A couple of weeks ago I was invited to appear on television on the BBC1 Sunday morning flagship ethics programme ‘The Big Questions’ to debate the premise that it is ‘selfish’ for a woman have a baby in ‘midlife’.
I had a big emotional tussle about doing the show as it was to be filmed and broadcast live at 10am on the morning of Hope’s second birthday. I spoke to her father, my mother, various friends (all of whom said I had to do it as it could lead to interesting paid for work which in the long term will benefit Hope) and spent a long time soul searching and in the end decided that it was potentially too good an opportunity to miss, so I agreed to do it. We were having her party the day before and I’d be home by midday to make her second second birthday cake and get ready for her second second birthday party!
Which then started the mother of all ‘what to wear?’ crises. I was advised against wearing black or white, and that it should be ‘smart casual’. My most fashionable friend said I should wear a dress and spent a few hours dragging me through online clothing sites showing me the kind of thing I needed to wear so I wouldn’t be seen as too geriatric or ‘mumsy’. In the end I did my usual rush into a shop, panic and buy something I wasn’t entirely sure of, I’ve always hated shopping and never had any real sense of fashion. I did also buy a pair of boots which made me feel more confident, I didn’t want to let the growing band of ‘older mothers’ down!
So, I got up at some absurd hour on a Sunday morning and crept out of bed, I was almost willing her to wake up and shout, “No, mother don’t leave me”, she didn’t of course, the fact that she’d been awake for about 2 hours just before hand nursing and snuggling made sure she was content and fast asleep and that I was extremely weary. Quick bath and final confirmation that the dress looked OK before trying to put on the new boots, one of which was so tight it took 5 minutes to wriggle my foot into and do up which made me all sweaty and flustered.
The car arrived for me and we zipped down the empty motorway (7am on a Sunday is a good time to drive to London) and arrived at the studio in next to no time. I was ushered into the green room and then into the make up room where I had thought I’d be decorated accordingly, no such luck I had to do my own which left me looking rather pale and pasty on screen (I know for next time).
I was shown back to the far from glamorous green room and introduced to Ashley Pearson from the Daily Mail (who’d had her first baby at 41) and a lovely Scottish lady who had children in her 30s, who turned out to be Jacque Gerrard the Director of the Royal College of Midwives. They were both ‘in my corner’ on the debate and were both passionate feisty women who believed the whole topic to be an insult to women.
From there we were taken to the studio and seated, not in a little cluster but spread out on the front row of ‘experts’, my seat was exactly in the middle. I was glad of my new green boots and wished I felt less exhausted after only a few hours sleep.
I’d met Nicky Campbell and the producer earlier and understood I’d be asked about my views on the topic as the older mum on the panel. The researcher who had organised my appearance had suggested that my experiences were of interest. The show started with a discussion on Immigration, obviously a hot topic and the ‘experts’ batted the questions from one to another, tempers frayed in a very genteel manner and then it came to our topic.
This selfish mother sat a little taller and waited for the “Ellie here had her baby at 47” kind of introduction I’d been expecting. It didn’t happen, Nicky Campbell addressed the first question to a male psychologist … he explained that Bridget Jones had given false expectation to many women and that having children late opened women up to risks and also increased the probability of babies with disability and defect. Like the former was a surprise and the latter was something terrible, I could virtually hear my good friend from Hayley from DownsSideUp fuming all the way from Cornwall (his point was jumped on by the chap to my right who had a disabled child).
The glamorous and supremely confident Ashley Pearson stepped in at this point and discussed the issue of not finding the right partner as men wait to have children later and then have them with a “26 year old). I sat there wondering if I was going to be asked my opinion next, I wanted to interrupt but thought I’d best wait. The debate rolled on, many of the points I would have made were made by other people more widely known than I including the idea that a child is best raised by a village (by which they meant extended family, friends and so on). I did try a few times to get a word in edgewise but clearly haven’t the TV experience that everyone else did and it was only when he opened the debate up to a wider audience that I came out with what now seems like a very silly comment, “As the oldest first time mother here…” and went on to highlight the importance of love and nurture to the child, that it wasn’t part of a plan for most people to have children so late, and if they were lucky enough to find themselves pregnant after 40 to take special care of themselves as the risks were higher. I sat back feeling a bit breathless and he didn’t pick up any of my points but moved across to a male MP who had (it turns out) his children very late on. It was a very male slanted ‘debate’ I felt for something about mothers … when there were a good number of bright, engaged and educated women on the panel. I felt a little deflated. Had it been worth missing going to church on my daughter’s birthday morning for this?
The debate (which really wasn’t a debate at all as nobody agreed it was selfish to have a child later) ended and the next one (on sin in the world) started. One chap went on and on, and seemed to be given rather alot of free rein to go on and on, about original sin and children being born evil and full of sin which did annoy me rather, I tried to interrupt but again the more ‘celebrity’ members of the panel were called upon.
Then it was all over.
It was an interesting experience, and certainly one I’ve learnt from, good to meet Nicky Campbell in person as I’ve ‘done’ his show a couple of times, as well. The whole of The Big Questions (and presumably other debate format programmes) is as much about performance as passion (a skill I need to hone), and an excellent opportunity to make new contacts, and one subsequently that has, I think, helped many people who were anxious about having children later to feel more confident about not being the only ones (I’ve had emails and messages to that effect from a great many people).
We said our goodbyes, I was told my car was waiting and was whisked back up to Cambridge where my girl was waiting with two of my friends (they’d been making cookies in the kitchen) and her Granby.
Apparently when Hope had seen me on the television she’d become very upset and looked around perplexed, I wasn’t there when she’d woken up and now there I was in a box. “Mummy onna television”. When I started to talk she threw herself to the ground and started to cry, “Mummy coming, Mummy coming”. Her father who had come round to watch took her out of the room and they did running up and down the hall.
When I walked back in at almost exactly midday she shouted, “Yay Mummy coming”, ran across the room, threw her arms round me and then looked at the television. she took my hand and led me over to it, “Mummy onna television?”, and then looked up and said, “Uppy me”. I burst into tears, went and got changed and then spent the rest of the day making cookies, a birthday cake, playing on the swings, singing about the Wheels on the Bus and entertaining her friends. We made it to church, to the 6.30 Epiphany service, she found a new favourite carol, and has been singing the chorus of Angels from the Realms of Glory ever since.
She was incredibly clingy that night and wouldn’t settle in her own cot, instead she climbed into bed with me and fell asleep holding my arm. I lay there thinking never again will I miss any part of her birthday if I can possibly help it … and then on the Monday morning we had the long lovely breastfeeding, snuggly, book reading lie in we’d missed the day before.
Ashley Pearson wrote about her experience of the debate here. I was fully expecting to find her rather difficult as a person bearing in mind who she writes for but as with Samantha Brick before her, I found her to be a bright and strong minded woman who I warmed to.
I wrote a piece for the American website Mothering In The Middle on the same research that the programme debate was based on and the coverage it received.
I’ve written many times before about being an older mother and stated that ultimately, I believe, the important thing is to be the best mother you can be. For me, I’m a far more patient mother and prepared to take time for my child now than I would have been when I first had a miscarriage in my mid 20s. Of course it’s better and as a general rule, easier, to get pregnant when you’re younger, and if the stars had aligned differently for me I would have had a baby in my 30s rather than my late 40s, but this IS where I am (and am privileged, fortunate and blessed to be) and I know that for me being a mother is about love, nurture and respect and there is nothing selfish in that.
http://www.motheringinthemiddle.com/?p=4402 is another piece I wrote after the term Parensioner was coined for older parents!
The post script to all this is that I’ve also, because of the programme, got back in touch with several old friends who were allegedly ‘doing the ironing’ in front of the TV and saw me (looking pale and with very obvious moles), and I’ve had several other interesting opportunities as well so I guess it was all worth it… and my overriding memory of the weekend is Hope’s second birthday party in the woods.