Bloomin’ Mom – A Later Mom Shares: A Little Bit Pregnant By Robin Wallace
I thought I was done with the mommy stuff. Well, maybe not completely done. There was still a ten year old girl to navigate through the troubled waters of the tween and teen years, and a six year old boy who still sleeps every night curled up under my armpit, where he has slept every single night of his life.
But, kind of done. Done with diapers and bottles and wipes and swimmies and sippies. Done with high chairs and bouncy seats and swings and giant plastic contraptions taking up the spot where the living room furniture, were we to buy any, should be. Done with strollers and slings and devices designed for small-human transport. The debates over formula and breast milk and organic baby food and car seat manufacturers? Done! Solved and resolved by simply not having to think about them anymore. My kids, gratefully, outgrew those stages before I could figure it all out.
I was done with baby pools and play groups and pre-school, and pre-school tuition, and pre-school directors. I was done with being saddled up like a pack mule with snacks and toys and spare changes of clothing every time I left the house. Done with arriving at the beach geared up like a crew of astronauts supplied for a two week mission to the Space Station. My kids are potty trained and in public school, walking upright and speaking in relatively proper English. They bathe themselves and dress themselves and are fun to hang out with. My daughter and I get mani-pedis together; my son and I swoosh side by side down the slopes. And, although I admittedly may be a little too optimistic on this next point, I have begun to contemplate a future in which I never have to step foot inside a Chuck E. Cheese again.
Don’t get me wrong. I love babies. I’ve given birth to two of the cutest ones, ever. My husband and I love being parents. In fact, it’s really the only thing we could claim to do with any competence or tangible evidence of success. But, there was no empty arm syndrome at my house. I was perfectly content with the way my arms were looking from the hot yoga I started practicing once my workouts were no longer limited to either stampeding around the park in a stroller brigade, or using an infant as a weight. My kids are smart and funny, interesting and entertaining, but it had taken me a lot of time and effort to get them that way. It’s no coincidence that childbirth is called labor. I had started to believe that I had entered the time in my life when I could enjoy the fruits of my labors.
So, when I started getting dizzy and nauseous during my hot yoga class, I attributed it to the vegan and gluten-free diet I had begun to follow. When the new eating program failed to produce weight loss, I deducted that I must be retaining fluid because…well, isn’t that always the reason? When that time of the month failed to approach, I didn’t realize it because…I don’t know…I’ve never been very good at keeping track of things. When I realized I had completely lost track, I found myself waving a wand through my urine.
My husband begged me not to do it; we’ve only ever had one outcome from this activity, and my husband seems to have come to believe over the years that pregnancy occurs when a woman pees on a stick. On the other hand, not all of my pregnancies have made it across the finish line, so that purple line or blue plus sign has not always been a harbinger for good times ahead, and my husband just blames all of it on me insisting on taking pregnancy tests.
As for me, I felt foolish and ridiculous. I was forty-five years old. Taking a pregnancy test was a ritual of young women in their child-bearing years—not the one who’s already the oldest mother in the room ninety-nine percent of the time. I tried to muster that sense of excitement, of new beginning, of specialness, that always accompanied this activity, but alone in my own bathroom, I just felt out of place, like I didn’t belong there. How pathetically deep in denial was I about my age? How desperate was I to cling to some false notion of youthfulness? I was overwhelmed by the delusion inherent in what I was doing. I might as well get dressed up in a midriff top (do they even make those anymore?) and a mini-skirt (okay, I still wear them, but only with flip flops.) I felt both sad and embarrassed for myself. A pregnancy test? It was probably menopause.
While I was wallowing in my self-pity, a distinct purple line appeared in the little window on the plastic wand. I saw it before I could lay the test flat on the sink counter and wait the required two minutes. The instructional pamphlet contained all of these warnings about mishandling the stick, and I was sure my own error had produced a false result. A few days later, I took the test again. I was still pregnant.
I was still…not old. I was …. not old!! And that’s when the real fear, terror and panic set in. I may not be old, but I was supposed to be … done.
I stalked out of the bathroom to confront my husband.
“How did this happen??” I demanded to know.
“What are we going to do?”
He shrugged again.
“It’s not even fair,” I pouted. “We never even have sex.”
He jumped to his feet and I had his full, undivided attention—something I don’t think I’ve had since the night we first met. His eyes flashed a confused, wounded-animal look that I hadn’t seen since I banned him from drinking Jack Daniels 15 years ago.
“Are you… crazy?” He asked, as if, after eighteen years together, this thought was only just now occurring to him. “We always have sex!”
We stared at each other as if we’d never met.
“You think we always have sex?”
“Why, you don’t?”
This fascinating insight into my husband’s perception of our marriage provided an intriguing distraction, but would have to wait.
“I just can’t believe you did this,” I snapped.
“It’s my fault? I told you not to take the test!”
My husband and I are already “older” parents. We were 35 and 39 when our children were born, and this didn’t happen because somebody was in medical school or somebody was trying to make partner in his or her firm, or because we had fertility issues, or because we met late in life. We are older parents because we are late bloomers, slackers, failures to launch. We waited to get married and start a family until we had our lives on track, and then got married and started a family to get our lives on track. Thirteen years of marriage later, we had a ten and a six year old, but otherwise, nothing much had changed. The house was still much too small and decrepit, I was still struggling to get my career off the ground, money was, as it always has been, in painfully short supply. How could I have gotten myself knocked up? A middle-aged woman would have the resources to hire a nanny and a housekeeper and wait the nine months out at a yoga spa. A middle-aged woman would have an extra room in her house for an extra kid. A middle-aged woman wouldn’t be afraid to tell her family. Yeah, so I wasn’t old, woo-freaking-hoo. The only emotion I could summon was the overwhelming sense of absolute failure.
As any woman who has had a baby in her thirties knows, obstetricians’ offices are equipped with sensor alarms that are triggered when a woman age 35 or older steps over the threshold. Sirens wail and lights flash as you are escorted into the Advanced Maternal Age chamber. A forty-five year old pregnant woman apparently so overloads these circuits, they simply shut down. No bells and whistles, no urgent excitement, no celebration of preternatural fertility, good health or youthfulness. A pained looking nurse shuffled me into an exam room. My doctor sighed, with a low, slow shaking of his head, having already divined, through some obstetrical psychic telepathy, that nothing good was going to come from this. He glanced grimly at the sonogram machine.
“Well, let’s take a look.”
Do you know that old saying about how you can’t be “a little bit pregnant?” Well, you can be. An egg and sperm can unite and form a sac, but the process can stop right there, before a fetus can begin to develop. Because I had not been keeping track, it was impossible at first to determine if the pregnancy was truly failing to develop, or was just in its very early stages. My doctor did not like anything about what he was seeing; he also could not say anything with certainty until a minimum gestational age of eight weeks could be established. I was sent for various tests and higher-level sonograms, but there was nothing to do but wait and see. We monitored the pregnancy for nearly a month, until I was without question at least eight weeks along, but there was no change; the sac remained empty. Very likely, I miscarried before I ever got to the doctor.
While we waited out the waiting and seeing, my doctor would gently remind me that all the waiting and seeing was not entirely necessary. In language so artful and delicate I did not realize what he was talking about at first – my doctor told me that we could “fix things up” and get me back to normal at any time.
“If I’m having a baby, I’m having a baby. If I’m not, then I’m not,” I said, trying to match his artful and delicate language. “My concern is there being something wrong because of my age. I’m terrified of some horrible decision at 20 weeks.”
“That’s not going to happen,” he assured me. “We know about things very early. That will never happen.”
I was stunned by this conversation. Not offended—I found it reassuring that my doctor would provide his patients with the support and care they needed to make the choices that were right for them—but stunned nonetheless.
I don’t think all the crying and sobbing was about the loss of the baby. I’m sure raging, and then crashing, hormones were at work, but I also know that I was mourning the loss, the death, of a part of me. What, really, is aging other than the passing of time? We can keep ourselves healthy and in shape and looking good, but we can’t stop time from passing. Time is opportunity and possibility, and there is a finite amount of it, constantly shifting from lying open ahead of us, to being lost forever behind us. For so much of our lives, we relentlessly push time forward to get to the possibilities of tomorrow: graduation, college, a career, marriage, a family, striving to get to the next phase, eager to shed the past phase and inhabit our new skin. And then one day, you notice that you’re no longer racing to get to the time lying before you, but feeling the weight and drag of the time that has shifted behind. Those goals, or dreams, or plans for which you know the time, the opportunity, has forever passed. It’s the new skin, with its lines and freckles, that’s now the problem.
The panic and fear I felt when I found out I was pregnant was all about losing more time; the opportunities and possibilities that would wind up behind me while I raised another baby; losing time that I no longer had enough of to spare. Yet I suppose, until I got the final word on the pregnancy, the possibility had not yet occurred to me that I could have, at least in one area of my life, already run out of time. But, my doctors made it clear to me that for me, there was no time left.
I know many women whose child-bearing years were cut short by medical and health issues, or who struggled with fertility as young women. I did not have those struggles, and I have always been consciously and abundantly grateful for that blessing. Finding out at 45 years old that I can’t have children I never planned on having is not the end of the world. It’s not even the beginning of the end of the world. Finding out that I’m just too old—well, that was a little tougher. I thought I was done, and I was. I didn’t think it was time yet for that.
Robin Wallace, a weekly blogger for MotherhoodLater.com, is a television news writer and former newspaper reporter. Her work has appeared in Salon,, The New York Post and many other print and on-line publications. She is an editorial consultant with Blue Planet Training, one of top public speaking coaching firms in the world. Robin is the mother of Cailan, 10, and Michael, 6. She lives with her children and husband in Essex County, New Jersey.