Have Kirstie Allsopp’s outdated views done some good after all?

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Amy Swales
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Glancing through her books, TV shows and apps, you might wonder if Kirstie Allsopp, property expert and craft enthusiast, can indeed tell you how to live your life. Where to buy property, how to make bunting to put in it, what to cook to impress the in-laws.

You likely already know that her most recent advice has noisily fallen foul of those it is aimed at.

Specifically Allsopp said: “We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35.

“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.

“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying 'Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27'.”

Allsopp, it seems, wants to raise awareness of the impending catastrophe that is a generation of career-driven, 30-something Cinderellas checking their watches and spilling their cocktails in horror when they realise their womb has turned into an inhospitable pumpkin.

As some have already pointed out, thinking women neglect their ovaries for their careers is hardly new, but she's dressed it up as uncovering a great truth, something that nobody is talking about, when in fact the only illusion anyone is under about fertility is the one she's currently peddling.

Kirstie Allsopp defends her comments on Newsnight

Which is, to be as blunt as she, simply wrong.

And so, in sounding the HAVE-BABIES-NOW claxon, Allsopp may have actually done some good bringing some actual facts out into the open.

People are pointing in retaliation to studies a good deal more recent and thorough than the scare-mongering figure oft-quoted, that 1 in 3 women over 35 will not fall pregnant within a year.

The data behind the 1 in 3 and thus probably Allsopp’s assertion that over 35 your fertility “falls off a cliff” is based on birth rates from the 1700s (I wish that was a joke) regardless of whether the women were trying to conceive or not.

More recent figures (explained in detail here by Professor Jean Twenge) combat this misconception. While 84% of women aged 20 - 34 trying to get pregnant did so within a year, in the 35 - 40 group (aka Better Get The Hell On With It) the number was 78%.

Not that big a deal.

Put simply by Professor Twenge, “Fertility does decrease with age, but the decline is not steep enough to keep the vast majority of women in their late 30s from having a child.”

There are any number of variants muddying the field (the use of kits from Boots or mobile apps to calculate when you’re most fertile, the impossibility of knowing whether you would have conceived easily at any age) and Twenge acknowledges in a 2013 BBC report that of course it is “difficult to draw conclusions” when birth control is widely used. But, as UK expert David James from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence agreed, the more recent studies are much more “realistic” indicators.

Suffice to say, the 1 in 3 of old is no more, consider it binned, debunked, over. As much as an age can be given, we're looking at 40 and even then, it's not an overnight change and it's not true for everyone. How could it possibly be?

And so back to Allsopp, stoking such ire. It would be generous to say perhaps she didn’t originally intend to advise the masses. However she did say young women "should look at the choices in front of them and ask themselves, 'Should I re-order these choices in order to reflect that the only window closing is my fertility window?'" Sounds a lot like telling us what to do to me.

Even if I read that statement incorrectly, she is contributing to the prevalent, but let’s remember, wrong, notions about women and the mythical 'right age' to get pregnant.

She suggests potentially getting the ball rolling at 20.

Should we settle down with the first love, and damn the consequences? God forbid we have fun in different relationships, working ourselves out, finding the person we really, truly love or a series of people we kind of like.

And let’s not forget the fact that is a rare 20-something who is privileged enough to have a generous mum who can put us up in our first pad and offer the finances to support a baby without maternity pay.

According to Allsopp, I should have whooped with delight that my first long-term boyfriend wanted babies despite the fact we were wrong for each other.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Sure, I wouldn’t have this job I enjoy or husband I met after that relationship ended, but at least I'd have a kid or two.

Hell, they’d be off before I turned 40, leaving me, probably single, waiting as editors battered down the door of a writer low on experience and contacts. Is the baby window really the only one closing with age?

I am not saying many amazing women don't juggle children and careers, but can we at least be honest about the challenges of entering the work force in your late 20s or early 30s?

Which leads me on to the idea that nobody is talking about this thanks to Allsopp’s comments that ‘we have not been honest enough with women about this issue’.

Believe me when I say we are well aware of the window, getting boarded up as we speak.

I’m 31, married in 2012, I’m not short on people banging on about it. And my single friends are the same; caring relatives telling them to get on with it, late night conversations over if there is ever a ‘right time’, the bombardment of horror stories of women who tried, and failed, to conceive in their 40s.

But to presume that we’re foolishly, unknowingly leaving it too late?

It’s all we hear about, Kirstie – we’re informed of the risks. We are reminded of them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But now, thanks to your comments, we also have a chorus of voices sharing studies and articles presenting a more optimistic view of childbearing in your 30s, so thank you – at least - for that.

The huge public reaction to these comments has come about because women are sick and tired of being told what to do. Even now, in 2014, we come up against this idea that we can't possibly know what's best for us. That we need a “debate” started by an outspoken TV personality on when we should have children.

Your comments lit this fire precisely because of the point you so completely missed - having a baby is a personal decision and it is different for everyone, at all ages. We don't need you to rescue us from infertility. We need to be rescued from judgement and pressure and be left to make our own, very personal, choices.

Words: Amy Swales

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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.