My Motherhood Do-Over
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
In 2009, I was going through a divorce. I was thrust into the world of single motherhood. I was 35 years old and would primarily be alone raising my child. I felt blessed to have my 9 year old daughter, but I assumed my lifelong plan to have a large family of my own was crushed. Fast forward a few years, I once again found love and got to start fresh. My then-fiancé had never been married and, while he loved my daughter, he wanted children of his own.
I was pushing 39. I already had hereditary high blood pressure. Would I even be able to conceive? Could I carry a baby to term? Would it be safe to do so? My fiancé and I both got genetic and other testing. We even looked into preserving my eggs. In doing so, I found out I was not a candidate for egg harvesting. Even though 38 certainly wasn’t old, the results of the testing revealed that I was actually in perimenopause.
Wait…..what? Yep, the change before the change. While women can still get pregnant during perimenopause, it can make conceiving more difficult. Peri-menopausal women typically do not ovulate regularly and egg quality diminishes. I read. I prayed. I worried. I exercised. I improved my diet and decreased my sodium intake. I received fertility acupuncture. Low and behold, it finally happened. I was pregnant! We were elated! I was going to be a mommy again; my husband would be a daddy; and my daughter would be a big sister!
My worries were briefly set aside….that is, until I heard words even worse than perimenopause...I was “of advanced maternal age.” Apparently, women over the age of 35 are considered to be “of advanced maternal age,” which is a slightly nicer way of saying “geriatric pregnancy.” Again...wait...what? Yep. I was going to be giving birth right around my 39th birthday and was considered to be -and sort of treated like- a little old lady.
When I was pregnant the first time around with my oldest, I was only 25. For the most part, it was easy breezy. I ate what I wanted (which was a lot) and rarely felt sick. I went on the typical schedule of Ob/Gyn appointments. On the big day, Laney Caroline took her sweet time. When she arrived, she let out a couple of screams, and then quickly snuggled, happily in my arms. With my second baby, the morning sickness was not reserved for the mornings...it was all day, every day. The doctor visits were completely different, too. My advanced maternal age meant that I was set up for weekly visits to my Ob/Gyn. I was handed brochures and given warnings about my age and the risks involved. I learned that some of the potential risks included with “late in life” pregnancies, include: premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, chromosomal defects, labor complications, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and cesarean section.
While the risks may increase when having a baby while older, so do certain benefits! I felt more knowledgeable and more prepared financially and emotionally for a baby at age 39 than I had at 25. One of my favorite benefits of geriatric pregnancy was the ultrasound schedule. With my first pregnancy, I anxiously awaited for what seemed like ages between each ultrasound, eagerly seeking a glimpse of my baby to be. With my second pregnancy, I was delighted to learn I would be scheduled for weekly ultrasounds! Even better, advancements in technology enabled me to see my baby in 4D every single week. Ultrasounds had come a LONG way in 13+ years!
There were scary moments, though. I had to stay on top of my blood pressure and developed borderline gestational diabetes. I learned that many doctors, including mine, prefer to induce birth when the mother is over the age of 35. Due to my blood pressure issues and advanced age, my doctor would not let me go past 39 weeks before inducing. Slightly less than nine months, a few scares, and one baby shower later, I was, indeed, induced, and our sweet Jennings Claire arrived, looking around the room like the wise old soul we now (at age seven) know her to be. The nine months that followed Jennings’ birth included a whirlwind of diapers, sleepless nights, baby belly laughs, and then….another pregnancy!
I was 40 years old, the mother a young teen and a baby, and I found out I was pregnant again. My third go-round --and second as a mother of “advanced maternal age”-- was much less worrisome. I was too busy with a teenager and baby to really think about all the risks. The next time around, I was able to simply enjoy all the extra ultrasounds, and I chose not to focus on any of the potential risks. My own mother had become a grandmother at age 40, but I was 40 when my third and final baby girl, Julia Blue, entered the world kicking and screaming. Just as she is now at age 6, “Jules” arrived ready to take on her big sisters and the world.
Mothering babies and young children in my 40’s versus having done the same in my 20’s has been different for sure. My body bounced back almost immediately with Laney. I was only 25, afterall, and with my metabolism still kicking, the pounds seemed to melt off by simply nursing. Other than my shoe size (which grew a half size with each pregnancy), everything went back into place fairly quickly and without much effort. I also had more energy the first time around. I was young and more carefree. I had friends who were also moms or who were pregnant, so I had a built-in parenting community. I had help from grandparents who were still young and agile enough to lift and chase a toddler. I also had an amazing one-on-one bond with my oldest daughter.
When she was little, I talked to her like she was a miniature grown-up. She was my only child at the time, and our relationship often seemed more like best friends than mother-daughter. Having a baby young was not all sunshine and rainbows, though. I was just beginning my career, first punching a clock and then later going to law school. At that age, I had not really started thinking much about healthy food choices and had not yet come into my own as a cook, so we ate more processed foods and often did so on the fly. My parents and my former in-laws (still my mother and father in-love), although young and healthy enough to babysit, were still working and busy, so babysitting opportunities were limited to weekends.
Contrast that experience with having “my littles” back to back at age 39 and then 40… My body never did quite “bounce back.” Not only were the pounds much tougher to lose, but my back ached and things...well, we’ll just say shifted, drooped, and stretched in ways that may never be quite what they once were. My body went from perimenopause to full blown menopause. My doctor said 41 was early for menopause. I am convinced my body was telling me it was time to stop having babies. I may have more wrinkles and wear out more easily, but I have more maturity and wisdom than I did while parenting my oldest. I practice more conscious parenting now. Having seen how quickly my oldest daughter grew up, I was, and still am, able to really stop and enjoy each stage of my two youngest daughters’ development. I never wish them to the next stage, instead focusing and appreciating each step --infancy, toddler, young childhood, and school-age-- for the unique, fleeting, and beautiful thing it is.
Being older and more financially secure, I was able to take a longer break from my career to spend more time with my two littles than I was able to do with my oldest. My parents and new in-laws, too, had more time --although perhaps less energy-- to spend being grandparents. Now that my two littles are in school, I am almost always the oldest parent at school functions and parties, and I am okay with that. Some days, I feel like my kids keep me young, and other days, I totally feel my age and then some. Overall though, having babies over the age of 40 has been wonderful. So often as parents, we look back once our children are grown and wish we could do it all over again. I actually got that chance. I get to watch my nearly 21 year old daughter toss her little sisters in the air, braid their hair, and do crafts with them. If my oldest daughter chooses to have children in the next ten years, my “littles” will become teenage aunts. My two late-in-life pregnancies were full of risks, but my two late-in-life children have added so much joy to my family. I am thankful God gave me the chance to do it all over again.