Hey ladies, don’t leave it too late! On First Response and manufactured fertility panic

According to the Daily Mail, my children should never have been born. To be fair, this is true for 99.9% of the human race but it’s always interesting to identify the various and overlapping reasons why this should be so. In this particular instance it’s because they are descended from women who had children in their forties – i.e. old ladies who left it too late.

Both my partner and I have mothers who were born to women over forty. This is because Lancashire in the 1940s was a seething hotbed of middle-class feminist extremism, where women were too busy smashing through glass ceilings to think of reproducing in a timely manner. Or it might be, in my case, because my grandma came from an Irish Catholic background, didn’t believe in practising any form of contraception and had a load of other children before my mother, most of whom survived to adulthood. This is something from which I clearly benefited, having thereby got to exist, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Women such as my grandma clearly didn’t know the risks of late motherhood, such a being pregnant while not being at your maximum blooming potential. The few black and white photos we have don’t show it but let’s be honest, she probably looked well past it by the time she was having my mum – a bit like Kate Garraway in this photo.

Thankfully, times have changed.  These days if there’s one thing women don’t need reminding – alongside the fact that they’re fat, ugly and deserve to be raped –  it’s that fertility drops dramatically after the age of 35 and that late pregnancy is fraught with risks. This is why when a company that produces pregnancy tests runs a survey on the matter, 70% of respondents express general disapproval at the idea of women having children “in their fifth decade” (which, rather conveniently,  sounds even older than “in their forties”). First Response’s obviously well-meaning PR campaign has attracted a significant amount of attention, not because it highlights a lack of awareness, but because it indulges a favourite national pastime: ranting at women for having babies and ranting at them for not doing so. As part of a broader range of activities which may be called “telling women they’re shit on a daily basis”, it’s becoming very much a part of our cultural heritage.  

Campaigns such as Get Britain Fertile have a particularly nasty edge not only because being disapproved of for being a woman (with or without children) is a constant pain in the arse, but not having children when you want them is exquisitely painful regardless of whether it comes with a side order of misogyny. Shagging aside, trying to conceive is grim even when it is not officially deemed to be a problem. It’s a game that involves a lot of randomness, combined with an even greater amount of feeling responsible for anything that doesn’t go the way it’s meant to. From not meeting the right partner to having a miscarriage, everything can feel like it’s your fault simply because it’s your body that’s at the centre of it all. You have “played Russian roulette” with your fertility just by remaining un-pregnant for a sufficiently long period of time. Never mind that there is no stage in a woman’s life at which the decision to conceive would not be condemned (she’s always too young, too old, too single, too employed, too poor, too middle-class, too foreign). If you negotiate the minefield that is being a cis, fertile, adult woman and get to the end of it without having reproduced (ideally in secret, at minimal inconvenience to your employer), you have failed. This is a problem. It’s not that we’re ignorant of fertility issues; we’re just too sexist to engage with the practicalities. After all, that might make men feel redundant, or suggest that women have other purposes in life, or stop employers exploiting low-paid female labour in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed.

Of course, if the whole thing were down to women not being willing to get up the duff early enough, I have one suggestion: go to Ikea. Maybe it’s me, but here’s something about the place – the children’s section, the young couples, the proliferation of pregnant bellies and newborns – which always makes me wants me to start pissing on the ovulation sticks. If anyone should piggy back on misogynist fertility panic, it’s not First Response, it’s Swedish furniture manufacturers. But the perhaps that’s just a personal thing. I wouldn’t listen to me anyhow. After all, I shouldn’t ever have been born.


10 thoughts on “Hey ladies, don’t leave it too late! On First Response and manufactured fertility panic

  1. So I’m in the U.S., and therefore not really qualified to speak to this, but… I’m the oldest in my family and was born to a nearly 38 year old mother. My baby brothers came along two weeks before her 46th birthday. 😀

    Seriously, so sick of these people trying to tell us what to do with our own bodies!!

  2. Thank you for this!
    I’m 26, with a long-term bloke, finishing first year of a PhD and over the past few weeks the fates have been throwing massive ‘why not have a baby’ signs my way (other pregnant, full-time students, stumbling across mumsnet discussions on combining babies and PhDs, discovering my funders might do maternity leave…) Suddenly my ‘biological clock’ was ticking louder than my conference paper deadline and a devious voice in my head said “why not do it now? Get it ‘out of the way’? It’ll be much harder later and then you’ll be sorry”

    I’m not saying it *would* be ‘wrong’ if I got up the duff now, but: It wasn’t the idea of actually having a child now that got me, but the fear that, due to mutinous ovaries and being a cossetted, over-educated, middle-class white girl who stupidly thought she could ‘put her career first’ I wouldn’t BE ABLE to have one later: I would graduate aged 30, having squandered my precious ‘fertile years’, and would so have to live with my selfish barrenness for the rest of my life…

    So THANK YOU for showing this to be total fuckwittery, just at the time I needed to be reminded of such things!

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