Locke, Abigail and Budds, Kirsty (2013) ‘We thought if it’s going to take two years then we need to start that now’: Age, infertility risk and the timing of pregnancy in older first-time mothers. Health, Risk and Society, 15 (6/7). pp. 525-542. ISSN 1369-8575

Over the past few decades, the number of women having their first babies over the age of thirty-five in most developed societies has steadily increased. Concerns have been raised over this trend amidst warnings of both the increased risk of fertility problems and health risks to mother and child. Despite this, research into the timing of pregnancy in the context of decreasing fertility has been somewhat neglected, with research typically framed in biomedical rather than social terms. However, this area merits closer attention given the contradictory nature of societal messages that simultaneously encourage women to pursue careers and enhance lifestyle, whilst warning of ‘risks’ of infertility and problems in ‘delaying’ motherhood. This article is based on a small-scale qualitative study that uses data drawn from eleven in-depth interviews with ‘older mothers’ about their transition to motherhood. The data was thematically analysed. We found that the women drew upon risk discourses around decreasing fertility and advancing maternal age, and that these discourses impacted on their decisions about the timing of their pregnancies. Some mothers felt that they started trying to conceive at ‘non-ideal’ times, owing to expectations they held about decreasing fertility. We suggest that the impact of contradictory societal messages around the timing of motherhood need to be more clearly considered for their potential effects on the timing of pregnancy and note how this topic brings the personal, and, by implication, the societal, into conflict with the (narrated) biological.

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