I was elated to become a first-time mother at the age of 40, but afterward I was quite certain I was “one and done.” I even began a Medium blog of the same name.
Though my first birth experience was exhilarating in some ways, and I was thrilled to become a mother, my unexpected emergency C-section had left me feeling raw and confused, as well as a lengthy bout of postpartum depression that took me over a year to climb out of.
Cut to 2019, with the world at the cusp of the pandemic. My husband and I found ourselves feeling fully recovered from the traumas of baby one, and ready to try for baby two after all. We already had a boy, and while I would be delighted to have had any baby, I had hopes to add a girl to the family. Yet, month after month passed with no blue line.
It made sense. I was going on 43, and every article I absorbed offered dismaying tidbits, like that by age 44, the chance of spontaneous pregnancy dropped to zero, discouraging me from thinking I’d be getting pregnant using the old fashioned “penis-in-the-vagina method.”
The average age of first-time mothers ranges from 26 to 32, but according to the CDC, the rate of women having babies in their 40s has been steadily rising about 3% each year since 1982. Some 100,000 Americans over 40 have babies every year, a number that has doubled since 1990.
The truth is, I didn’t mean to have a baby at age 46. But my partner and I didn’t even meet until I was 31, and a few years passed before we felt ready (financially, among other things) to start a family together. By the time we felt prepared to start trying to procreate, the bulk of my 30s were in my rearview mirror. After I started trying at age 38, a series of issues lengthened my timeline— it took me eight years to have two children.
Over age 35, expecting women are considered to be carrying “geriatric pregnancies” ― a term which means problems and complications, like placenta previa and miscarriage, are more likely to occur. As a result, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and donor eggs are heavily pushed onto women, both of which are pricey, medically intense and come with their own risks.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using the medical offerings that we are so very lucky to have access to if that’s what’s best for you. But I didn’t want to go through IVF, and my insurance wouldn’t cover it, so my OBGY recommended we first test my hormone levels. I left a few vials of blood at a strip mall lab and shortly after, she reported via phone call that my levels were on the low side of average, which meant a pregnancy wasn’t completely impossible!
So I began peeing on FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) sticks to track my ovulation and banged on a schedule in hopes of fertilizing one lucky egg.
I got very serious about the limited things I could control to help it happen. I completely quit drinking and gave my diet a major overhaul. I stuck to a regular exercise routine. I experimented with some herbs, like stinging nettle, and ate a teaspoon of honey every morning and night for its anti-inflammatory properties.
I sucked down every article and book and study I could find on pregnancy for women in their mid-40s. I interviewed friends who had had success or knew people who had to try to find any tiny detail that could help me. I joined a Facebook group of women over 40 trying to conceive. I meditated. I thought good “babyful” thoughts.
But the years passed with no luck. I ran into friends who had conceived second children and, while happy for them, I felt sad for myself. I wondered if I could be an adoptive parent. I called an agency and downloaded the application, ruminating on the idea. I even began to consider the costs and hardship of IVF, calling one of the reportedly best area doctors, who was based in New Jersey.
“The doctor won’t even consider working with you unless you use a donor egg,” the intake specialist announced. I hung up, deflated. Where the hell was I going to find a donor egg? Some days I could barely find my keys.
And then, after three years of trying, it happened.
Because I was so in tune with my cycles from using the FSH sticks, in conjunction with the connected app which tracked my fertility with scary accuracy, I knew I was pregnant two days after I missed my period. At a routine doctor’s appointment, I requested a pregnancy test.
“Congratulations!” the nurse reported back to me minutes later. I felt sick with joy. While I was thrilled to have gotten pregnant with a baby at the age of 45, I was also pregnant with worry. Would it take? Would it be healthy? Will there even be drinkable water in five years?
There were real medical concerns, as well. Rates of complications such as gestational diabetes, higher birth weight, stillbirth, C-section delivery rates and Down syndrome increase as maternal age does. All the things that could go wrong danced around in my head, but much to my surprise and delight, I passed test after test. My myriad blood draws and genetic tests came back fine.
As my July due date loomed, contractions began. But then they stopped. Then they started again. Then they stopped. After three days of exhaustive contractions that came on in the night and lasted until the wee morning hours, I had to accept that my labor wasn’t progressing.
A trip to the doctor’s office confirmed I had only dilated 1.5 centimeters. Despite three days of crushing midbody pain, according to medical guidelines, my labor hadn’t even actually begun.
As I sat in my hospital bed, the decision was easy for me. While having a C-section tops my list of least fun things I’ve ever done, I was excited to meet my baby — the girl I’d been dreaming about, for so, so long. I felt absolute elation when I heard my second baby’s first cries. After three long years, my baby girl had safely arrived.
Later, I asked one of the nurses, “Am I one of the oldest moms you’ve seen in here?” She laughed. “We see women in their 40s all the time,” she said. “A few days ago, we had a mom deliver who was 51!”
While my last birth took me close to three years to fully recover from, this time, recovery was a snap. I was mostly without family or visitors. I couldn’t see my son or let him meet his new sister for the four days following surgery due to COVID restrictions, and also the fact that my husband was caring for our son ― but I felt fine being alone to bond with the new baby.
Looking back, I can say that giving birth for the second time, now at age 46, was a truly enjoyable experience. In fact, it was fucking awesome. I felt and feel like a powerhouse lady wizard who, with an assist from Ma Nature, made a human using just my mind and my vagina. I guess my partner helped a little, too.
The road to my second pregnancy was long. At one point, I gave in to the fact that it probably wouldn’t happen. But hey, I was going to have sex with my husband anyway, so I kept a glimmer of hope alive.
I know my pregnant-at-age-46 story has a happy ending, and that it doesn’t have the same ending for everyone. I have heard about all the miscarriages, the wasted time and money of unsuccessful IVF, the agony and heartbreak of the people who never get to see that blue line, and worse. I don’t know why it worked out for me and not for others. My heart is with those who will read my story and feel anger, jealousy, fear and pain.
And when I was searching for encouragement and answers, I found so much doom and gloom: people who chided me for my pregnancy plans, societal judgment, articles that shamed mothers who waited until later in life to start their families, and I was reminded at every click of the less-than-optimistic birth statistics we older moms face.
But for those of us who are unable to afford medical interventions to get pregnant or who are reluctant to go through those processes, rest assured that pregnancy can and does happen to us people at the top of the “You’re too old to get naturally pregnant” charts.
There are downsides to being an older mom. When I’m 50, my daughter will be 4. Some of my friends will be seeing their kids getting married while I’m still changing diapers. I may never get to meet my kids’ grandchildren or even see my children graduate college, depending on what’s in store for me.
The future is uncertain. But that is the case for mothers of any age.
And despite the hard parts, when my family is together, laughing and smiling, I can genuinely say it was all worth it.