As Father’s Day drew near, it started me thinking.
For involved dads who are also TBW members, well done! To paraphrase a popular saying: ‘Any dog can reproduce but it takes a real man to raise a child’. I know, as a lone mother, that it’s really tough for a man to give the time to stay in touch and be a meaningful part of children’s lives. Giving time to kids as a separated parent may mean sacrificing what you would ideally like for yourself, at least in the short term. These choices will probably be worth it in the long run, but they inevitably come at some personal cost. So respect to all of you good fathers out there!
For men (and women) who aspire to be parents, but also want age gap relationships, are the two mutually exclusive? Well, yes… and no. I did some research on the emotive and controversial subject of ‘older’ mothers, defined as over the age of 35. What I discovered is intriguing. It all depends on the lady’s age and fertility.
Despite the pressure in society for women to have children in their twenties, recent scientific studies have found that modern fertility in prosperous countries persists for much longer than previously thought, certainly up to age forty and possibly into the mid-forties, although it does decline sharply around this time. The Office for National Statistics produced a data set in 2013 proving that the fastest growing group of mothers in the UK who conceive naturally are over 40, although still a very small percentage of the total. They suggest this is due to increasing fertility and delayed motherhood. I’m part of this trend. I first became a Mum in my forties, along with two of my closest friends. The whole process, from conception to birth, was absolutely natural and straightforward for us all. Boring, I know, but true. I saw my consultant once. He said that if I could become pregnant without medical help, I was ‘low risk’ and he did not want to see me again unless I developed a health problem. I didn’t see him again. My baby was born in under 4 hours and was perfectly healthy. So, for the majority of ladies up to the age of 40, making babies should be perfectly possible.
Menopause for most women doesn’t begin until the late 40s or early 50s, much later than popular myths would have us believe. The process takes around 10 years to complete and so on average, childbearing years are over by the mid-50s. However, although very rare, women in their late forties and fifties have also become pregnant naturally. Within the last 30 years, the oldest woman to conceive naturally in the UK was 54 when she gave birth to a healthy baby! Until a year after a woman’s periods have completely stopped, you are advised to use contraception, unless you want to take the risk of pregnancy.
The statistical data usually quoted around fertility rates (and birth defects in babies) is gained from some questionable sources. Much of it’s gleaned from the population of older ladies being treated in IVF clinics, many of whom had pre-existing difficulties with fertility. This data may not apply to the peer group in general. Also, some of the most often quoted data on ‘problems’ comes from a statistical set gathered in 18th century France, a questionable comparison when modern women are fortunate to be both healthier and longer-lived. Also, the frightening possibility of birth defects is likely to be at least partially offset by a young, healthy father.
If having your own children naturally is not possible, most IVF clinics now look at the average age of the couple, taking the ages of both parents into account (and this also applies to adoption agencies). With IVF, while there are considerable advantages and disadvantages to consider, having a much younger partner can be enormous mitigation against the disadvantages.
The charge of being ‘selfish’ in having children later in life, cannot be so easily levelled at a couple where the father is young and energetic, even if the mother is much older.
So, actual and aspiring Dads, I wish you all a Happy Fathers’ Day!