Dear Dr Barry Walters, here's a reality check.


Dear Dr Barry Walters,

Yesterday in an interview with the West Australian you said – amongst other things – that older mothers (older being over 40 it seems) are selfish and burden their offspring with financial despair. In the Weekend Australian magazine you wrote in to say, “To plan pregnancy above the age of about 39 is entirely self-centred.”

Do you know what I’m really, really tired of?  I’m tired of people assuming that every single woman who has a baby past the age of 35 has done so deliberately. Either as part of her life plan (I know, once I’m 38 I’ll spend $30,000 on IVF and push my relationship with my partner to breaking point in a bid to have a baby that may never eventuate!  GOOD TIMES!)  or that perhaps we are so blind to the world around us we’ve walked in the door one night, put down our Chanel briefcase, scratched our head and muttered to our partners, “Oops!  Honey, I forgot to have kids! D’oh!”

Why do so many ‘experts’ fail to acknowledge that many women find themselves in this stressful and heartbreaking situation of trying to have kids later in life due to circumstance?

For some of us – who may have started trying to get ‘knocked up’ in our late 20s – we have endured years of fertility treatments and operations.  For many women there has simply been no medical explanation for our inability to conceive and so we have kept trying. Remind me again what’s wrong with that?

For others — in fact for so many women I know — it’s been a case of not meeting the right person in time.  Let’s remember it takes two to do the horizontal tango. I guess I could have had a baby with that abusive dickhead I dated in my 20s. Would that have been better?

I’m an older  (apparently selfish) mother.  And you know what? I would have loved to have kids earlier in my life. But I didn’t meet my husband until I was in my early 30s.  Forgive me for dating him for eighteen months before we got engaged (what was I thinking?).  We started trying for a family immediately but after a miscarriage it took us 18 months to conceive our daughter Ava. I had her at 36.  And now I’m round the corner from 40 and – you may need to sit down and pour yourself a drink for this bit – I’m planning to have another baby.

So arrest me.

Generation X mothers are selfish?  We are the sandwich generation, doctor.  A generation of women often caring for small children and elderly parents.  And many of us work outside the home too. Or volunteer in our community.  And in between trying to make sure our kids eat a healthy diet, and play outside, and have manners and wear sunscreen, and don’t watch RAGE on a Saturday morning and understand stranger danger we’re trying to ensure our houses aren’t cluttered, that we make time for our friends, and give to charity and know CPR and keep up with current affairs and go to the gym and not eat takeaway and make fu$%ing pasta from scratch and have sex with our partners and walk the dog and lobby for causes we believe in and make a casserole for the school mum at our child’s school who is terminally ill and get out of our tracksuit pants and be a great employee or boss and a thoughtful daughter and sister and partner and aunt and neighbour … I DON’T NEED YOU TELLING ME I’M SELFISH AND THAT MY KIDS ARE GOING TO BE BROKE.


Really, I don’t. Because I’m a great mum. I’m not perfect but then I wasn’t perfect when I was 25 either. And the thing is what I bring to motherhood at this age is a wealth of experience, a readiness to give myself to the role and an ability to see around corners that I couldn’t have seen around fifteen years ago.  Does that make older mothers better than younger mothers? NOT AT ALL. My point is that we can all bring something to the role — whatever our age.

The fact is what this world needs is more children raised by switched on, thoughtful, compassionate, caring people.  Whatever age the parents are.

And as my friend Kate Hunter just said to me this morning, when an older woman gets pregnant she’s not selfish. She’s blessed.


Rebecca Sparrow

UPDATE 2: You can read the original letter Dr Walters wrote to the Weekend Australian magazine by clicking here.

UPDATE 1: I meant to say in this original piece that I am fully aware of the medical risks that older mothers take when having a child later in life. I don’t know one older mother who doesn’t take those risks seriously, weighing them up and working hard to be as healthy as she can be before conception and during pregnancy.  What Dr Walters would be better served doing is perhaps promoting the Egg Timer Fertility Test (we have a cheat sheet on that coming next week) and encouraging women to be fully informed about their individual fertility.  Criticising older mothers achieves nothing.  We need to educate women (and men) about fertility and continue equipping ALL parents with the tools and information they need to be the best parents they can be.

Here’s the interview: