and almost full term. The image is wrong on so many levels. It incites disdain toward older mothers, it says that old is ugly that being an older mother is an ugly thing  … what it doesn’t show is that younger women can have issues with fertility just as their partners can … perhaps better to show a whole range of young people and say something like ‘Nobody knows which of these people will be infertile’. Infertility is not something to be looked down on, it is a serious condition that affects many thousands of lives. Tell us the facts and let us make our own decisions …

I had a meeting in a week or so back and the self-professed stupendously successful stiletto’d stunner that came in to address the meeting started by stating that she didn’t have a family so she had nothing to distract her from her work … once I’d recovered from the crass stupidity of coming out with something quite so insensitive (in the room were 3 mothers and a father) and arrogance, I actually felt pity for her. Sad to be so convinced that it is impossible to have a successful job and to have children … at the time I so wished I’d had Hope there to charm her, to break her icy perfection and also to get sticky finger prints over her immaculate suit. I hope in time she realises that she won’t just find happiness in business … but, it is her decision to make and her journey to travel on.

Right then, I had better clamber down off my soap box and put it back in the cupboard … but I really did feel the need to stand up and say, “Hurrah for mothers”, our own mothers and for us …

I have met remarkable women and fallen in love with womanhood since getting pregnant and having Hope. My respect for other women is enormous and my utter pride and delight in the achievements of my fellow playgroup Mummys in juggling washing, babies, work, husbands, income, bills, in laws, parents, gardens, rain, allergies, teething, sleep deprivation, spots, jabs, tantrums etc etc etc is absolutely unbounded.

Us multi tasking mothers really are amazing …

Sisters ARE doing it for themselves! Now just let us get on with it… and please stop responding to surveys expressing disapproval at other mother’s good fortune to be able to have a child, show some solidarity.

Stand up for Mothers!

Two happy girls

A very contented older breastfeeding co-sleeping mother with her happy little girl











PS the fact that I’m shouting about mothers doesn’t mean I don’t think, “Hurrah for fathers” too … it’s just that all the recent media attention has been pretty down on mothers … that’s all : )


2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2013 9:53 pm

    Very well said! I’m so glad you are speaking out for older mothers. Like you, I have been noticing the negativity in the media lately around having children later in life.

    I have been following your blog for quite a while and really enjoy it. It is well written, intelligent, invariably funny and moving. Above all, it reassures me that I’m not the only new mum over 45 in the UK! I can relate to most of what you write.

    I got in touch with you when I was about to go to Spain for IVF treatment at the age of 47. I was also very lucky and it worked first time. We now have a beautiful and very active 10 months’ old little boy. I love being a mum and, as you say, have found that people are usually positive and supportive when it comes to my age. I had a very good experience with the NHS. Only occasionally have I found people looking at me askance.

    Anyway, I better go as my baby has just woken…

    • May 31, 2013 1:01 pm

      thank you so much Marielle … and what wonderful news … so happy for you, huge congratulations : ) thank you so much for your very kind comments I am very touched by your generosity with words … hugely appreciated … so … hurrah for us older Mums and for our little Spaniards becoming such fine little fellows … your comment has made my day thank you x

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