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'Selfish' mother

Friday, March 01, 2013

EVERY night, I arrive home late from work and wearily climb the stairs to peek in on my three-year-old daughter, Charlotte. She's been in bed for hours and is already fast asleep. Like many working mothers, I have paid someone else to read her stories, clean her teeth and settle her.

Plenty of women do this and don't give it a second thought. But as I stand there, stroking my daughter's silky head, I feel my heart lurch because I know I am a neglectful mother and I have let this child down.

The reason for this is quite simple. At nearly 47, I am too old to be a good parent to her. Certainly, by leaving it so late, I have not transformed into the mother I thought I might be. I haven't made room in my life for this tiny blonde bombshell who constantly begs me to paint pictures, bake biscuits and take her swimming.

If I'm brutally honest, I don't want to do any of these things. I am too tired, too distracted by my career and too set in my ways to meet her constant demands for my time and attention. Call me selfish if you want, because you'd be absolutely right.

Which is why, when Jacki Brown says she read how — under updated guidelines —women in their 40s will be able to have IVF on the NHS, my first thought was: "Ladies, be careful what you wish for."

I gave birth to Charlotte at the age of 43 and, looking back, I can see it was a decision born from sheer selfishness on my part. I hit my early 40s and, having never wanted to be a mother before, I suddenly and inexplicably wanted a baby more than anything else in the world.

Probably, it was my biological clock letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was in a last chance baby saloon and had better get on with it.

Whatever the reason, I paid little thought to how this child of mine would feel, being brought into the world by an ageing mother who had always put her career before everything else and would be of pensionable age when she starts university.

Of course, I'm not alone in leaving motherhood so late. According to NHS statistics, the number of women having babies after their 40th birthday has trebled in the past 20 years. Almost 25,600 babies were born to women over 40 last year compared to 9336 in 1989.

This is the biggest rise in any age group and means Britain has one of the highest birth rates for older women in the world, with 3.8 per cent of babies born to mothers over 40.

It seems more and more women are, like me, delaying motherhood. Experts cite a rise in well-paid careers, as well as an increase in couples putting off parenthood for financial reasons and — of course — greater availability of fertility treatment.

Whatever the excuse, I wish I'd been less self-absorbed in my 20s and 30s and got on with having a family sooner. Having Charlotte so late in life was at best unwise; at worst, utterly self-centred.

I never, at any point, wondered what would be right for her. Yet I know, in my heart of hearts, the answer is undoubtedly a mother younger than me.

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