So there is a new theme in parenting-esque journalism and it’s all about the “older mom.” You know, the woman who is trying for a baby in her late 30s or 40s who has been through four years of IVF and still trying? Call her irresponsible if you want, but a few prominent publications these days are just depicting her as plain stupid — for not understanding her own fertility that is.
Msnbc’s “Fertility math? Most women flunk, survey finds” is just one of several pieces in recent months to paint conventionally attractive women with “smooth skin” and “slim” figures as idiots for wondering why they can’t conceive given their age. The narrative works the same way as despite their religious attention to their figures and health, they are stunned to discover that their ovaries haven’t quite benefited from all those Pilates:
Some of the shock is because of advances in health and beauty that allow women to look — and feel — younger, even as their reproductive systems march on.
The same argument was made recently in The New York Times, as they also blamed the popularity of older mothers like Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, and Salma Hayek for perpetuating the mythology that the 40 and over set can conceive without problems. Like msnbc, the Times held no reservations in profiling their hopeful, IVF-shackled mothers as air-headed fools who conflated the whiteness of their teeth with fertility:
With long brown hair and come-hither curves, Melissa Foss looks — and feels — fabulous at 41. “I’ve spent hours of my life and a lot of money making sure I was healthy, and that my hair was shiny, my teeth were white and my complexion clear,” said Ms. Foss, a magazine editor in New York City.
So when it came to conceiving a child with her husband, a marketing executive, Ms. Foss wasn’t at all worried. After all, she noted, those same traits of youth and beauty “are all the hallmarks of fertility.”
They also list yoga, Pilates, and “other exercise obsessions” for deluding women about their age and thus their ability to conceive. And don’t forget New York Magazine‘s complex story about older parenting which depicted a graying grandmother with a pregnant belly, the mocking text reading “Isn’t She Just Too Old For This?”
While conceiving over 35 is an inherit risk for both mother and baby, and with fertility rates being virtually nonexistant by 40 for most women, the intention is fair. Having babies later in life is not only more difficult, it’s also considerably more dangerous. And regardless of whether you have a People magazine subscription are not, the truth is that women giving birth in their late 30s are and have been on the rise.
The two may in fact be mirroring one another considering how much celebrities influence our culture. But framing 40 and over hopeful mothers as idiots who have been more preoccupied with their hair appointments than basic biology just gives societal license to wag that finger and say that they were clearly more preoccupied with their nails drying than having kids. The infantilizing tone suggests that these silly women weren’t doing anything more with their childless time than running off to the gym. While msnbc does mention careers and education as reasons to put off childbearing (you don’t say?), the “shock” of infertility hits them all the same.
The always quip DoubleX put it succinctly when they ran the responsive headline “Where Does The New York Times Find These Women?” Furthermore, where do they find these writers who only see post-20s motherhood as an exercise of vanity?