1993. That was the year that threw me. I had seen dates in the '80s many times, but 1993? Surely someone born in 1993 couldn't be old enough to have a baby?
One of the many mildly disgusting but obligatory pregnancy procedures at my OB's office was to leave urine samples on a little table in the common bathroom. You wrote your name and date of birth -- always before you gave said sample, mind you -- on the plastic cup and placed it there among all the other patients' names and birthdays.
Being of "advanced maternal age," I was acutely aware of the years scrawled in black Sharpie pen beside mine. Normally I would chuckle at the younger expectant mothers' birthdays, but 1993 made me pause. I was in college in 1993. I could be this woman's mother. Which means I could be a grandmother. Which means I should stop doing such advanced math.
There were moments like these that made me feel old during my pregnancies, but mostly, I felt youthful. Pregnancy meant I was young enough to conceive, young enough to chase little ones around, and young enough to walk down the stairs without my knees creaking (OK, that one is a lie). I felt vibrant and strong and thought my gray hairs might be multiplying more slowly than normal.
Toward the end of my final pregnancy, I realized it might be the last time I would officially feel young, so I tried to savor even the unsavory moments. The last glucose test... the last maternity Spanx... the last time when I couldn't see my feet (hopefully). I actually got nostalgic on the morning we were to leave the hospital after I gave birth to our second daughter, Meg, and remember saying to my husband: "This will be one of the last times we'll be in the hospital for a happy reason."
What I wasn't ready for was my first annual exam in the doctor's office -- when I would only need the GYN part of the OB/GYN label. Now I was just a regular patient. I wasn't waddling into the office with bursting belly and bladder. I wasn't trading stories and knowing glances with the other expectant mothers. I wasn't scheduling 18 appointments in a row while standing on swollen ankles.
I was in the room, but I was out of the club.
It was an out-of-body experience, in a way. I found myself staring at the chair where I normally waited for all my appointments. The chair where I waited for my first pregnancy to be confirmed. The chair where I waited for my first miscarriage to be confirmed. The chair where I waited for chromosomal testing results. The chair where I waited for my title to expand from wife to mother. It was a chair of excitement, anticipation, anxiety and grief. There were thrilling memories from that chair, and there were memories that nearly took the thrill out of pregnancy.
I took a close look at the women seated around me in their own chairs, and I saw the familiar stress and glee on their dewy, pimply faces. I saw some blissfully naïve smiles, oblivious to any possible complications, and some pursed lips that had apparently weathered some storms.
When my name was finally called, I was guided past the ultrasound rooms and straight to the mammogram screening area, where there's nothing that makes you feel feminine or fertile. I then talked to my doctor about the benefits of continued Kegel exercises and the challenges of toddlers meshing with infants. Absent were my questions of "What's the heartbeat today?" and "What if I didn't know the cheese was unpasteurized?" Even my doctor's demeanor was more measured during our meeting. There wasn't the "You're having a baby!" anticipatory tone in her voice.
Before I let nostalgia overcome me, I remembered the question my doctor had posed during our last appointment. "Are you planning to have any more children?" she had asked calmly. When I said "no," she immediately exhaled and said, "Oh, thank God." While my daughter, Meg, came into the world beautifully, the situation became serious immediately afterwards, and my uterus was almost taken. Apparently, all hands would have to be on deck if I were to give birth again.
It was over, and I had to deal with it. I had to realize that the expectant chapter of motherhood had ended for me, and it was time to close that book and shift my thoughts from prenatal to preschool.
At the end of my appointment, I walked back into the waiting room, told the receptionist I would see her next year and smiled knowingly at "my" chair, silently bequeathing it to the next occupant. How would the chair feel to its new owner? Paraphrasing Goldilocks, I can only assume that sometimes the chair would be too hard and sometimes too soft -- but in the end, we all find one that's just right.
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