Helen Meyer-Tinning with her children Ingrid and Otto. Photo: Justin McManus
Helen Meyer-Tinning, who gave birth to her first baby at 37 and second at 39, admits she sometimes thinks about how old she will be when her children are 21 or older. The issue is one, however, that she doesn't lose sleep over.
''My husband and I are fit and active; financially we're quite comfortable,'' she shrugs. ''My main thing is, if they [the children] delay [having children] too, I'll be a grandma at 80.'' Ms Meyer-Tinning, 42, of Newport, said starting a family later wasn't a deliberate plan, or even motivated by her career as a public servant.
''I just didn't meet anyone I wanted to have children with till then,'' she said.
She was eager to defend older mothers, she said, in light of comments from a leading obstetric physician who on Tuesday claimed women were being ''selfish'' and ''unfair'' to their future children by delaying pregnancy until well into their 30s.
The comments from Dr Barry Walters of King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth drew a mixture of amusement and outraged criticism.
''They've been paying their taxes, now they want to reap the rewards; good on them,'' said leading obstetrician Dr Ross Pagano. He said Dr Barry Walters's assertion that older mothers were ''selfish and self-centred'' for starting pregnancies likely to be complicated by medical problems, didn't take into account social progress and advances in medical technology and practice. ''This is a worldwide situation; women's lives are different, they're more liberated I guess, they've got careers, they want to make sure their relationship is steady, and at 37 they're quite fit and healthy compared to a 37-year-old 30 years ago.
''I've seen a huge increase [in the numbers of older mothers], especially in the last 10 years, but I haven't noticed a huge increase in the [medical] problems I was expecting.''
National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists vice president Dr David Malloy said Dr Walters's comments lagged behind reality. ''Society has changed; women now function in a range of ways very different to the 1950s and what we should do - what we do do - as intelligent doctors and medical services, is respond to that change, not sit around and whinge about it.''
He said older mothers do have increased incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, endometriosis, infertility, caesarean births and other complications but medicine was geared to compensate for that. ''We've got all sorts of safety nets in place, we're responsive and the data shows that outcomes for [older mothers'] babies are nearly always very good.''
According to a federal government report published in November, Australian Mothers and Babies, mothers older than 30 accounted for 54.6 per cent of the 292,156 births recorded in Australia in 2008.
Yesterday, the King Edward Memorial Hospital distanced itself from Dr Walters's comments, including criticism of in vitro fertilisation technologists assisting older women.
Dr Walters also claimed children of older mothers would be burdened prematurely by ''geriatric'' parents.
''That's colourful,'' quipped social commentator Bernard Salt. ''I don't think you'd want to tell today's 60-year-old they're too old and in 2031 a parent in their 60s is going to be different again; probably even more vital and vibrant.''
''The age of a mother isn't the issue,'' said Mr Salt. ''But, my observation of women having children later, is how they absolutely want and love and adore those children… as long as a child is yearned for, loved, adored, provisioned for, parents' age, sexual orientation, income, ethnicity, race - none of that matters.''
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