Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Not all mums can start young

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I would hate to be a young couple trying to plan a family today.

If they've completed any form of tertiary education, they'll emerge from the ivory halls with a combined debt of at least $50,000 and begin jobs with starting salaries of around $40,000, if they're lucky.

The most fertile years of a woman's life will be spent trying to pay back her loan and saving for a deposit on a house.

If all the planets are in the right alignment, a couple can start trying for a baby as a 30th birthday present - but then there's the hurry to get the family finished before a woman reaches 35 and the risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth start increasing exponentially.

A Perth obstetrician has come under fire for saying women who have babies in their 40s are selfish and thus the debate over female fertility has flared up again.

To be fair to Dr Barry Walters, the comments about being self-centred were a small part of his interview - but they're the ones that have been making headlines.

To put it into context, he said that women who had children in their 40s needed to be aware that they would in all likelihood need care and financial support as elderly at a time when their offspring were having their own babies and trying to look after their own family's needs.

A woman who has a baby in her 20s will be better equipped to look after elderly parents as her own children will have left the nest by this time.

Dr Walters was mainly concerned with the health risks associated with childbirth after 35 - the risks to the mother of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney trouble. There are also far more medical complications for the babies of older women.

Although Dr Walters said he would never tell women they shouldn't have children, he wanted them to be fully informed of the medical risks and social consequences.

I'm glad I never had a plan when it came to children. Mine arrived, she was much loved by all her family and now she's an adult and will have to make her own decisions.

And while I know a couple of women in their 40s who have young children and are coping admirably, selfishly I'd like to say I hope to be lucky enough to see grandchildren before 20 years have passed.

- Herald on Sunday

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