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The family way
7:00am Saturday 15th September 2012 in Lifestyle
new study reveals that women are more confident than ever about leaving it longer to have a baby. Abi Jackson looks at this shift in attitude.
Most of us remember playing 'mums and dads' as youngsters. Dressing up our dolls, feeding them, pushing them along in little pink prams...
Practice for the real thing and, right then, in your carefree five-year-old mind, it was all, one day, going to be real.
You'd grow up, meet a handsome prince, pop out some bouncing babies and live happily ever after.
Of course, life often isn't quite that simple.
Becoming a mum may be easily taken for granted when you're five, but the reality is that it's not guaranteed, and that's something many of us will eventually realise - especially as more of us leave motherhood till later, increasing the likelihood of experiencing difficulties.
But medical difficulties aren't the only issue. Many women desperately longing for a baby may be 100% fine when it comes to their physical fertility, but just haven't met the right person, or been in the right relationship at the right time, to start a family - which Red magazine is calling 'emotional infertility'.
Every year, the magazine asks women for their thoughts and attitudes about parenthood and fertility, in its Modern Motherhood Report.
The latest results are published in the October issue, on the shelves now. More than 3,000 women aged 28-45 took part and, though the report looked at a wide range of issues, one of the key things to have emerged is that lots of women are anguished at not yet having becoming mothers, due to relationship factors.
What's more, more than half (54%) think 'emotional infertility' is just as painful as medical infertility, but nearly three quarters (71%) think women experiencing medical difficulties get more sympathy than women who've struggled to have kids for other reasons.
"Nobody's yet given 'emotional infertility' a name, which just goes to show that it's not generally considered as big a deal as medical infertility," says Brigid Moss, health editor at Red magazine.
"Women with emotional infertility have said that they simply haven't met the right partner, the person with whom they wanted to have their children, at the right time.
"Anecdotally, women usually say it's down to a combination of factors: that their friends weren't settling down so they didn't feel the pressure, that it's harder to meet a partner as you go through your 30s, that financial independence means you don't have to get married early."
But reaching your mid-30s and beyond, and being terrified that motherhood is going to pass you by, is a massive issue for anybody in that position.
As Moss points out, one in six (15%) of the women surveyed revealed they'd split up with partners because they wanted children but he didn't. And childfree women face a range of reactions, with 49% saying people always ask them when they're going to have children, and 29% say they feel judged for not being a mother.
Perhaps a big part of the perceived lack of sympathy for 'emotionally infertility' is the assumption that somehow it's a person's own doing, or out of choice - for instance, that they chose to put their career first, or have been too picky about men. But this isn't necessarily the case.
Anya Sizer is a fertility support co-ordinator at HarleyStreet.com London Women's Clinic, which is seeing more and more single women seeking assisted pregnancies alone.
"People have this concept that women are leaving it later because of a career, but in reality it's because they haven't met someone to have children with," she says.
"By far the majority of women we see fall into this category.
"Or they might have been in a long-term relationship, but their partner left them in their 30s, and now they're worried that it's becoming too late for them.
"Lots of women find it frustrating that other people assume they've left it late out of choice. Many feel isolated or ostracised by groups who have had kids, who may feel, 'Well, you've had an exciting time, travelling and enjoying a career, while we've been doing the whole baby thing,' and therefore there's a lack of sympathy.
"But for the women looking for donor insemination and doing it alone, it usually isn't their plan A, it's more likely to be plan B, and a very big deal. There will have been a lot of soul-searching before coming to this point."
The majority of the women Sizer is talking about are in their mid to late 30s ("36, 37, 38...") and many of them will have gone through a long emotional journey - experiencing similar despair and heartache as women experiencing medical infertility.
"Lots of them say they really want to be mothers but are just scared that it's not going to happen, so they need to do something now, before it's too late.
"And it means going through a lot of difficult treatment alone. Fertility treatment is hard enough with a partner supporting you, let alone by yourself. Plus they have to foot the financial bills themselves, too. It's hard."
According to the Red results, one in five women (20%) stated that they'd consider having a child alone.
Eloise Bernard, 34, isn't quite at the point of booking into an artificial insemination clinic, but does admit that it's crossed her mind - and this sense of panic has crept up on her.
"There's this idea that as a modern woman you can always get what you want, as long as you try hard enough," she says.
"You can climb the career ladder, start a new business, save up and travel the world. And in your 20s, that's fine. With every promotion or exotic holiday, you feel you're in control of your life and your destiny.
"But then suddenly you start creeping towards mid-30s, and the one thing you really, really want is children, with a man you love. But whatever you do, and however hard you try, you can't magically find the right man.
"And even if you do find someone, you know there's the inevitable timeline. You have to date for a few years then make sure he's ready, start a home together.
"It's just a feeling of helplessness; that suddenly your life and your hopes are out of your control.
"At least with biological infertility, you're more likely to have a partner to support you through it, and you still have a double income to be able to think about IVF or adoption. 'Emotional infertility' is just you, alone, staring into an abyss of childlessness, and you're always living with the guilt that it's all your fault."
Just further proof that women can't always 'have it all?' Maybe planning our families earlier, would save some of us a lot of heartache later on, but even then, there's no guarantee it would happen.
Ask the expert
Q: "I'm expecting our first baby, and while there's plenty of advice around for me, there's not a lot for my husband. Have you got any useful tips for him?"
A: Mark Woods, author of Pregnancy For Men: 101 Tips (published by White Ladder Press on September 14, priced £5.99) says: "It's an overwhelming thing to find out that you're on your way to being a dad. Be positive and warm, she's probably twice as scared as you are.
"Antenatal classes might seem a long way off but the best ones get booked up way ahead of time. Get online, get on the phone, find out the details and watch the mother-to-be of your child melt in admiration as you tell her you've been doing a bit of research into parenting classes.
"Scientists are convinced the baby is capable of learning to recognise the voice of not only his mother, but his father too. So get chatting to your child right now - it's never too early to start the indoctrination process toward your football or rugby club.
"A birth plan is a written record intended to be read by the midwives on duty when you go into hospital, of how your partner would like her labour to play out. The very act of thinking about and writing the birth plan together as a couple means you both focus on the potential issues that may arise at a time when you can think clearly. For that reason alone, it's got to be a list worth making.
"As the due date approaches, your partner could go into labour at any second so keep your mobile on, the car full of petrol and your bloodstream free of too much alcohol so you can drive the thing. And relax.
"Your first experience of childbirth will never leave you. Shocking or sentimental, traumatic or transformational - the memories of the moment you became a father and what your partner went through to make that happen will live as long as you do. Nothing even gets close to how you will feel.
"Cherish every moment of this day and the days that follow it."
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