OK, so now we know what The Archers older mother story is about. As I guessed soon after I had written the first commentary on this story on 5th August it is to do with disability. Vicki’s blood tests have shown that there is a significant risk that the baby she is carrying has Down syndrome. She has been offered amniocentesis to find out for sure. Having known the result of the blood test for a few days she has only just had the courage to tell Mike. He was upset at not having been told before and his first reaction is anxiety that he might be becoming a father to a child with needs for considerable care into adulthood…and he is already in his sixties. So over the next couples of weeks – for the story tells us Vicki is apparently already 18/19 weeks pregnant – we will witness this couple struggling with the hugely difficult decisions that surround such a situation.
Most expectant mothers of Vicki’s age (47) will have used egg donation to help with conception and thereby do not run the same risk of having a child with Down syndrome, although of course children with this chromosomal condition are born to much younger women as well. However, they and their partners who are mostly older too, do face all the on-going issues and questions that arise when parenting young children at an older age. Being mistaken for the child’s grandparents often happens and, as one older mum said on the ‘phone to the DCN office the other day, suddenly realising that she was the oldest mum in the playground by around 20 years. One of the first egg donation mums in the Network used to talk in a very amusing way about the eldest of her three children (a singleton followed by twins) complaining that her mum was ‘so old’ compared to the mothers of her friends. Luckily this member is a small and wiry terrier of a woman whose energy seemed undiminished by her young family who were all conceived between her 48th and 51st birthdays, but not everyone has this capacity. I recall only too vividly a friend of ‘Zannah whose father was in his eighties when she was 16/17. As he became more and more mentally frail she would sometimes have to ‘babysit’ him to allow her mother to go out and earn for the family. She hated inviting people to her house because of this situation.
Older parents of course are likely to have more patience, wisdom, insights, skills and of course a huge amount of love to give their, usually, much wanted children. But how old is too old to bring a baby into a family? How do children feel about having much older parents? I really don’t know and of course a lot is going to depend on the individuals concerned, but it seems to me that the father’s age should be taken into account as well as that of the mother and that Vicki at 47 and Mike at around 62 are stretching it a bit. Let alone looking after a child with potentially significant disabilities. The next month should be interesting.