Naomi Campbell announced to the world last week that she had become a mother, at the age of 50. The Streatham-born supermodel posted an image on Instagram of her hand cradling her new baby’s feet – and caused a social-media storm.
Her post read: “A beautiful little blessing has chosen me to be her mother. So honoured to have this gentle soul in my life – there are no words to describe the lifelong bond that I now share with you, my angel. There is no greater love.”
Woman has baby – that’s hardly headline news. So what’s all the fuss about? Granted, her age, her celebrity and the nature of her announcement make her unusual, but isn’t the griping that’s ensued really just another example of the narrow-minded attitudes women in midlife are forced to put up with day in, day out?
There’s a glaring double standard on show in the reaction to Campbell’s news. Becoming a parent at 50 is perfectly acceptable – if you’re a man. George Clooney, Hugh Grant and Steve Martin all became first-time fathers in their fifties or even sixties.
Mick Jagger had his eighth baby at the age of 73, while Bernie Ecclestone recently fathered a child at 89. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2016 more than 1 in 20 fathers in England and Wales were over the age of 45. A man having a child in later life – look at Pablo Picasso and Charlie Chaplin – has always been seen as a symbol of virility.
But what about the situation for women? Until recently, having a baby at 50 would have been pretty much impossible for most. That was a biological reality – one that is now changing thanks to a series of ground-breaking developments in medical science.
Campbell has not as yet confirmed whether her daughter arrived via adoption, surrogacy or IVF, but she hinted she was thinking about going down one of the two latter routes in 2017, when she told the Evening Standard: “I think about having children all the time – with science I can do it when I want.”
If you can afford to go down the science route – you will almost certainly need a degree of wealth to be able to afford the necessary array of medical support in later life, from surrogates to embryologists to lawyers – who’s to say that you will be any less competent, or loving, a mother than, say, a 19-year-old? You’ll probably have given the situation a good deal more thought, and be in a better position, financially and emotionally, to care for your child.
The number of births to 50-plus women has quadrupled over the past two decades, up from 55 in 2001 to 238 in 2016. During that period there were 1,859 births in the UK to women over 50 and 153 to women over 55. Campbell joins midlife mothers including Janet Jackson, who had a baby at 50, Halle Berry at 47, Iman at 45, Geena Davis at 48, Laura Linney at 49, and Brigitte Nielsen at 54. And those are just the high-profile names. We probably now all know someone who has had a child later in life.
Women in midlife have so much to offer. With age comes wisdom, a better understanding of oneself, one’s body and the world around us, all of which can benefit us as mothers. What’s so wrong with that?
This whole debate isn’t about women chasing youth – it’s about all of us waking up to the reality of how long we are now living. Yes, if you have a child at 50, you will be 68 when they are 18. But at 68, you may still be a long way from retirement, and statistically you’re much more likely to be in good health, with another decade or two to look forward to and in which to thrive.
This is a question of choice – and standing up to the outdated attitudes that continue to hold us back. At Studio10 we believe that women should be able to have children whenever and however they want, without the burden of judgement. Let’s acknowledge the joy of living in a world where there is so much choice. And continue to celebrate the extraordinary energy of women in midlife and beyond.