IVF, Older Mothers, Emma Thompson, Aging Out

Howard’s End was on the tube last evening – a film I love, among other things, for two of my favorite British actors. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

Released in 1992, we see a lovely Thompson at age 33, and Hopkins, then 55. But I was bothered that I hadn’t seen her in many films lately, so I hopped on the Internet for more information.

Having seen this versatile actress in 2009’s Last Chance Harvey (delightfully paired with Dustin Hoffman), I couldn’t come up with anything other than Love Actually that I could recall. So where has Emma Thompson gone? Now 51, has she aged out of the film biz? What 50+ actresses other than Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton are working in films that reach American audiences?

“Older” woman?

Fishing for more detail, I came across several articles in the British press and read – about Emma Thompson’s split with actor Kenneth Branaugh years ago, her bouts of depression, her fertility issues and (unsuccessful) rounds of IVF, and the appalling lack of quality material available to this talented woman who is, among other things, a writer.

Hopkins, meanwhile, was working steadily at 55, at 60, and how old was he when starring opposite Nicole Kidman in The Human Stain? 65? And speaking of which, now that she is 43, does this mean that Kidman only has a few “good” years left?

Then there is the issue of older motherhood, not quite addressed in the article. And yes, Ms. Thompson has a slightly younger husband with whom she shares a 10-year old daughter and an adopted teen son. Her husband is seven years her junior, something we would take no note of at all, were the roles reversed. Instead, nearly every article mentions them as an older woman younger man pairing. Will we ever get past this particular cultural prejudice?


The IVF issue (What is an “older mother” anyway?)

And – this brief article on Thompson, IVF, and depression unleashed an ample flow of topics (in my mind) – each worthy of discussion.

  • There is the issue of IVF and enforcement of the age guidelines.
  • Among “related articles” was the 2009 announcement of Britain’s oldest mother, then 66 and pregnant via IVF.
  • She gave birth later in that year, as mentioned in this Telegraph article.
  • There is the matter of government intervention in a woman’s reproductive choices, period.

And I will say that when it comes to a woman giving birth in her 60s, I am decidedly against. For that matter, in my opinion giving birth in your 50s is nuts. Might we remember that babies become children, and then teens? Shouldn’t we be thinking of the child? And all the children already on our planet in need of parents?

Is this the one instance when “aging out” is a reality we ought to accept, rather than twisting what medical science can accomplish to suit (selfish) purposes?


We remain a culture with conflicting feelings on motherhood. We neither exalt it nor appreciate it, yet we seem to expect it. An unmarried woman with a child? Not the stigma it once was, but frowned upon.

A married woman who chooses not to give birth? We find her odd. If a woman is unable to bear children (and wishes to), we pity her. Yet women who want large families are often the subject of much clucking of tongues.

When it comes to procreation, we can’t win these days.

As for IVF, I’m all for it – and its responsible usage by women and physicians both. As an “older mother” and on my own, I know how difficult it is rearing little ones beyond the baby stage. Sleep deprivation and diapers are one thing. Children and teens? A whole other (grueling, complicated, serious) matter. Presumably, if you can afford IVF you can afford a nanny. And might we add one more prejudice to the mix – the snarky remarks about women with domestic assistance?

I don’t believe that women with nannies are any less motherly than those without. What busy mother – single or otherwise – wouldn’t happily accept help?

Talent, Skills, Contributions

Let’s talk about opportunities for a moment. Opportunities to live fully, and to contribute.

How is it that a gifted actress at 50 finds herself with no appropriate roles when her male counterparts have plenty? This was a problem 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, and so on. I thought we were making strides, but apparently not. Instead we’re accepting cosmetic surgery as a “given” and ignoring the underlying issues: our discomfort with aging, and our continued judgment of women based on (impossible?) standards of beauty.

Is it time to put the female writers of Mad Men on the task, while on hiatus from their regular duties?

And aren’t we the worse off for not taking full advantage of talent, skills, and valuable experience at any age? Not just our performers, but all of us? Are you ready to be put out to pasture as soon as you hit an arbitrary number, or when the Oil of Olay stops working its magic? Don’t you still have much to contribute at 50? At 60? At 80?

Debunking the notion of “having it all”

Incidentally, the Telegraph (online) also ran this story, with Ms. Thompson commenting on her notions of women having it all – referring to it as a “revolting concept.”

Might I nod in (worn, dulled, nanny-less) agreement? Not so much that it is revolting; more precisely, it is impractical, rarely achievable, and one more myth among myths foisted upon women – ironically – by women. The article references an interview Ms. Thompson gave to Good Housekeeping, categorizing the “perfect work-life balance” concept as “false.”

She [Thompson] said: “I don’t want your readers ever to think they have to have it all.”

The Oscar-winning actress claimed it was possible to have a good career and excel at motherhood but not necessarily at the same time.

Go figure. Common sense. Any of us who have ever attempted know this, don’t we? No matter where we’re directing our energies at a point in time, most of us suffer conflict over the areas we (feel we) are neglecting. It’s not that women want fewer choices; only that the complexity of those choices be viewed more realistically. And quite possibly – supported more constructively.

So thank you, Emma Thompson. You’re a breath of fresh air. Might you write a few screenplays that deal with these issues?

© D A Wolf