Cristina Odone on baby anger

Baby hunger? Think of baby anger among abandoned women, trapped with children

Here are some statistics to make you weep if you are child-free and past 35. Fifty-nine per cent of female executives in Britain do not have children. After the age of 35, fertility drops by 50 per cent from its peak. After the age of 40, fertility crashes by 95 per cent from its peak.

Bad, huh? But don't blame me, blame Baby Hunger, the American bestseller by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, which is being serialised in the Times and debated everywhere. In a couple of hundred pages, Hewlett has pooled enough hair-raising stats to destroy the peace of mind and self-esteem of any woman who has been postponing, or has forfeited, motherhood. Her conclusion is stark: you can be the head of BP or the author of a Booker Prize novel, but you are nothing unless you have a child (or two or three).

Hewlett, while laying on with a trowel those facts and figures about heartbroken infertile spinsters, ignores a host of other statistics: such as the chances of your getting divorced from the father of your child (almost one in two); the number of single teenage mums who wanted a baby to love and got in there quick, while fertility was still at its peak (81,000 last year); the number of years the typical marriage lasts (ten, if you married in 1990); and the percentage of mothers who suffer debilitating postnatal depression (15).

Then there are quite a few other statistics that are impossible to come by, but would paint a similarly troubling picture: the number of women who are left holding the baby by feckless husbands allergic to nappies and chairs splattered with mashed carrots; the number of employers who will sideline you the moment you approach childbirth age; the number of women who get dropped by their husband because they stayed at home, brought up his children and grew wide of hip and narrow of mind as a result.

Yes. The other side of the Hewlett coin is baby anger - those childbearing women who gnash their teeth with frustration when they think of what they could have achieved rather than whom they have achieved; or spit enviously at a successful, child-free career woman whose fatigue stems from brokering a multimillion-pound deal in Manhattan and not a four o'clock feeding. These women would like to share their insight into motherhood with Hewlett: it can be wonderful - when you have the time, the money and the security.

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The man who would be king