Why The Media Focus On Meghan Markle's Pregnancy Age Is Seriously Damaging

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have announced that they're expecting their first child. But at a time of joy for the couple and the Commonwealth, an odd fixation has emerged among the public and the media, on Meghan Markle's age. We take a look at just how damaging the pre-occupation with Meghan's pregnancy age could be.

Meghan Markle pregnant
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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are , five months after saying 'I do' at St George's Chapel, Windsor.

In the days leading up to the pair's nuptials, baby mania had already started to take hold, with a staggering 4,650,000 Google results relating to the words 'Meghan Markle baby'.

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Before the pair had even tied the knot, a darker thread began to emerge in the commentary, which focussed on the 37-year-old former actress' chances of fertility and how quickly, post-wedding, she would need to start attempting to conceive. We examined, then, , being presumptive about both the couple's desires to have children and also the odds of there being problems should they try.

It wasn't just presumptuous, it was also a lot of unnecessary pressure.

Following the news that Markle had successfully conceived and, as it's fair to assume, had conceived relatively quickly, it would have been reasonable to expect these conversations to die down.

However, in the hours following the couple's pregnancy announcement, attention returned with renewed fervour to the Duchess of Sussex's age. With headlines citing her and articles charging her with - even though she's still three years shy - it seems that spurious narratives about 'later stage' pregnancies, and the risks associated, are enduring.

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We asked seven women, who all had their babies at different ages, to give us some insight about just how damaging the obsession with age really is.

The obsession with age

From birth, the media gives women cause to worry about their age. Whether it's the beauty industry flogging anti-wrinkle creams or the persistent movie trope of men leaving their wives for younger women, the idea that time will ravage us is overbearing.

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And a woman's so-called 'biological clock' is source of some of the worst kinds of scaremongering.

, titled '15 Harsh Truths To Being A "Geriatric" Mum', takes pregnancy age-shaming to dizzying heights, explaining that 'just a few generations ago 35-year-olds were preparing to be grandmothers, not mothers,' but it's just one example among thousands. It's hard to find a baby or motherhood website that doesn't caution against later-stage pregnancies.

The idea that time will ravage us is overbearing

It doesn't help that medical terminology, which you'd think might be impartial, compounds the idea. Use of the word 'geriatric' in the articles already cited isn't just for the purpose of arbitrary slur. Until very recently, a pregnancy occurring in the womb of a woman over 35 would cause her to be classified as a ''

Customary 'doctor speak' or not, doesn't it feel a bit bullying?

In what other circumstance would a person of 35 be given the same label as an octogenarian?

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Besides the media and the NHS, the rest of us aren't helping matters either. Following Markle's pregnancy announcement, high volume search terms have already included 'Meghan Markle pregnancy age' and 'how old will Meghan be when she gives birth'.

So, even at a time when we're trying to close the gender pay gap and concerning ourselves with abortion rights, we can't shake our fixation with the 'right' and, more worryingly, the 'wrong' age to be pregnant.

Pressure to start a family

Pressure to conceive young is still intimidating and pervasive. Following an ectopic pregnancy in her early 20s, Natalie was told by doctors that she needed to have children much sooner than she'd originally planned.

'I started trying at 29 and I was heavily pregnant on my 30th birthday,' she tells LouisvuittonShop UK. 'But [my husband and I] weren't ready to start a family, both career wise and relationship wise.'

Mother and pregnancy
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Describing the first 18 months of her baby's life as 'the hardest' of her own, she says that neither she nor her husband were willing to put their careers on hold to focus on taking care of their baby, which put extra strain on their marriage.

'We should have talked about it before, but we were just under so much pressure to get pregnant and "do it all" that we didn't. It was so much harder than I had ever thought it would be, and everyone has suffered. We are constantly sold this lie of "you can have it all" and you really, really can’t.'

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It's a sentiment shared by Sonia, who gave birth to her first child aged 32.

Considering that the , Sonia's pregnancy doesn't stand out as particularly 'young', but when she joined her NCT group after the birth, she realised that she too had felt pressure to have a baby sooner than she needed to.

'We are constantly sold this lie of "you can have it all" and you really, really can’t'

'Everyone in my NCT group was a lot older than me,' she says. 'I was the youngest, whereas the oldest new mum was 47. I was exhausted at the time and remember thinking, "Why have I done this to myself? I had so much more time than I thought I did, why did I rush into doing something I couldn’t undo?" I remember feeling jealous of them. They'd had longer to have fun, meet people, and party. In some ways, I've done it a bit too early.'

artistic shot pregnant woman undressing by window
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Reflecting on the stress to get pregnant, Sonia says she's learned that becoming a mum is a huge leveller, irrespective of age. 'I don't think me being younger or another woman being older factors into how capable you are to mother a child. Rather, it’s about the daily issues: how you cope with so little sleep, what kind of support network you have, how emotionally and physically ready you are.'

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What it's like to be seen as an 'older mum'

And we aren't just making young women feel they need to conceive quickly, we're making women in their 30s feel bad for leaving it 'late,' even if they have a healthy, perceptibly uncomplicated pregnancy.

Janet, who recalls being referred to as an 'older mum' at just 32, says she finds the term 'geriatric pregnancy' seriously offensive. During her final pregnancy, aged 39, she says people often asked if she'd had problems and whether she was expecting an 'IVF baby'.

'I’d suffered miscarriages in the past and my doctor even asked me why I hadn’t just stuck with two babies. I was constantly asked to undergo tests during my third pregnancy and it made me increasingly nervous.

'I've had three children, but despite wanting a fourth, the constant talk of being an "older mum" and everything that goes with it has put me off entirely.'

Mother-of-three, Jillie, has a potent memory of ageism, which occurred during a family day out, aged just 36.

Mother with her newborn son
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After being awake all night with her third child she said: 'I knew I must have looked like death warmed up but some random, obviously older woman, came over and asked if I’d mind telling her how it was being an older mum as she was thinking about it. I nearly punched her lights out!'

'Despite wanting a fourth child, the constant talk of being an "older mum" put me off entirely'

Mother Cathy remembers her pregnancy with twins aged 36, and being warned by a doctor during her 11 week scan not to buy two of everything because 'one of the babies might dissipate', thanks in some way to her age.

'It was pretty shocking to be told I was having twins and then instantly told one might shrivel up and die,' she says.

To wait or not

Despite the ageist narratives, most of the mothers we spoke to who had children in their late 30s (and beyond) say they wouldn't have done anything differently.

Averil, who had her first child aged 35 and her second at 38, says: 'I suppose one of the best things about being pregnant later in life is that you don't take sh*t from people and have the confidence to call them out on their insensitivity and absurdity. It's appalling that society continues to frighten women about their fertility.'

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Meanwhile, her friend Maggie says she was far too busy travelling the world in her 30s to think about getting pregnant. 'It wasn't a high priority,' the mother-of-one says. 'I didn’t get married until I was 37 and decided if I was pregnant before 40 I’d go with the flow and if not, that was fine, too.'

While it may be true that complications during pregnancy do increase with age, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that having children above the age of 35 is absolutely fine.

'One of the best things about being pregnant later in life is that you don't take sh*t from people'

Certainly the science behind the much-quoted statistic that one out of three women over the age of 35 will not have conceived after a year of trying, is .

According to much newer (2016) at Aarhus University in Denmark, not only is later pregnancy fine, but of the 4,741 mothers observed, it was found that being older was associated with raising children with fewer behavioural, social and emotional difficulties.

Women are also living longer than ever, , so any impetus to have children earlier so that we'll be around as they grow up can, thankfully, ebb away.

Meghan Markle And Prince Harry
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From the outside at least, our picture of Meghan Markle is of someone who took time to carve out a successful, meaningful career for herself. Someone who waited to find the right partner, , to plan her parenthood with. A woman who is considered in her choices and who does what makes sense for herself ought to be applauded.

The age scrutiny is not just insulting or disappointing, it's archaic, based on medical science that is hideously out of date. Instead of chastising women for their choices, we ought to be furnishing people with enough resources to do what is right for them. So let's change the conversation.

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