Lord knows there are precious few stories these days that make one feel anything other than on the verge of striking Munch’s Scream face. But last week, I found one that made me do something I hadn’t done at a newspaper in a while: smile. “Chloë Sevigny, 45, is pregnant,” read the headline. “Ahh, how lovely!” I actually said aloud, to the alarm of the dog.

I’ve always liked Sevigny, who manages to be incredibly cool without also seeming like a complete dick, making her pretty much unique in the pantheon of cool celebrities (and, let’s be honest, cool people full stop). When I lived in New York I went through a mid-30s mini-breakdown about whether I would ever have kids. Occasionally, I’d see Sevigny, who is four years older than me, hanging out in my local park, looking like a woman perfectly happy with her life, as opposed to one who was going boss-eyed from a myopic desire to get pregnant.

But it turns out people have their own inner lives, as opposed to the ones we impose on them based on our own neuroses. A few years later, in 2015, I read an interview with Sevigny in which she talked about her fear that she’d left it too late to have children: “I feel like it’s now-or-never time… I dreamed my whole life it would be a natural occurrence. Now that it seems like it has to be forced, it takes on a different connotation.” A celebrity being this open about her fertility anxiety is as rare as non-dickishness.

So now Sevigny is having her baby, and no doubt feels as if she “made it on to a plane the moment before the gate closes – you can’t help but thrill,” as the journalist Ariel Levy writes in her book The Rules Do Not Apply, about her late 30s pregnancy. I passed on this rare bit of cheering news to friends, and for some this prompted musings on what Sevigny would name her kid (Atticus? Dido? Or is she so cool she’d go the other way and call it John?) For others, it sparked anger born from enormous pain. I’m old enough to have seen all my female friends contend with The Baby Issue, running the gamut from those who contentedly knew they didn’t want one, to those who have endured the worst kind of IVF horror shows. Almost everyone who wanted a baby now has one, but some – not many, but too many – do not. In some cases, there was a medical condition, and in others the relationship collapsed. And for some, it was just too late.

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After the Sevigny news, one friend said to me: “I hate these stories, because they make having a baby in your 40s seem normal, and it’s not – it’s really rare.” It is true that fortysomething women having a baby attract a lot of coverage: Cameron Diaz, 47, announced the birth of her daughter last month; Rachel Weisz gave birth last year at 48. But it is also true that the media is not exactly reticent in hectoring women to hurry up and get on it. When I was having my mid-30s meltdown, I felt positively besieged by articles telling me that my fertility – at that very moment – was plunging, lemming-like, off a cliff. “Women can’t have it all: expert warns women are losing their best years of fertility because of financial and career pressures” was a typical headline.

Pregnancy, like parenting, is a tender and emotive subject, and many women can’t help but take such stories personally, because we anxiously seek validation that we are doing it the Right Way. For the same reason, we extrapolate from our own experiences and apply those lessons to all women. “The biological clock is real. I think it’s the worst thing that we do to each other as women – not share how our bodies work and don’t work,” Michelle Obama said in an interview two years ago, when talking about how she conceived her daughters by IVF. And moving from the sensible to the surreal, Kirsty Allsopp claimed in 2014 that, as “a passionate feminist”, she would tell a hypothetical daughter not to bother with university and focus instead on having a baby in her 20s. This, she said, was how to “speak honestly and frankly about fertility”.

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There is, however, a difference between talking to women honestly about fertility and driving them completely bananas about it. Yes, obviously, the older a woman gets, the harder it is for her to conceive. Yet many do have a baby in their 40s: I did, last summer, at the geriatric age of 41. Admittedly, there are times, particularly when I’m up four times in one night, that I think maybe there’s a reason we’re told to do this in our 20s and 30s.

Really, though, I just feel lucky. And I don’t feel exceptional: three of my friends had kids in their 40s, and this was painful for those who couldn’t. Trying for a baby, like parenthood itself, is a process of learning how little control you have over this whole shebang, and that begins with the conception. Late pregnancy stories shouldn’t be framed as freakish feats or guaranteed back-up plans. They should be seen for what they are: stories of chance, when the odds are shorter but not impossible; they are not universal lessons, but moments in individual lives.



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