Sally Hall: Get your childbearing years in early and enjoy middle age

Kirstie Allsopp.
Kirstie Allsopp.
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She identifies herself as a ‘passionate feminist’.

But I’m not sure Kirstie Allsop was on-message with the sisterhood last week when she called for women to listen to the clarion call of their biological clock rather than going to university.

The Location Location Location presenter advised teenage girls to eschew higher education and skip straight to the good life, shacking up with the first bloke they take a fancy to in their oh-so-wise early twenties.

In an interview which could have been headlined: ‘We’re only making plans for Nigella’, she advised her fictional daughter: ‘Don’t go to university. Start work straight away, stay at home, save up for a deposit [on a flat]. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.’

I can see Kirstie’s point. We do cram a lot into the first 15 or so years after leaving school. We do take risks with our fertility. Some of us may even have wasted our university years drinking pints and dyeing our hair with pureed beetroot rather than attending lectures.

But why wait till we’re 27 to start a family? Maybe the more radical perspective would be to advise women to get started in their teens.

After all, as Kirstie says, we’re a long time middle-aged. Why not go into our forties entirely unencumbered by dependent children?

For the record, I find the TV personality and crafting guru’s perspective troubling.

But I’ve acquired a new perspective on this issue via my boyfriend’s mum. As a young woman in East Germany, she was already seen as reproductively challenged when she ‘finally’ got pregnant in her early 20s. Most of her friends already had a couple of kids before their 21st birthday.

The state wanted to populate its socialist utopia with an ever-growing army of young idealists, inculcated en-masse to espouse the communist dream.

So all the DDR’s social policies erred towards encouraging women to reproduce - early and prodigiously.

Universities built accommodation for families, with communal storage areas for prams. Capacious creche facilities enabled gymslip mums to deposit their babies on-site while they attended lectures all day.

Factories and offices also had childcare provision on tap.

By enabling women to be represented at every level of the workforce; actively encouraging them to ‘have it all’ from their early 20s onwards, the East German state could be viewed as a beacon of feminist ideology.

Young bodies bounce back from the rigours of pregnancy much quicker than older ones. By the time a woman celebrated her 40th birthday, all the chaos and messiness of rearing children would be behind her – and she’d still be young enough to look hot in skinny jeans.

Sounds good, right?

My boyfriend’s mum has a different take on it though. She experienced many of the disadvantages of a system which engineered the lives of its inhabitants with such absolute power. When she wanted to stay at home with her son rather than work, she was ostracised. Opportunities to attend university were only offered to those who proved themselves loyal to the regime – which she wasn’t.

Neither is she the sort of mum to celebrate her son’s accession to adulthood by seeking out the shenanigans she missed out on in her 20s. And although she’s still happily married, divorce rates in the DDR were sky-high.

And yet...This state-engineered model demonstrates that there are alternatives to the way we’ve come to structure our lives. And in this sense, Kirstie’s right. When it comes to making our biggest life decisions, we should question our assumptions and look outside our own cultural norms for inspiration and ideas. Maybe then our middles would feel a bit less squeezed.

Leeds Civic Hall main chamber

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