Are we really doing things the wrong way around?

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.

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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.

 

photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

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13 thoughts on “Are we really doing things the wrong way around?

  1. Great article Sinead! I agree with so many of your points. I think in this day and age an awful lot of girls/women spend nearly all of their teens and 20s trying desperately hard NOT to get pregnant only to find their 30s are spent doing exactly the opposite and it can cause an awful lot of stress. That said though, while I agree there’s a huge case to be made to have your children earlier, I only wish it was as simple as that! Sometimes it’s not even a case of the right time/man/finances etc but so much of it has to do with headspace and being “ready”. There’s a huge difference between where the head of a 25 year old is compared to a 30 year old. A lot of the younger me would be absolutely appalled by some of the things I say and do now. 🙂

    One thing that cracks me up about Kirstie Allsop talking about her imaginary daughter is that she forgets the most important bit. Her daughter would be her own woman, with her own dreams, ambitions, expectations and wants. I’m always amazed when people talk about influencing their children in this way. Her daughter could just as easily turn around and tell her where to go with her no college, get a nice flat and boyfriend theory. What if she wants to move to South America and build huts for the local community? Or live in a yurt in outer Mongolia? She can if she flippin wants to, no matter what grand schemes her mother has concocted for her. Whatever Kirstie’s own regrets might be, disguising them as doing someone else a favour is just not right. Sharing your own experience and giving information absolutely – but every woman ultimately has to make her own decisions based on the informed she seeks out or is provided with.

  2. Well put Sinead, great article… we may be slowly evolving from a body that gives birth in its teens (biologically) but in our current society we are definitely not ready mentally to be parents at that age!

    1. Someone said to me recently Naomi that back when the majority of women were having children in their late teens and early twenties, it was their “middle age” because life expectancy would have been in the 50-60 mark. That makes a lot of sense to me. Even 30 years ago women in their 30s/40s were no way near as healthy and youthful looking as they are now. Nutrition and healthcare has come on in leaps and bounds. There’s so much relativity…

  3. Great post. The solution definitely isn’t for women to have to completely arrange their careers around having children. Ultimately the only way to level the playing field for men and women is for us all to have a better work/life balance without our careers suffering for it. I don’t see that happening any time soon with the current work culture, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t what we should be aiming for.

  4. Well said Sinead. Women know about fertility – it’s not like we’re going to read yesterday’s article and go “Of course – I should have a baby now!”
    I think that it’s easy to say women should have kids at a younger age, that our daughters should have kids at a younger age, from the vantage point that Kirstie occupies. But really, would she or anyone else (Allison Person wrote that she agrees with Kirstie) change anything if they could go back in time? I might wish for my daughter to have kids at a point in time when she’s older, but I’ll keep it to myself.
    I met my husband at 25, and even if I was ready to have kids (I wasn’t), I can only imagine his reaction if I’d suggested we skip the whole getting to know one another thing, the finding somewhere to live bit, and just have children. It’s really not that simple.
    And apart from all of that – the comments about skipping education and buying a flat – she is either looking for publicity or is a little silly? I don’t know enough about her to say either way. But well said you 🙂

  5. Great article Sinead! Coming from the view that I did do my Leaving Cert and straight into a job only to return a few years later. It’s definitely something both my fiancé and I have thought about quite a bit, considering we want to be settled into jobs and hopefully have a house before having kids. Even if I had stayed in the job I was in at 18, I’d still be finding it hard to get a mortgage (or be in negative equity like so many others). I think it’s easy for someone to talk about something they don’t know like Kirstie and her imaginary daughter, as “mind the baby” pointed out, that daughter would be her own person too.
    I definitely think that fertility is something that is still a bit taboo and there is so much information available for those who seek it. The first time I enquired I was put through the mill so that I fully understood the consequences of my actions.

  6. I could talk to you for hours on this subject. When I left school in 1972 aged I was actively encouraged by my parents to get a job rather than go to university on the basis that I’d probably get married young anyway (the marriage bar was still in place but I didn’t even have a boyfriend at the time) and my three younger brothers were more likely to need the education. The net result was a 37 year civil service career during which I had my two babies at the age of 22 and 24, and got my university education at night. Ultimately I rose to the top of my career despite the advice but it still rankles 41 years on! Things worked out well for me but I would not want to go back to that era and to seeing women as dependent spouses and baby-making machines. We women need to know and understand our biology and our fertility but we shouldn’t let it define us.

    1. Julie, thanks for commenting, I could listen to you for hours on this topic! Thanks for sharing your wise words as always.Things were very different in many ways then, but in others all too similar!

  7. Is there a right way to do things though? I am nearly 30 with 5 children, I fell pregnant unexpectedly at 20 and my boyfriend (now husband) and I stuck together, he supported me financially while I completed my degree – ok it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t terrible!. I think there is such a big ‘thing’ about having the career first, and babies second and that anyone doing things the other way round can face quite a lot of flack over it. A lot is said about not being ready to have kids at the age of 27 because of not being mentally ready or in the correct frame of mind, I do agree to some extent, but isn’t one of the great things about life that you through it evolving and growing? your own beliefs and attitudes will constantly shift. If you argue that the headspace at 30 is better than at 20 then surely someone like Tina Malone who recently gave birth at 50 is much better mentally prepared than someone in their thirties to have a baby? But look at the backlash she faced!

    Mind the Baby – I think you said it best with your point about Kirstie Allsopp using her experiences and talking about them as advice/doing us a favour. I hope, although I’m sure at times it will be hard, that I am able to parent my three daughters without clouding their judgement at all about the best way to approach their path in life and when they should be having children. If they chose uni and career and delaying a family, or leaving school to work and settle down and pop out babies before they hit 30, I will support them either way so long as they are happy and doing whatever it is they are doing to the best of their ability. Everyone is different and what is right for one person will be wrong for another.

    1. Good point Clare, you’re right, there’s no one way that’s right for everyone. I thought that the way Kirstie made the suggestion was very much that it was the way things “should” be done, as opposed to “might also” be done and it’s not as easy as she suggests to simply change the order we do things in and think that all women will be able to afford an education. We do need to support one another in the choices we make, for sure.

  8. Great post. I think that Kirstie is from a family with plenty of disposable income which has coloured her opinion – perhaps she hasn’t realised that the majority of women out there can’t afford to not work alongside having children, can’t afford children without a job, when she is busy advertising her frivolous craft shows. I find it incredible sad that she would not want to encourage women to prioritise education after fighting so long to be entitled to it, as you say, this gives us the financial means to support a family! She does seem entirely clueless about university and the importance of both the experience and the qualification when entering the financial and business world – instead she prefers to threaten us with a biological clock that could render us back to the dark ages, married at 15 and babies by 20! Crazy. I wrote a post on it as well – would love to know your thoughts – http://absolutelylucy.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/kirstie-allsopp-wants-to-send-women-back-to-the-dark-ages/ Perhaps Kirstie needs to check out my post on things we don’t need to worry about in our twenties – http://wp.me/p3SwKd-dF haha

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