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Kathy Gyngell: This is not just a mother. This is a woman who puts herself before her baby


How selfish! My first thought, when I read that Marks & Spencer executive Laura Wade-Gery was to become a first-time mother aged 50, was that this woman was being unbelievably self-indulgent and thoughtless.

No doubt she will be hailed as a heroine of the ‘have it all’ culture by feminists who think that they have the right to demand and get whatever they want, whenever they want it.

But this ‘superwoman’ to be is the epitome of today’s cult of the individual, obsessed with rights and contemptuous of responsibilities. A sane society would see Wade-Gery for what she really is – ridiculous.

Earlier this week M&S announced on the Stock Exchange that she would be taking maternity leave from September 1.

I do not know whether Wade-Gery is physically pregnant herself, or whether the baby will be acquired through a surrogate mother or perhaps adopted, but the retailer is making it very clear that its e-commerce director will be back at her desk in four months.

This is a woman with a very high-powered career – earning more than £1m a year – who somehow thinks that, at an age when many women are going through the menopause, it is appropriate and sensible for her to become a mother for the first time.

An Oxford graduate, Wade-Gery is described by friends as ‘frighteningly intelligent’. To me, she seems terrifyingly stupid.

To become a mother for the first time at 50 is not just a risk to your own heath and sanity, but to your child’s happiness and welfare too.

Even with support from husbands and grandparents, being the parent of a newborn requires more selfless dedication than anything most of us have experienced before. It is the greatest joy, but a very tiring one.

Changing, feeding and comforting, through day and night, can be tough enough for a vigorous 20- something-year-old. But at 50, when even the fittest and healthiest woman is likely to be going through major hormonal changes, is it realistic?

Will she be breastfeeding – something all babies deserve their mother to at least try – at the very time her change of life will be coming on?

I rather doubt it. No doubt Wade-Gery will have the professional assistance of nannies, as I cannot imagine she’ll be getting much help from her much older still 67-year-old farmer husband!

No doubt she will delegate her maternal duties to paid employees. If so what, quite,  is the point of her being a mother at all?  Has she just realised after all these years that she missed out?

Maybe so.  But a baby isn’t a commodity, to be bought or sold at will.  It’s not a holiday you never got round to and now are determined to have.

Wade-Gery is not just burdening her child with ancient parents but depriving it of grandparents too. The two women who might be relied on to help shoulder the baby burden for their career daughter (or daughter in law), are its grandmas. But they are likely to be far too old to play an active role in looking after their grandchild. The child’s maternal grandpa, Sir Robert Wade-Gery, a diplomat and Margaret Thatcher’s former deputy Cabinet Secretary, has already died.

For the baby, this is all a sad loss. I know this all from own experience even though I had my babies much earlier – in my mid to late thirties. My sons never met their paternal grandparents let alone grew up with their love and encouragement. Their maternal grandpa died before they reached their teens.

There is a broader social problem here too. Older parents – people like me (a mid to late thirties mum) – are increasingly the norm. Women are dangerously delaying having children today. If society follows the even more extreme Wade-Gery example, grandparents will become mythical creatures.

Just think about it. A woman who has a baby at 50, then waits another 50 years for her child to become a parent, won’t be a grandma until she is 100. The idea that a centenarian can get down on her knees and change a nappy is a ludicrous notion.

Wade-Gery may herself be in good shape – she is said to enjoy early morning sessions of kick-boxing and yoga. But the message she is sending out to other less fit and less wealthy women – that they can delay motherhood almost indefinitely – is irresponsible

Fertility falls fast as we age, and weight gain and alcohol abuse make it worse and babies unhealthier. Women are being misled if they think they can or should delay parenthood almost indefinitely. They cannot.

There are, of course, (natural) precedents for having babies late in life: according to the Gospel of St Luke, John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth was middle-aged and had always been childless when she became pregnant – striking her husband Zachariah dumb with astonishment.

I don’t somehow see  Wade-Gery as a modern Elizabeth though a close friend of mine became pregnant after nearly 20 years of marriage without conceiving.  She was long resigned to being childless.  When she became pregnant at 44 it was to hers and everyone’s delight –  a gift from God which changed her life completely. She certainly didn’t announce the news by assuring everyone that everything would be back to work in a matter of weeks.

For Baby Wade-Gery all the best nurseries, cots and educational playthings in the world are no substitute for such constant mother love.

To engineer motherhood at 50 is the equivalent of playing God and bestowing a miracle upon yourself. It’s shockingly arrogant, a prime example of the amorality of feminism, and the logical consequence of telling career women that self fulfilment (its alter ego being selfishness) is good.

Wade-Gery’s choice is horribly short-sighted. Has she considered that, when her child is a teenager, during the most emotionally vulnerable years, she will be pensioner?

Or how embarrassing it will be for her  child through her school years explaining away a mother who the other children will think is her grandma?

There are other ways a childless woman can fulfill her need to give her love and interest to a child – or children.

Don’t get me wrong, 50 is a wonderful age. But it’s a wonderful age to be a grandmother – not a new mum.


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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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