Singer’s not so unusual in planning to give birth at 50 – and she’ll have an easier time than some, writes Lori Anderson
I’m sorry Miss Jackson. I didn’t mean to make your daughter cry... For some reason best known to the neurons swirling deep within my cerebral cortex, the lyrics from OutKast, an American hip hop duo just came to mind when I read the news this week that Janet Jackson was pregnant. She may be most recently remembered for her unfortunate “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl when Justin Timberlake “accidentally” ripped off her top to reveal what appeared to be a metal Ninja death star fashioned into a mini-bra. Yet now the sister of the late Michael Jackson has put her solo career on hold and is poised to join a new group, what Americans call MOMS – Money Older Moms. For Mrs Jackson, who is married to her third husband, Wissam Al Mana, will be 50 in a fortnight’s time and is the latest in a growing trend for, if not quite elderly moms, then certainly older than the average ‘older mom’.
The singer had prepared her fans back on 7 April when she cancelled forthcoming dates on her current tour and released a video on Twitter in which she explained: “We’re in the second leg of the tour and there actually has been a sudden change. I thought it was important that you be the first to know. My husband and I are planning our family, so I’m going to have to delay the tour. Please if you could try and understand that it’s important that I do this now. I have to rest up. Doctor’s orders.” Less than a month later she confirmed her fan’s obvious conclusion: that she was pregnant.
Maybe she’s been lucky and it is a natural pregnancy, but as most women her age will already be witheringly deep in peri-menopause it’s perhaps more likely than not that Janet Jackson will have had IVF. She is certainly not alone on embarking on motherhood half a century after her own birth. Each week in Britain three babies are born to mothers aged 50 or older. A figure that has tripled in the past 15 years as just 44 children were born to mothers aged 50 plus in 2000 while in 2012 the number was 154. The number of children born to women in their 40s has also tripled from 4.9 live births per 1,000 in 1981 to 14.7 births per 1,000 today. What doctors describe as ‘older mothers’, women aged 35 and over, now constitute 20 per cent of all births in Britain.
The reasons for a new generation of older mothers populating the labour wards are varied and complex. While some women can’t afford to have children younger, preferring to first build up a career or a nest egg, others just haven’t met the right person or are finally gripped by the desire to have a child of their own at the last moment. Last year Laura Wade-Gery, a senior executive at M&S announced that she was taking maternity leave at the age of 50. Her husband is 67 and while society has rarely done more than raise its collective eyebrow at an elderly father, it has tended to be far more judgemental on older mothers. On one level this is down to simple genetics as men still have the capability to father children even well into their old age so it’s still viewed as natural behaviour while women by comparison lose the ability to give birth naturally by their mid-forties.
However the development of scientific fertility treatments has combined with a new generation of empowered older women who both wish to have a child and can afford the expensive procedures. Yet is there an age when, as a society, we should draw the line? If there is then I think Janet Jackson is on the right side and only just. In today’s healthier, fitter society a mother of 50 is unusual but we can quite easily get our heads around it. Women of 50, especially wealthy women of 50, look so much younger than their mother’s generation ever did.
Yet even they can’t stop the march of time. For the truth is that older mothers are more prone to miscarriages and chromosomal disorders while the long odds against a successful IVF treatment being carried to term lengthen even further as a mother moves deeper into her forties. Older mothers also cast the spectre of parental mortality. Every child fears the death of their parent and it can be more acute for one with older parents. Of course young parents can also be stolen away by an early death but it is less likely.
However the increasing life expectancy of women in the western world now favours the older mother. A child might fear the worst but statistically the average 50-year-old mother can expect to see her children reach their mid- 30s. Yet there is no escaping that they are closer to the end than the beginning and there is no doubt that their children will have a greater sense of mortality than those born to younger mums. They may also be more embarrassed by a mother with more wrinkles than the other women at the school gate, but if there is love and stability who are we to say that the birth of any child is wrong?
There are tragedies such as the case of Maria de Carmen Bousado de Lara who was 66 when she lied about her age in order to get treatment at a fertility clinic in Italy. She gave birth to twins and hoped that she would live to 101 like her mother but, tragically, she died just three years later leaving her children as orphans.
In America there will be naysayers but I’m pleased for Janet Jackson whose child will be born into the comfort of wealth and so may well have an easier life than that of a child born the same day to a young, impoverished single mum. If it is a girl Ms Jackson has every chance of being there to chastise the young Lothario who will inevitably make her daughter cry but whether she accepts his apology is another matter.