Here's the deal: you always want what you can't have. Before I had my own baby, when I saw someone pushing a stroller down the street, I would hurt -- physically -- with yearning. Motherhood was the club I so deeply wanted to belong to, and I was determined to become a member by any means necessary. This led me to three natural pregnancies, three miscarriages and one fibroid surgery. Following that party of fertility fun, our doctor suggested we do a round of IUI (for the newcomers, IUI is what is commonly referred to as "turkey basting") and boom, pregnant at 42. Dreams really do come true.
I'm just going to come right out and say it: I'm too old for this new career. I hate to say it, but I realize whether Mother Nature might have been trying to help us when she decided, centuries ago, that most of our eggies would have "use-by" date once they'd been on the shelf around 33 years. I so get this now. Before I became a mom, I saw Nature as this cruel control freak, trying to block my stroller pushing dreams, but now, I no longer hate. I realize she was just being polite: trying her best to give driven, busy women like me some clear warning signs, without insensitively coming right out and saying, "Um, no lady, this is not happening." Since I generally avoid life's helpful warning signs, most of my key life messages have been realized by crashing into sliding glass windows more than once, and this one has been no different.
In this modern age, we have bred women clever enough to manipulate their way right past Mother Nature, straight into convincing the brains behind medicine to find new ways to let us have babies at any age. Today, "by any means necessary" means a plethora of fertility cocktail options, including natural conception, IVF, egg/sperm donation, birth, surrogacy, adoption, or my own personal favorite, "Please God just knock me up, I promise to be the best mother on Earth." So, here I am, deep in it, Gold Membership in the Club of Motherhood and all, and, I'm almost afraid to say it, but yep, it's slightly tortuous at 45.
I have the perfect beautiful baby boy (not your average incredible baby). I sit on the couch, watching him breathe and exist, and well, he's just perfection. My son is this moving ray of sunlight that follows me everywhere saying, "Mum, mum, mum, mum" 200 times a day. This 20-month-old chatterbox knows stuff I definitely didn't teach him, and that is just strange. My child is kind, ferociously bright, whimsical, silly and basically a sponge for knowledge. I am totally fine with his perfection -- I mean, I waited long enough for him, he damn well better be this perfect.
In the big picture of life's blessings, I won the lottery, and I can't complain. Let's face it -- having a child after 40 is a miracle in itself. Top that with the list of potential complications I managed to dodge, I should go to church everyday. My son is healthy, thriving and a joy. I kiss the ground daily, knowing I am blessed beyond words.
But, I am going to complain just a little bit anyway, in the hopes of helping women like the one I used to be: over 40, still holding onto the dream of motherhood. Rather than be one of the mommy liars out there, I have chosen to be a disciple of Mother Nature and give my sisters the low down, dirty truth -- there are a few reasons 40 just might be too old to do this.
Behind all that "Oh my gosh, cute baby" perfection is the 45-year-old me, wondering how the hell I arrived here, and why I fought so hard to have this life. I traded in my freedom warrior card to have this nap-schedule-based life of early mornings, devoid of sex, living exhausted in the vast, lonely desert of parenthood. Sitting here now, I realize that I really didn't think about what would happen once the baby arrived. My goal was to have a baby; after that, there had been no clear plan. Many of my fellow over 40 mom friends also feel the same way -- we planned for parenting to be a huge challenge, but we didn't necessarily plan for a lot of the other little things that come with this whole older mom thing.
We "mothers of advanced maternal age" (yes, that is a real phrase used to describe old moms) are a unique breed of our own. We have willed ourselves into motherhood, we have fought so hard to take giant leaps in our careers that we put that same determination into pursuing motherhood, and I think a percentage of women sort of regret it. We're such a goal-oriented society: we strive for something we want, we get it and often once we have it, we wonder, oh what now? We don't really pre-produce the "What now?" until it's too late.
I'll be honest: I didn't take much time to think beyond the baby, about how complex my life would become, it gets flipped upside down every single day. No one really tells you about having less energy and vitality, or about the social discrimination and the "Grandma Effect." They sell you on "cute baby, cute baby, cute baby" and "you can so do this." But the reality is, motherhood is, while blissful, downright scary and beyond overwhelming -- especially after 40. Every day I wonder what the hell I am doing, questioning whether all the mothers who came before me felt the same, or whether my malaise is a result of this modern way of mothering?
We think of modern mothering as a collective of women very much like me, who want it all -- career, love, friends, family and a splash of free time to nurture our previous selves. Oh, and of course we insist on making it all look easy, and remaining MILF-like while doing it. That's not "modern" mothering -- that's unrealistic mothering, which is destined for failure.
As a mom over 40, I have a lot of regrets. I regret not doing this sooner, I regret not fully knowing how my body works and the complex issues that could arise as a result of waiting, I regret not knowing about options like freezing my eggs or even considering more seriously (even if it was for only a day) the idea of choosing to be childless. I regret, most of all, not traveling with my husband more before we arrived in lockdown central of a very scheduled and routine life -- but that is the cost of putting love over motherhood, I waited for him, and he showed up when I turned 40. I regret not saving more money, and most of all, I regret not thinking about the fact that I will be in my 60s when my son goes to college. When we are gone, my husband and I deeply think about his being alone in the world, without a sibling and that we may not ever see him marry the love of his life. It weighs heavy every single day. I know I can't speak for anyone else, but I regret waiting.
Everyone deserves the choice to be a mother. I just wonder if we really think about how being a mother changes everything? My entire identity as I knew it is essentially off the table. You might think you get to pick and choose aspects of your life that won't change, no matter what, but it all changes despite your tenacity. I question if it's possible to get to an age where you become so set in your life and your ways that really, having a baby is not the smartest choice or the best choice for your child or even for you. These are ideas most moms and moms in waiting don't really want to talk about. I think it's important to start the conversation and give women the permission to share their truth without being judged. I'm fortunate to have a tribe of women I can speak openly with about this. I love and adore my son beyond words and also have a supportive community where I can honor the loss of my previous self.
Today I often find my once feminist self encouraging my younger sisterhood to explore motherhood sooner than later. Educate yourselves, learn what becoming pregnant looks like, know how your body works, understand what ovulation is, and as soon as you are able, go to the doctor and get a clear picture of any fertility issues you may be up against. Fibroids were most likely the cause of my three miscarriages. Knowing sooner would have saved us a lot of time and heartache; I could have been a 30-something mom instead of a mother over 40.
The upside of being an older mom is that I'm too wise and too tired to lie about motherhood. I'm downright honest with anyone who asks about how much it takes, day in and day out, to nurture a human being. I usually say something like "think of your worst hangover, multiply it by four, subtract showering, napping, and brunch with friends, and add a baby." Welcome to the club.
I also don't lie about how deeply spectacular motherhood can be, too -- from the moment you hold your child for the first time, you can never go back. You are officially in the deepest love of your life. Your heart expands to be bigger than you ever thought possible, and all the things you once thought were so fantastic, sleep, career, friends, and sex -- all of it seems completely empty compared to the beautiful human being who now makes up your entire world.
You can have it all, just not all at once.
Oh, and then there's menopause while parenting young children. Yes, that's a real thing too.