“The recent amount of publicity being given to older women seeking babies has had a complicated effect in my near and extended family. I have a daughter of 11 from my first marriage and my husband has grownup children from his. He is now 59 and I am 42. We have been trying to have a child together with no luck for the last few years and are now considering “hi-tech help”. However, both his children and my daughter have been making disparaging comments about my age and my daughter has become extremely rude to me these last few weeks. I feel they have all ganged up against me”
No wonder Mrs D is feeling under pressure. Trying to have a baby and being unsuccessful for several years is difficult all by itself. Even though she and her husband have had the satisfaction of bringing children into the world in their previous marriages this relationship is not currently biologically fruitful. She is also experiencing all the ups and downs that come with extended families as well as having strong concerns about age. Indeed, Mrs D has placed the media interest in older women giving birth at the top of her list.
There has been major media and public interest in how far science can push back the boundaries of female reproduction. Specific media interest focused on a woman of 59 - a woman almost old enough to be Mrs D’s mother. Whilst women over 40 do face a slightly higher risk in pregnancy and childbirth Mrs D’s actual age is not objectively shocking. Why then is she making such an issue about it?
Dr John Byng Hall, Family Therapist, comments “It could be that Mrs D is secretly disparaging of the idea of having another child at her age and the children are saying it for her. If children make disparaging comments about parents but you are confident about the issue involved you shrug it off. It only really hurts if you feel it. I wonder what is seen as an appropriate age to have children within this family. At what age was Mrs D’s mother when she gave birth? However, I wonder why both Mrs D and society at large focus first on the mother’s age when the greatest risk for the prospective D child is that Mr D would not be there as the child grew up”.
Indeed, could the children focusing on Mrs D’s age be a diversionary tactic to cover-up possible anxiety about Mr D? At 59 Mr D is the same age as the woman who has been the focus of such mixed media attention. Should the D’s succeed in giving birth to a child within the next year, by whatever means, he will be 70 when the child is 10. What is the state of his health and what state of health were his parents in when they brought him up? Dr John Byng Hall adds that if the Ds have had the experience of seeing their own parents deteriorate between 42 and 59 perhaps with a stroke or dementia, the relatively young ages of 42 or 59 could be additionally worrying. However, psychotherapist Elizabeth Campbell who specialises in treating individuals with fertility problems also points out that in some cases people in this age range have another baby in order to deny the reality of getting older.
Dr Alan Cooklin, Consultant in Family Psychiatry, Marlborough Family Service agrees that the issue of age is more likely to be a parental preoccupation. “Your daughter of 11, in being more difficult at the moment, is probably trying to find an appropriate framework in which to complain about the altered relationships she sees incumbent on the possible beginning of a new family. She has probably had a period on her own with you and is used to being your first line confidante and protector. She will need to learn anyway that the kind of love you can have for a man-your new husband-is different from what she needs and probably wants.
She also will need to learn that what you could give to a baby is quite different to what she as an 11 year old and soon an adolescent can enjoy. She and the grown-up children will also eventually need to discover, if there is a new baby, that they can have an enjoyable place in relation to a new baby and in relation to the new family that can be formed.”
Will there be and should there be a new baby? As Mr & Mrs D are capable of producing children is there an emotional component in their current infertility? Do they feel disloyal to their existing children in considering a further one and is their infertility a proof of this? It is certainly likely that their children are considering such a possibility as disloyal. As Dr Byng Hall comments - “All the D. children, regardless of age, will be in the same classical position of feeling put out by the parents wanting other children. Weren’t they good enough? Wasn’t it enough that they had had them? Alternatively, is the new child a strategy to cement a strained relationship and are the children therefore the wise ones in asking whether such a new venture is a sensible one?”
What about the strains of fertility treatment? Psychotherapist Elizabeth Campbell comments “The whole area of modern fertility treatment is a complex one where both the physical and emotional needs of the individual, couple and family should be taken into consideration as well as the welfare of the potential child or children. The Ds also need to consider the implications on their family of fertility treatment. Many people find such treatment very invasive and hard to cope with. People who get such treatment feel they are on an emotional seesaw where there are often great hopes but also disappointments. Counselling or therapy can help with the losses and disappointments and in finding a way forward to seeing something else in their lives or coming to terms with not having a baby when the treatments are not successful. Another implication for the D’s is that some clinics would not take them on because of their age- different clinics have different cut-off ages. A professional could help them consider the meaning to them of having a baby at this stage in their lives. Many fertility clinics have their own counsellors. “