Tuesday 3 June 2014

In support of Kirstie

I should first declare an interest: I am a huge fan of Kirstie Allsopp, and loved watching the "are they/aren't they?" banter between her and Phil on Location, Location, Location.  She's a comforting, regular face on my TV and someone whom I've always assumed to be a little bit bossy, a big sister to us all.

So when I read the criticism of her recent remarks (made in an interview with Bryony Gordon of the Daily Telegraph) my hackles were raised.

What did Kirstie say?
Based on my reading of the article, Kirstie made several important points about lifestyle choices (as well as some very touching comments on how this country deals with death and bereavement).  Her point seems to be that, despite all the "choices" women now have, the one thing that cannot be changed is our biological fertility.  We have increased life expectancy dramatically, but failed to lengthen the fertility window, so women (and men!) should consider their choices (study, work, house, kids) in a different order. 

I do recommend reading the whole interview, but if you want the essence of it here are Kirstie's own words:

“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward."

“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. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
"[Fertility] is the one thing we can’t change. Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person."

“But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have. And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25, and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say: 'Let’s do it now.’ I was lucky with Ben that he absolutely wanted more children immediately and he was very committed to that. But men need to know, men need to be taught in school that there is a responsibility, that if you love someone, decide if you want to have a child with that person or not.”

What was the reaction?
Kirstie raised an important issue, in a forthright manner, and from (the horror!) a position of undeniable privilege.  She has managed to have children in her mid-late thirties.  And she has accomplished this while enjoying an enviable career and home life.  It is unfortunate that part of Kirstie's professional persona is the "homemade home" wife (worth knowing she is not actually married in real life!).  People automatically assumed that her words were retrograde, trying to force working women back to the home, barefoot and pregnant.  People thought she was somehow against higher education for women, or that women should not try to have both a career and children.
Here is a flavour of the reaction on twitter:

@jdpoc: Re @KirstieMAllsopp comments on women's careers - not all women are daughters of Barons and married to millionaire Property Developers, eh? 

@deepintheheath: @KirstieMAllsopp how can you afford to buy a house without a decent job? Surely encouraging women to study later will widen the inequalities

@catmarieyianni: "Dont go to uni, dont have careers young, have babies instead." Wtf is @KirstieMAllsopp goung on about

So the negative reaction seems to stem from:
- people who resent someone of privilege lecturing others on careers
- people who think university education is the only path to success
- people in their early twenties who hate to think they should be even thinking about having children.

Why I agree with Kirstie
A lot of people assume that modern fertility specialists can work miracles.  Yes, there are a lot of amazing treatments out there, but the statistics don't give the full picture: successful fertility treatment in your later years becomes much (much) less likely to be done using your own biological eggs.  Stories of women giving birth in their late 40s and beyond are likely to involve donor eggs.  
So what? 
Well, if having a genetic/biological child is important to you (and it certainly may not be important to everyone, nor should it) then you might want to pay attention to your so-called fertility window.
I am acutely aware of my "ovarian age", due to a few fertility tests I underwent when we were first trying to conceive (which we accomplished naturally - in the end!).  If we did try again for a sibling, we are unlikely to be good IVF candidates, due to the lack of egg follicles I have.  But at least I now have this knowledge.  It worries me that many women my age (I am "only" 33) would have no idea how many eggs they had left.  Personally speaking, I would rather try and go down an adoption route, then go through the pain and heartache of donor-egg IVF.

I wish that young men and women were taught more about their fertility, and how it is likely to change as they grow older.  I spent years and years desperately trying not to get pregnant (while I went to university, and forged a career in London) that it didn't occur to me that getting pregnant would be so difficult.  We need to educate young people about what fertility treatment can and cannot do, and not leave it to people in their 40s to suddenly realise that IVF is not the fail-safe back-up plan they always assumed it was.

Secondly, Kirstie is right about university.  It is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to having a successful career.  I blithely went down the university path, but I sometimes wonder whether I could have used my imagination a little better back then.  I was so keen not to disappoint anyone, so keen to always be top-of-the-class, that I overlooked a lot of valid choices.  Now, having come out of the rat race for a few years, I am full of ideas for what the future may hold for me.  It's exciting.  I might go back to college, I may not.  But I know that having had my son, and fulfilling that dream of motherhood, I can also look forward to a new challenge in life.

What do you think about Kirstie's remarks?  Did you prioritise career over children?  Do you ever wish you'd known more about fertility? 

Super Busy Mum


  1. I agree purely because every woman should be able to make an informed choice on where they want to go in life. I also agree that I have witnessed the pain of friends who are struggling to conceive having left it till their mid thirties and now finding it's not so easy to get pregnant, having a very real pressure of age looming.

    I also really resent that feminism has become about independence. It should be about choice. I'm a hairdresser so I have studied and worked in my life. I'm having my first baby at 24. What is wrong with me choosing the be a stay at home mother? Does that make me silly? Or am I exercising my right to choose? Isn't that all Kirstie was saying? Women should be more aware of their choices. Information is power after all :)

  2. As a male I hope I'll be forgiven for entering into this debate. I'm stuck between two camps here; on the one hand I wish Allsopp would just keep quiet. She has a highly contrived media personality that I personally find irritating.

    That said, life expectancy is around 100 years of age for someone who is now in their early thirties. This has a major impact on the decisions someone should make regarding reproduction, education, marriage etc and though it sticks in my throat to admit Allsopp is right, these issues should be openly discussed.

    I will, however, take issue with Allsopp stating that women's fertility falls "off a cliff" at the age of 35. It doesn't and such a statement is scaremongering. Conception may become increasingly difficult after that age, but there are no cliffs.

  3. I am pro free speech. I think that she said what she said for a very very good reason and I am okay with it. I think that her being her, she knows that there will be reactions like this. The reactions are also a chance to practice free speech.

    Personally, I wouldve chosen to marry and get pregnant young. I mean I'd be old and my son will just what graduate college? But when im younger there are no takers. No decent man. So there. What she said is a nice idea but in real life there can be things that you cant control. So I agree with her but I still got pregnant old (36). Shes got balls and I also like her for that =) #mmwbh

  4. Hi Kathryn! I'm Heather and I just have a quick question about your blog that I was hoping you could answer! If you could email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com that would be great!

  5. Much of the negative reaction was because people (as they so often do) jumped on the bandwagon without READING what she said. My gran would have called it "picking up fag-ends"!!! It is what most political opinion on Twitter is based on too and is SO frustrating to someone making a valid point. WHY shouldn't she be taken seriously? She's still entitled to an opinion, whatever her background! And actually, if people read what you have put here she is speaking about ACTIVATING CHOICE, not removing it. And also, why do we think that women have to do everything? Why should they earn enough for the home AND have the family? Do men get to shirk all their responsibilities now in this "New Age"? If you ask me, that's far more unequal then suggesting women focus on their long term choices rather than shelving the baby decision for the late 30s. If you do that, it's a choice (for many, not all) and if you make it, you live with it when reduced fertility knocks at your door.
    (My kids were conceived by fertility treatment for medical condition reasons so obv there are other reasons for infertility) #PoCoLo

  6. I too agree with what Kirstie said and I think much of the negative reactions have come from people who haven't actually read the whole article. Choice and making and informed decision is the key. #pocolo

  7. Fantastic piece Kat! I have to agree with you here and wholeheartedly with what Kirstie has said.

    When I was diagnosed with PCOS I spent almost two years tying myself in knots thinking I'd never be a mum. Fortunately I reversed my symptoms with diet and naturally conceived three kids. BUT those two years were hell because I'd been told by the professionals that I've never naturally conceive.

    I have two sets of friends that have gone through an IVF nightmare for years to no avail. You're so on the money when you say we need to be educated on fertility.

    Awesome post xx #pocolo