I have just caught up with a classic “confessions of a career woman” story by a British woman who has reached the age of 45 bitterly disappointed that she will never have her own child. The Daily Mail headline says it all: “Seduced by stories of stars giving birth later and IVF myths, career-obsessed Lucy believed children and love could wait.”
As a young woman Lucy wanted nothing more than to have a great job and plenty of fun.
By 24, I was a strategist at a leading ad agency. I drove a Golf convertible, wore red wool suits with gilt buttons, and thought I was Paula Hamilton from the iconic TV advert. I remained very single, but I told myself – and my concerned mum – that the mews house and engagement ring would come later.
My life didn't revolve around marriage and children. My friends and I were taking our time. We were big kids in shoulder pads, and life was about working, shopping, drinking and having fun.
In her 30s things changed; her “relationships were tinged with desperation” but she refused to “prioritise the man-hunt”. At 36 her step-mother helpfully suggested having her eggs frozen with a view to IVF when Mr Right came along. She didn’t, regrets it and now recommends it to younger women.
At 41 she met and fell in love with David. They set up house together in an idyllic country town. She gave up full-time work and started freelancing, changing her lifestyle and diet to increase her chances of pregnancy. A year went by and the couple turned to IVF, only to run into a dead end.
The odds of success were so slim that it was, they claimed, unethical to take my money. 'Have a think about it and if you're interested in egg donation, we can do that up to the age of 50.' I didn't understand. What about all those fabulous, famous fortysomethings whose 'baby joy' stories were so often in magazines.
The actress Jane Seymour and model Iman both had children at 44, actress Mimi Rogers was 45, Susan Sarandon 46, Holly Hunter 47. Each headline seemed to confirm that, yes, it was possible to put having a family at the bottom of your priority list until you were good and ready.
But here's the rub – a very high proportion of babies born to women in their 40s are conceived using donated eggs from younger women. It's a secret that many will never let you in on.
David didn’t want a donor egg baby. So that was it. Lucy got over being angry with everyone and everything — including “the government for never having had a public health campaign on the subject of increasing age and decreasing fertility”; she and David got married, to express how much they appreciate each other (better late than never), and she settled down to write a book about it.
My chance to experience the profound joy of motherhood has come and gone. But to the generation of career girls who are a decade or two behind me, I would say this: don't wait for a bigger house, a better job or a more expensive car, because if you do, you're a lot more likely to miss out on the most precious prize of all – a child.
This seems a pretty honest story. The most surprising thing about it is the ignorance of this woman about her fertility, especially since professional warnings about the dangers of delay have been multiplying over the past decade. Lucy is smart enough to hold down a well-paid job in the city — which she didn’t learn from the women’s magazines — but when it comes to her own body and the question of motherhood she is happy to take celebrity “baby-joy” stories in Woman’s Day as a guide.
More serious is Lucy’s idea that a child is some kind of “prize” to crown her life and give her the experience of being a mother — a finishing touch that she believed a technician could achieve for her if necessary. This mindset seems all of a piece with the idea of marriage itself as a prize — falling into the arms of a soul-mate after establishing a successful career and being free of commitments during early adulthood. Really, delaying adulthood — “We were big kids in shoulder pads, and life was about working, shopping, drinking and having fun.”
If ideas about marriage were sorted out, the fertility issues would look after themselves.