A recent storyline on EastEnders has seen Denise Fox fall pregnant at the age of 47. Many may question the likelihood of such an occurrence but in reality, Denise’s situation is not that unusual. Recent ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures indicate a year-on-year increase in the number of women over 40 giving birth, in some cases overtaking the number of teenage pregnancies. Whatever the reason for this annual increase, be it settling down later in life, sorting a career first or as in Denise’s case purely by accident, it does leave some women with a dilemma.
Clearly if the pregnancy fulfils a dream of starting a family then whatever age you are doesn’t really matter, but perhaps for those women who find themselves in a similar position to Denise they can be left with some difficult choices to make.
Denise at the moment faces a whirlwind of different advice from those around her but ultimately she has to make the decision that she feels is right for her baby. She, like many women, feels torn between keeping the pregnancy, terminating it or putting the baby up for adoption. Despite strong maternal feelings to raise another child and being against termination of pregnancy, Denise has decided that adoption would be a better option.
There are a number of reasons why women/couples put their baby up for adoption, including an inability to support a baby either financially or through being too young. Another reason that reflects onto Denise’s storyline is that women sometimes feel it more beneficial for the baby to have younger parents both psychologically and physically. Indeed, Denise has already raised concerns over the stigma of looking like a granny at the school gate.
But putting a baby up for adoption is never an easy decision and women like Denise would find talking to health professionals about the process really helpful. Not all women initially feel strong maternal bonds with their baby, whether they are keeping them or putting them up for adoption, but either way seeking advice from independent sources will help.
As Denise is around 20 weeks it is unlikely, though not impossible, that she could have a termination. She would however, have to go privately for this as there is no medical reason for it. As far as we know the baby has no medical problems or abnormalities so the NHS is unlikely to support a termination. Usually two doctors have to agree to a late termination, as would be the case for Denise. Physically a termination at this late stage would be pretty traumatic as she may well have to deliver the baby as it couldn’t be removed through any surgical procedure.
At the moment Denise is under pressure to let her sister Kim (above) adopt the baby or maybe family friend Donna, but this pressure won’t help as it may cloud her judgement and a significant challenge would be for Denise to see her baby grow up as somebody else’s child. Though the majority of women are unlikely to be in this position, it is possible that family members may adopt and the mother does need to work through how she will manage this situation. Even if the baby is adopted miles away, women need to be prepared for the possibility that the adoptee may seek them out later on in life.
Denise does however, have time on her side. Even at the point when a baby is with either foster or adoptive parents, until the official paperwork has been signed at about 16 weeks old, she can ask for her baby back. We may well see Denise do this. The likelihood will be that she is successful too, although she may have to prove to a court that it is in the best interests of the baby to be returned, if there is a delay in her making a decision.
If the father of Denise’s child, Phil Mitchell, was married to her then he would have the same rights and would need to agree to the adoption as he would have parental responsibility. However, as they are not married and he is unlikely to be named as the father on the birth certificate, he would have to apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order to get parental responsibility. Fathers who do not know of their children until after the adoption are unable to affect adoption decisions as courts have held that fathers unaware of their children may not later object to adoption. He would have to also prove paternity through DNA testing, which given Denise’s chequered love life would be significant.
It’s impossible to predict how a mother will feel or how she will respond to her newborn and she may change her mind on a number of occasions. What is vital is that she is supported with her decision and provided with the correct guidance from appropriately trained professionals such as social workers.
Alison Edwards is a senior lecturer in midwifery at Birmingham City University