Behind those statistics lies a complex and emotional picture. Many of the
conceptions resulted in children born to couples who feared it was too late,
sometimes after years of fertility treatment. For others, such as Mrs de
Lange, the conception comes as more of an unexpected addition to the family.
This change reflects a subtle but significant shift in society and its
attitudes. As we live longer, “mid-life” is stretching further away. Whereas
in the past, women in their forties were regarded as solidly middle-aged,
today’s fortysomethings – the Sex and the City generation – see themselves
as still youthful, and certainly not old enough to rule out children.
Dr Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, says: “Women see themselves as
sexual, and are sexually active, for far longer than they used to be. Of
course, that doesn’t always tie in with pregnancy, but it can.” As older
mothers fuel the baby boom, the abortion rate among the over-forties has
dropped markedly, from 42 to 28 per cent in two decades.
Last October, Carla Bruni became the latest poster girl for the older mother,
when, aged 43, she gave birth to her daughter Giulia. The wife of French
President Nicolas Sarkozy follows a host of high-profile mothers, including
choreographer Arlene Phillips, who had her youngest child at 47, actress
Jane Seymour, with twins at 44, and Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding, who
had a child at the age of 48.
According to the Office of National Statistics – whose latest figures show
there were more than 900,000 pregnancies in England and Wales in 2010,
higher than the peak of the post-war baby boom in 1964 – the record level
has been fuelled not only by the number of older women having children but
also by the impact of a recession on people’s values and attitudes. In tough
economic times, its report suggests, family might be valued more highly.
Cari Rosen, a former television executive from north London who now works
part-time for the website Gransnet, was “43 and a quarter” when she gave
birth to her daughter, now three. She says the economics of having a child
later in life have made it easier to put the family first.
“A lot of my friends felt under pressure to go back to work full-time when
their kids were young, but being older I didn’t – partly because at my age I
have more financial security, and partly because I feel less pressure to
prove myself career-wise.”
Her husband, Rob, a charity director, has time to be a “very hands-on dad”.
Ms Rosen, now 46, dismisses those who criticise later-life parenthood. “I
didn’t meet someone I wanted a child with until I was 39. Before that, the
question was: ‘Do you have a child with someone you don’t want to spend the
rest of your life with – or do you cross your fingers that you will meet the
right person?’ People say it’s selfish, but it seems to me more selfish to
bring a child into a relationship that is not right. I think some women do
make that compromise.”
She admits that there are times when dealing with a child makes her feel her
age: “The other day I was moaning about grey hairs, and it did make me think
that when my daughter starts school, I don’t want to be looking my age at
the school gates.” Yet she says she cannot be sure she would have any more
stamina if she were any younger.
In Blackheath, south-east London, Linda de Lange, now 56, and Matthew, 59, are
enjoying bringing up Benjamin, who, at eight, is 20 years younger than their
oldest son. She believes that her and her husband’s experience and age have
given them a more relaxed approach to parenthood.
When stamina is in short supply, patience can fill the gaps. “I have learnt
there are some fights not worth having with your children. I did a huge
amount of shouting with the others,” she laughs.
Older couples have been able to bring up a child in later life by taking
advantage of the shifts in the way we work – keeping flexible hours or
logging in at home. Two decades ago, Mr de Lange was keen to be a hands-on
father, but was working long hours in a bid to become a partner at the
accountancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Now he runs his own business from
home, and is able to be more involved in day-to-day parenting.
Given that the children of Mrs de Lange’s friends were largely grown up, she
decided to make friends with pregnant women who were decades younger.
Attending classes run by the National Childbirth Trust enthused her so much,
she is now training to become an antenatal teacher.
“Doing it this time around, I can recognise the changes in how we bring up
children,” she says. “I don’t think it is all about age. Mothers these days
seem more scared of the world than they used to be – a bit risk-averse, a
bit more worried about what will happen if their child doesn’t wear a coat
“If you have been through it once, it is easier to see that children are their
own people, that they take their own decisions – and it’s not all your