This topic has been in the news recently, after the Office for National Statistics revealed that there are more mums over 35 than there are under 25 in the UK for the first time. The average age we become first-time mothers is rising – it is now thirty years old.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Clare Murphy of BPAS said “Stigmatisation of women having teen pregnancies is huge, but it definitely extends to women in their early 20s as well”. I totally agree – I’ve definitely felt the stigma of being a young mother; and women who become mothers between 18 and 22 are in a strange situation. We’re too old to access the ‘teen parents’ services, and too old to really be classed as teenage parents – but we’re always told we’re “too young to have a baby”, and are missing out on our youth.
But mums on the other side of the spectrum face stigma too. With an increasing number of women giving birth at 40 and beyond, there’s an increasing number of critics, describing these women as selfish, not thinking of the consequences for their children – their parents being OAPs while the children are still in their teens, and the risk of their own children never knowing their grandparents.
And still, no-one can quite offer up the right age for having children. A common answer is, “when you’re settled and can support the child by yourselves”. Some people can do this at nineteen, but are still told that they are irresponsible for having a baby so young. Some people don’t reach this stage until their forties, and are called selfish for having a baby so late in life. Women can’t really win in this debate.
I spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday about my own experiences as a young mum – you can hear the discussion here, at 2hrs 40 minutes – and it was an interesting discussion. The speaker on the other end of the spectrum, Corinne Sweet, has published a book about becoming a mum at forty, so it was interesting to see the opposing viewpoints. She made a point about the suggestion that younger mums had more energy, and countered it by saying that babies who have been planned and wanted for many years by older parents get more care and love. I had to disagree with that one, and made the point that despite all this talk of extra energy, I’m twenty one and absolutely exhausted – but although SB wasn’t planned, she is no less loved than any longed-for, tried-for baby.
My answer to the question is that there is no ‘best time’. It’s such an individual question, as one person can be in the right place at nineteen, and another might not be in the right situation until the age of forty – how can there be one uniform ‘best time’ to become a parent?
Another important thing to remember is that your life is what you make it. For me, nineteen years old and at the beginning of the second year of a degree obviously wasn’t the ‘best time’ to have a baby – but two years on, I can’t imagine anything else, and I wouldn’t do a single thing differently given the choice – so, in hindsight, maybe it was the best time for me to have a baby, because we made it work?
Rather than debating this until the cows come home, and expecting women to conform to this standard of a ‘right time’, we need to improve maternity support in this country, and make sure that all women – no matter their age, their position in their career, their level of intelligence or their financial situation – feel secure and supported when they are pregnant and raising their children.