I no longer do a second take when I read news that a woman in her fifties has given birth. This month alone, Victoria Coren Mitchell, 51, announced the arrival of her second child with her partner, the comedian David Mitchell, who is 49. Tana Ramsay, who turns 50 next year, welcomed her sixth child with that gobby 57-year-old chef husband of hers last week. Then there’s Hilary Swank, Janet Jackson, Halle Berry, Laura Linney et al, all who’ve had babies in their very late forties or early fifties.
Tana Ramsay and Victoria Coren Mitchell’s pregnancies barely made headlines. A 50-year-old new mum is a freak event no more. We don’t know the circumstances: did they use IVF, sperm or egg donors, had they frozen their eggs when they were younger; was it a happy accident or meticulously planned? Frankly, it’s none of our business. But, what we do know is that both women carried and gave birth to their babies.
They are part of a 20 per cent increase in British women who have given birth aged over 50 between 2019 and 2021. Sounds a lot, but it works out at about 275 of the 624,828 babies born each year. A mere drop in the birthing pool.
My gynaecologist friend is aghast each time an older celebrity reveals their pregnancy. He knows he’ll get an uptick in women coming to his clinic full of hope
It is bound to be reassuring for those struggling to conceive — or who are undecided about whether parenthood is for them, or worried about the cost of raising a child right now, or re finding it impossible to find the right partner — that women are able to have babies far past what we once determined to be the fertility cut-off point. But, it is still the exception not the rule — and to blithely think that we have endless time on our side is problematic.
The counter-argument goes that most women are painfully aware of their fertility window and understand the ability to have a baby is not infinite. But tell that to my friends who have started trying to get pregnant in their mid to late-thirties only to encounter hurdle after hurdle with the years ticking by and little progress. While these late-motherhood stories — usually about celebrities with the means to access world-class fertility treatments that the majority of us cannot — are a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for those grappling with fertility issues, I worry it could cause a false sense of hope and a lack of urgency. Inconveniently, pregnancy is still a young person’s game.
My gynaecologist friend is aghast each time an older celebrity reveals their pregnancy. He knows he’ll get an uptick in women coming to his clinic full of hope that it’s not too late. Yet, people often don’t realise that sperm counts are at an all-time low and have fallen by 50 per cent. That the chance of conceiving over the age of 45 is five per cent and the risk of miscarriage is 57 to 80 per cent. Most clinics do not recommend that women of that age undergo IVF treatment with their own eggs. There is a higher chance of complications during birth which can lead to premature birth and chromosomal abnormalities. The mother is also at risk of conditions such as diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
I hate to be a downer and totally behind women having the choice and chance to have babies later on in life, but I worry that these celebrities with their private healthcare and breezy birth stories make it all look far too easy.
Suzannah Ramsdale is lifestyle director for the Evening Standard