In March 1999, at the tender age of 39¾, I discovered that I was pregnant for the fourth time. My three other children from my first marriage were conceived when I was barely twenty-something, at a time when I was still regarded as a normal, young mother. This time around however, I was horrified to find myself being referred to as a geriatric mother who, by the time my child had reached school age, would have a brain like soggy bread and would have the personality and mobility of a stuffed parrot.
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would conceive easily, despite my advancing years and, after the first time of trying for a baby with my partner Mike, who is 12 years my junior, I was not totally surprised to discover that I was pregnant. I remember feeling rather proud that all my important parts were still in superb working order and grateful for the fact that I had religiously taken a Folic Acid supplement for three months before conceiving.
I immediately scoured the Internet for articles and statistics on pregnancy over 40, since that was the age I would be at the time of the birth.
What I discovered set me into a state of premature panic.
Terms like chromosomal defects, fetal abnormalities, miscarriage, Diabetes, placental abruption, Pre-eclampsia, Placenta Previa, prolapse (of everything) and stillbirth leaped off the page. The consensus of medical opinion seemed to be that I was completely past it and was taking a huge risk even considering pregnancy at my pre-pensionable age.
I soon became convinced that if I didn’t miscarry within the first 12 weeks, I would go on to deliver some grotesquely deformed monster that wouldn’t look out of place in a Star Wars’ movie. Even if I did succeed in producing a full-term, healthy baby, apparently my tortured pelvic muscles would cause everything to collapse, and my bladder and reproductive organs would dangle precariously between my legs for evermore. Not to mention my boobs, which would probably metamorphose into two flaps of skin, as they had done before, after many months of breastfeeding my previous children.
Despite the severe nausea and vomiting, I very quickly assumed the appearance of a small Hippo and, at eight weeks gestation, I could no longer fit into any of my regular clothes. The fact that Mike began addressing me with such endearing terms as ‘Pudding’ indicated to me that I was gaining weight rather rapidly.
I also suffered from heartburn, headaches, abdominal pain associated with stretching of the ligaments and extremely inflated, tender breasts. Everything smelled grotesque, and everything I ate made me sick. I would often sit in the restroom at work communicating with the toilet bowl and thinking I would never make it through another day feeling so ill; at 14 weeks, I was admitted to the hospital for dehydration. Through it all, I welcomed these symptoms as signs of an elevated hormone level and a pregnancy that was definitely here to stay.
Meeting with the Midwife
At 11 weeks, I met with my midwife for the first time. Now was my opportunity to bombard her with all those awkward questions that had been racing haphazardly through my mind over the previous few weeks.
“Ooh, an older mom,” was the first thing she said, followed by a non-too reassuring chortle, as she began filling out the reams of documentation and noted my date of birth. “You don’t look that old,” she said, apparently trying to make me feel better.
“I’m in my forties,” she continued, “and knowing what I know, I’d never have the courage to have another one at my age,” she said, chuckling even more heartily. “If I became pregnant now, it would be a complete disaster!” She snorted loudly, her ample chest vibrating in synchronization with each peal of laughter.
After completing the relevant forms, a process through which the midwife merrily cracked jokes about prehistoric mothers, she took my blood pressure and checked for the baby’s heartbeat which, she said, she didn’t expect to pick up at such an early stage of pregnancy.
I was instructed to lie on the floor while she pulled out an electronic device that resembled a thin, white vibrator. She then squirted the obligatory cold gel onto my abdomen before probing around my pubic area rather aggressively and commenting on the rather large size of my abdomen for dates.
“Could be twins,” she grinned. “You have an increased chance at your age, you know.” After a few minutes of prodding and further cracking of insensitive jokes, she detected a very definite, fast heartbeat. It was wonderful. My baby was real and, to add to my joy, she had a really strong heartbeat.