If you’ve been on social media at all today you’ll have noticed a bit of a furore around an interview with Kirstie Allsopp, presenter of Location, Location, Location. She’s not one for keeping quiet on issues that bother her and regularly takes to Twitter to protest about whatever’s on her mind, and because she is who she is she gets a reaction, and newspaper inches.
In today’s interview she caused a big ripple. The article covered a lot of ground, from the death of her mother to the house buying process, but it was her comments on fertility and what came next that caused the stir.
It started well, she suggested that :
We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35
So far I agree. I am all about honesty, I think there’s a lot of opening up to be done on this issue.
I remember my GP taking me aside when I turned 30 and imploring me not to delay getting pregnant, saying that if I delayed that she didn’t want me in to her with “graphs and charts and temperature readings”. She knew me pretty well truth be told, I’d definitely have been a graphs girl, but I was horrified at the time. My fertility was my business, possibly mine and my husband’s, but not hers. Nobody had ever spoken to me about it before. She made me think and the conversation stayed with me.
We don’t talk a lot about people having difficulty conceiving, it’s another great unspoken topic here in Ireland. It’s too personal, too emotional for people to talk about their experience, and only close friends are confided in. (If you are interested in reading more about it do check out June’s blog where she openly talks about the heartbreak). The result of the silence is that women in their teens and twenties are, for the most part, oblivious to the fertility issues of women in their thirties. I remember a conversation with women of my age a few years ago and we agreed that if someone could invent a a “pee on a stick” test to tell you that you whether you had fertility problems and needed to start a family as soon as possible that (a) they would be very rich and (b) women would have babies a lot later. It’s the fear of not being able to that gets many of us to jump off the cliff, having spent years trying to avoid getting pregnant.
So, yes Kirstie, it’s a good idea to talk honestly and frankly about fertility.
If only she’d stopped there. Speaking of honesty and openness, before you read any more you should note that Kirstie herself is well to do, not without a few quid, the daughter of a baron. She’s also the mother of two boys, and stepmother to two more. She continues to suggest to women:
We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.
Which leads me to ask what’s the alternative?
She suggests that if she had a daughter that she wouldn’t want her to go to college, but to get a job straight out of school, and that she’d help her find a nice flat and a nice boyfriend and that she could have a child when she’s 27. Just like that. Sure there are loads of jobs for unqualified school leavers. And loads of nice boyfriends waiting around to find women. And it’s a walk in the park finding a man who can afford to feed, clothe and accommodate the whole family and educate their mother, while enjoying an amazing childcare solution needed to allow mother to go to college, all from one salary. She is living in cloud cuckoo-land.
When children come along, priorities change. Any further education by a mother is a huge undertaking. I know women (and a man) who’ve gone back to full time education as parents and it’s very difficult to balance children and classes and assignments with family life. It’s definitely not the ideal solution. And then of course everyone is crying out to hire older candidates with zero work experience.
And what about the sheer inequality of her approach? Granted, biology plays a part, only her daughter’s fertility is in question, only her daughter’s career will be impeded by maternity leave. But still, I think she is nothing short of deluded on this point.
I look at my two sons and my daughter. I want the same things for each of them. I imagine them pursuing the same life paths, education first, then the rest.
I cannot imagine a mother suggesting that her daughters shouldn’t have the same access to education as her sons, whatever the perceived motivation. Postponing education would, in most cases mean doing without.
The average age of first time mothers in Ireland in 2013 was 30.2 years, I was 32 when I had my first. I didn’t spend my twenties partying and searching for Mr Right, he was by my side throughout, we met in college when I was 20. I finished my degree, then my masters and qualified at 26. We could, at that point have decided to start a family right away, but we weren’t ready. We lived a little, travelled, socialised, enjoyed life. I was 29 on our wedding day, 32 when our first child was born.
My sixteen year old self would probably have expected me to have kids by 30. My sixteen year old self certainly didn’t consider whether my chosen path would be family friendly or flexible when I filled out my CAO form. Should I have? Should we stifle the dreams of our girls and direct them towards careers that are more “female friendly”? Send them to be teachers for “the long holidays”, or nurses so that they can have days off during the week, make them finish working in the civil service when they marry?
We’d be going back decades. (That’s not to say that sometimes I don’t wish I’d chosen a more flexible path, or one with summers off and school hours.)
Yes, we need to be aware of the decline of our fertility and all that it brings. But our daughters cannot be expected to live their lives from their teens with the sole purpose of bearing children. That would be doing them, us and society an injustice. We should encourage them to be the very best people that they can be, to do what is right for them, to get as much as they can out of life, and give just as much back.
That’s my wish for all my children, and everyone else’s too.
You can read the full interview with Kirstie Allsopp here.