A feature on middle-aged mothers in the Global Times caught my eye this morning, for entirely personal reasons. I’m sure my mom and dad won’t mind me publicly broadcasting that they were 41 and 40 respectively when they had me.
I had never really thought too much of it. The risk of pregnancy complications had already been mitigated by my healthy birth and I simply enjoyed the financial stability that they had managed to achieve in their 30s (before my sister and I started taking up attention, time and money). But then my lack of thought on the matter might have been because my native UK, along with Germany, tops the global list for the oldest first-time mothers (averaging at a seemingly youthful 30).
A quick straw poll of the beijingkids staff showed that my parents’ situation was not all that unusual, and the majority of us were born to mothers aged 35 or over. Those in the team from Chinese families had significantly younger parents, however. So how does China compare?
According to the article things are changing, especially in Beijing. A mixture of factors, including the growing number of career-orientated women, financial pressures on urban families, and advances in fertility treatment has seen the average age of first-time mothers in the capital rise to 29. Women over 35 are now responsible for seven percent of births in first-tier Chinese cities.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that older women are treated the same. One sentence from the article stood out in particular:
“In Beijing, mothers-to-be over 35 need to undergo tests proving they are in good physical health or else risk being refused by local hospitals.”
There are, of course, a number of dangers associated with birth at an advanced age, including the risk of Down syndrome being three times higher for mothers over 35 compared with those under 30. But perhaps the greatest threat to an older mother’s health is being turned away at the hospital gates.
Social changes may be eroding the stigma around middle-aged motherhood, but it will take more to eliminate the economic prejudices of a private healthcare system.