Having a child 'at the right time' is easier said than done

Life is complicated and very often the best of plans don't work out.

AS A 41-year-old woman who has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for more than a year, I have a simple thing to say to the medical profession - wanting to have children is about more than biology.

In the past week, two obstetricians have given their views on ''older mothers''. One opined that while there were risks, the outcomes were not all bad. The other took a rather more bleak stance, while pointing out that it was a doctor's duty to provide patients with all the information they needed.

This information is valuable and necessary, yet it fails to consider the social, deeply personal and often complicated decisions involved about when, or indeed if, to have children.

Frightening women into having children at a more biologically appropriate age regardless of their circumstances can lead to situations that can damage as much as the physical risks associated with late-age pregnancy.

Speaking for myself, I had planned to start trying for children at 33 with my husband, but decided against it as the marriage was in trouble and I felt it was unfair to bring a child into that situation.

My husband and I subsequently divorced and at 35 going on 36, I found myself alone and facing the prospect of remaining single and without children.

I met my current partner at age 37 going on 38. He is a wonderful man who is a huge support as we attempt to go down the path of parenthood, but alas, so far, nothing.

I would like to ask those doctors tut-tutting as we older women try to have children what they would have had us do?

Should we have children with an inappropriate person in a so-so relationship just because they happen to be our partner at the right physical time? Do we have children on our own if we find ourselves 35 and single, with all the added financial and emotional pressure that would bring? And if we choose that, then how to do it? Expensive and intrusive IVF? Find some bloke in a pub, get him drunk and drag him home?

And where do men figure in this debate? While I know that the physical reality is not as acute for men, I have lost count of how many women have said to me that they cannot meet a man who wants to commit to children. Where are the people telling men that fatherhood is a great thing and they should do it early, rather than put the burden on women?

During marriage counselling, one therapist told me just to have a child and not worry about my then husband or the state of the marriage. At the time I was horrified, but now know that it was a tactic to get me to be clear about what I was prepared to do. And I was certain that deception was a step too far for me.

But other women have done this, and all the things listed before that, out of sheer desperation that we will be left out, that we will be the only ones in our circle of friends and family without children. It is a grief compounded by the still prevalent philosophy, despite the hard-won gains of women from the suffragettes to the feminist movement and Betty Friedan's seminal work The Feminine Mystique, that a woman without children is somehow lesser, has failed to fulfil her ''real'' destiny.

It is an attitude that negates the achievements of women without children such as great writers including Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and our own Henry Handel Richardson and actors such as Katharine Hepburn. Even being Prime Minister is not enough, given the comments about Julia Gillard's childlessness.

Others have decided to leave it to luck, eschewing any medical help or anything else and deciding to brave the road less travelled and remain without children if that is what is meant to be. I may end up being one of those women, and it is one of the most difficult and deeply saddening issues I have had to face so far in my life. But I stand by the decisions I made that have led me here because they were the right ones for me.

And I also count myself extremely lucky in that my partner and I do have children in our lives - nieces and nephews on both sides whom we adore and friends who have children whom we are looking forward to watching grow up with their parents.

People say it's not the same, and maybe it isn't. I wouldn't know.

All myself and my partner know is that we will accept whatever happens with regard to children. We have much to be thankful for and we intend to focus on these things rather than what we don't have.

Alison Cassar is National Times online chief subeditor.

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