This week, Dame Julia Peyton-Jones hit the headlines after becoming a first-time mum at the age of 64.
She’s not Britain’s oldest mum (that title reportedly belongs to Elizabeth Adeney, who gave birth to a son in 2009, at the age of 66) and has not released a single statement about the circumstances of the conception or birth of her daughter – yet the online comment sections of any given newspaper are filled almost exclusively with attacks on her for making the decision to have a child.
‘What an utterly selfish, thoughtless woman,’ one commenter raged. ‘That poor child will have a mother in her late seventies when she is a teen. That is no life for a child.’
Another agreed: ‘Becoming a mother at 64 is totally irresponsible. She ought to know better.’
Comments from the very same newspaper on a story about Mick Jagger becoming a father at 73, however, read: ‘Oh why not… he’s still rocking it by the looks of things!’ On 69-year-old Ronnie Wood’s birth of his twins? ‘Good for them, the little girls are beautiful.’
Of course, the accusations of selfishness and irresponsibility are thrown around for older parents of both genders, but it seems that women are hit much harder with negativity if they dare to have a child over the age of 45.
Janet Jackson, 50, who had ‘a stress-free, healthy delivery’ with her baby boy earlier this year, was still publicly criticised by Piers Morgan for her age, despite the fact that he was 46 when his own daughter arrived. When his co-host Susanna Reid asked him what the difference was, he simply said: ‘I’m a man’.
‘Seeing old blokes on the school gates no-one seems to mind other than to go “oh good old dad”,’ he continued. ‘Whereas when women are, like, 70 [years-old] they seem to go, “well why did granny come?” It’s just a fact.’
Biological facts are facts – having a baby is obviously physically harder on a mother, and there may be some 64 year olds who could not cope with the demands of pregnancy and birth. Their pregnancy could be deemed high risk, or require extra supervision, but that is for them and their medical team to decide, not TV presenters, online commenters or anyone else who wants to stick their 10 cents in just because there’s a handful of extra candles on that particular woman’s birthday cake.
Becoming an older mum isn’t easy: their babies are generally the products of endless years of trying, painful fertility treatments and expensive IVF (which is often carried out abroad, as the cut off on the NHS is 42), and when they finally make their entrance, they are so wanted and so loved, which is all we should truly want for any child – especially because sadly, it isn’t something that comes guaranteed.
Even if her pregnancy is a surprise, if the woman in question feels strong – and most importantly, thrilled – enough to bring that baby into the world, who are we to tell her not to, particularly when we’d applaud a man for doing the same thing?
They may well be in their eighties when their child is in their twenties, but the (difficult) truth of it is that none of us have any guarantees about how long we’ll have with our parents, whether they welcome us at the age of 16 or 60.
All any parent can do is spent as much happy time with their family as they are blessed with, so Julia, you and your daughter have our congratulations, and we hope motherhood is everything you’d hoped for.