No reason should be needed to justify when anyone decides (or is able) to have a baby (Picture: Siobhan Smith)
While I was eight months pregnant, I took my car to get washed and valeted.
The owner noticed my bump – it was impossible to miss at this point – and brought me over a chair, to save me standing while I waited.
‘What a kind man,’ I thought as I sat down, pleased to take some weight off my increasingly achy feet.
He gestured towards my swollen belly and opened his mouth to ask a question.
I assumed he’d ask when I was due. Perhaps if I knew whether I was having a girl or a boy.
But, after a momentary pause, he squinted at me and asked, ‘How old are you?’. I was completely taken aback.
Despite being perfectly well aware that it was none of his business, I answered out of politeness.
I told him that I was 36, and his response was that I was ‘far too old’ to be having a baby. As much as I had suspected that he was probably thinking this, I didn’t expect him to actually say it. I stared at him, open mouthed.
Waiting until you feel ready is a perfectly good enough reason (Picture: Kimberley Bastow Photography)
Ignoring my stunned silence, he then followed up by asking me why I ‘waited so long.’
Rather than giving a cutting response to put him in his place, my chronic people-pleasing tendencies kicked in and I fake-laughed, before saying that I had been ‘busy.’
This is partly true. Life has been busy.
But, as is the case with many other people considering whether to become parents, other reasons include: being scared of not being financially stable, the extortionate cost of childcare, wanting to be sure this was the right decision, attempting to experience as much of life as possible before having a child, and not meeting someone I wanted to have a baby with until I was in my 30s in the first place.
I’d also experienced multiple pregnancy losses in earlier years. I wish I had the guts to tell him that when he asked. It might have shut him up.
However, clearly, none of these reasons should be needed to justify when anyone decides (or is able) to have a baby.
Waiting until you feel ready is a perfectly good enough reason.
I had never thought of myself as being too old to have a baby (Picture: Siobhan Smith)
And, the main thing to bear in mind is that what the Car Wash Chump (I shall refer to him as CWC hereafter) said is absolutely false.
Yes, the risks of having a child may increase slightly as you get older – but there are many benefits, including potentially improved academic outcomes, more advanced language skills and receiving more parental time and attention.
In fact, one study found that women who had children in their 30s and 40s have twice the chance of living to 95 than those who had their last child before their 30th birthday.
However, I was too dumbfounded to tell CWC any of this and, instead, hoped he would sense my discomfort and move on.
It’s almost like pregnant women’s bodies become public property (Picture: Kimberley Bastow Photography)
He did not.
He went on to tell me how ‘difficult’ childbirth was for ‘older’ women, informing me that his wife ‘almost died’ both times, and she was ‘much, much younger’ than me.
He also gave some graphic descriptions of haemorrhages and blood loss.
Again, I was too shocked to say anything.
From a young age, women are aware of their so-called ‘biological clock’, but I had never thought of myself as being too old to have a baby. If anything, I still felt a bit young.
What purpose does it serve to tell women they’ve left it too late? (Picture: Siobhan Smith)
However, his comments shook me up and I paid him, leaving with tears in my eyes, questioning myself for the first time. I even ended up leaving an undeserved tip as I was so desperate to get out of there, I didn’t want to wait for my change.
I wondered if he’d ever give a second thought to the impact of his words. I had no doubt they’d be in my head for a long time, but I was fairly sure the same couldn’t be said about him.
I told my partner when I got home who was angry but advised me to forget about it. Sage advice, but easier said than done.
I’m far from an anomaly. The average age at which a woman becomes a mother is now 31, according to a recent Office for National Statistics report.
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The same report also found that, for the first time since records began, half of women in England and Wales haven’t had children by the time they reach 30. And the number of women having children after the age of 45 in England and Wales has nearly risen by half in the past decade.
However, despite the fact that we’re all having kids later, CWC isn’t alone in his outdated opinions.
YouGov data shows that men in particular remain sceptical of older parents, and especially older mothers. Just this year, there were reports of fertility experts warning that a rise in celebrities like Sienna Miller and Naomi Campbell having children later in life was luring women into a ‘false sense of security.’
My little boy is perfect and I’m happy with the choices that I have made (Picture: Siobhan Smith)
Unsurprisingly, there is zero mention of men. And I very much doubt that the car wash man would have said the same thing to a 36-year-old man becoming a dad for the first time.
Women are very aware of their declining fertility – we have it drummed into us constantly. So what purpose does it serve to tell them they’ve left it too late?
To me, it feels like another part of the unrelenting judgement that seems to come as part and parcel of being a pregnant woman.
It’s almost like pregnant women’s bodies become public property and, annoyingly, it’s not easy to ignore the unsolicited opinions that this seems to bring.
I’ve now had my baby. I have no idea if the birth would have been any easier had I been in my 20s.
But my little boy is perfect and I’m happy with the choices that I have made.
And it goes without saying that I haven’t gone back to that car wash.
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I doubt he would have said the same thing to a 36-year-old man becoming a dad for the first time.