Becoming an old new mom was never part of my plan, but here I am. And while I’m so grateful for my beautiful family, having a child later in life has definitely been a different experience. The path leading to my geriatric pregnancy looked much the same as it does for lots of women. Very career-driven, I spent the better part of my twenties and early thirties in college earning my doctorate and working (as my dad would say, “like a borrowed mule”), so my focus was simply elsewhere. It wasn’t until right around the time that I met my husband at age 34 that I first began to hear the faintest sound of my biological clock ticking.
Over time, as tends to happen, that ticking became louder. When my husband and I got married, I was blessed to become a stepmom to the sweetest boy ever born…but I couldn’t shake the strengthening desire to add to our family. And so, one fall afternoon in my 37th year of life, my husband and I decided that our DNA was worth combining and that we wanted a baby. A few weeks later, I was staring at two little pink lines that would change my life (and brain) forever. I didn’t know it then, but I would be joining a growing sisterhood of women having babies at an “advanced maternal age”.
As excited as I was about becoming a mother, pregnancy and childbirth were definitely NOT kind to my aging body. Right before I went in for my scheduled c-section, I remember someone asking me if we would ever have another baby. Practically snorting at the absurdity of that question, I emphatically answered, “HELL NO! WHO ON EARTH WOULD DO THIS TWICE…ON PURPOSE???”
And then it happened.
I woke up in the recovery room and held that sweet little newborn baby in my arms and gazed upon his angelic face for the first time. He had his daddy’s eyes and his mama’s nose. I was captivated – overpowered by a wave of emotion that I still struggle to describe. I literally burst into tears because I couldn’t take how beautiful he was. Without a doubt, I was in love and my former self who didn’t “get” what this motherhood thing was all about was gone…forever.
Fast forward to present. I am now 40 with a two year old, whom I love more and more with each passing day. Our son is a smart, funny, vivacious little firecracker who has been an absolute blessing to our family. It sounds cliché, but I can honestly say that being his mother has given new meaning to my life. Now that he is walking (running), talking (yelling), and potty trained (eh, mostly), our life has started to settle into a nice, comfortable rhythm…which, of course, means that all I can think about for the past eight months is having another baby.
Wait. WHAT?!? I mean, clearly this child has broken something in my brain, right? Seriously…have I lost my ever loving mind?!?
Like any logical person facing this conundrum, I’ve made a list of the pros and cons. The tally is solidly in favor of us being one and done…but all the logic in the world doesn’t stop the thoughts, the questions, and the longing. And, since so many more women are having kids later in life, it has become increasingly clear to me from conversations and online message boards that what I’m experiencing is a very common predicament…paralysis by analysis that places you squarely on the fence. Without a doubt, the emotionally taxing decision of whether to attempt conception amid diminishing opportunities is one that unites older moms because we likely feel some version of the same stress, uncertainty, and pressure.
So, if you’re an old mom on the fence trying to explain this to someone (or married to an old mom on the fence and trying to figure out what the hell is going on in her head), here are a few questions that are likely being considered…about 100 times per day.
Is it worth the risk?
The statistics for pregnancy after 40 are scary and the risks to both mom and baby are very real. First and foremost, it’s harder to get and stay pregnant. And, if you’re lucky enough to conceive and carry to term, there are a host of other concerns. I could share some of the stress-inducing numbers, but if you’re on the fence with me, you’ve probably been secretly reading them on your phone anyway. And, as if that wasn’t enough, many of us are also having to weigh these risks in 2020. So, in addition to just the normal, everyday uncertainties, we also have to consider a global pandemic that puts pregnant women at a higher risk (and older, high risk pregnant women presumably at an even higher risk than that).
Given the variables, it feels ludicrous to even THINK about having a baby right now. But, then you read an article about a lady who had three healthy pregnancies after 40…or you know a woman, who knows a woman who became an old new mom during the pandemic with no problems whatsoever, and you think, SEE? A seemingly endless number of other women are out there dodging the complications every day…so why not me? And is there really anything worth having that doesn’t come with at least a certain amount of risk?
Am I just too old?
The pregnancy amnesia that comes with motherhood is a force to be reckoned with…it has to be, otherwise the world would be full of only children. But, even looking back through the strongest of rose-colored glasses, I still remember how hard it was growing a baby in this old body. What weighs on me heavily is that I’m 100% certain that pregnancy would be even worse now because I’m almost 3 years older…and chasing around a 2-year old who stays busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Would I seriously be able to keep up with an energetic 3-year old while pregnant (especially if it’s even harder than the last one)? And forget about pregnancy, will I be able to put myself back together while keeping up with a newborn baby AND a toddler (who STILL doesn’t consistently sleep through the night)?
Regardless of how sad it makes me feel to admit it, I have to consider the simple fact that maybe I’m just too old to do it again. I mean, sure LOTS of other moms do it. In fact, not only do I know a surprising number of women who have had multiple kids later in life, but when I think about them collectively, they all have one thing in common…they all seem much YOUNGER than they actually are. Maybe it’s because no one expects to see a member of AARP at back-to-school night…or maybe having kids later in life is actually some weird fountain of youth that keeps you younger out of necessity. In my quest for statistics related to older mothers, I was surprised to find that the older the new mom, the more likely she is to survive to an unusually old age (1). In fact, there was one study that found that women who lived to at least age 100 were four times more likely to have had children while in their forties (2).
It really doesn’t matter how many studies I find, the future and how it will be impacted by my age still fill me with worry (even for our 2-year old). Will my body be able to keep up? Will my kid feel weird about having an old mom? Will I live long enough and be healthy enough to enjoy being a grandmother one day? Clearly there’s no way to answer these questions without a crystal ball, but the uncertainty is stressful.
Why does time seem to be going so FAST?
Seriously? When I was pregnant with my son, time moved so slowly that I was convinced that the secret to eternal life was to be pregnant. Those 10 months felt like 10 years. Since his birth, however, the clock feels like my sworn enemy. At the same time that I’m keenly aware of my fertility slipping away, so are the last moments of my son’s babyhood. It feels silly to be emotional about that because the point of having kids is to watch them grow up, but I can’t help but be overcome with sadness each time I’m forced to pack up clothes or toys he has outgrown. As I agonize over this decision about whether or not to have another baby, I have also become acutely aware that each of my baby’s firsts is also quite possibly a last for me. There will be a last time I hold him in my arms to feed him, and a last time I rock him to sleep at night. (Even typing those words makes my eyes well up with tears.) Right now, every milestone feels like a bittersweet reminder of my aging ovaries and I find myself clinging to those baby moments in a desperate attempt to keep them from slipping away….and, despite my desperation to hold onto them, I can still feel them leaving my grasp.
At the same time, there is also this intense (albeit self-imposed) pressure to jump off the fence in an effort to beat the clock. If we decide to try for another baby, the longer I wait, the less likely it is to happen (especially since my husband and I decided years ago that measures involving medical intervention just wouldn’t be for us). My guess is that the decision that your family is complete might be a difficult one to make in any situation, but there’s a difference between making that decision on your own and having time make it for you. In a matter of months or, at best, a few short years, there will be no choice to make because these ovaries aren’t going to keep pumping out viable eggs forever, a fact about which I’m reminded at least daily.
Maybe it’s not just my fertility slipping away that I’m mourning. Maybe the impending loss of my fertility is also a reminder of my youth slipping away, as well…a reminder of my own mortality and of how quickly our time on this Earth really is. Whatever it is, the clock seems to be ticking faster and faster…and the more I want it to slow down, the faster it goes.
Why didn’t I start earlier?
Sometimes my sadness at the possibility of having no choice but to be one-and-done turns into anger, even if for a moment. Why? Why didn’t I start earlier? In my attempt to have it all, did I put myself in this regretful position of having biology plan my family for me? The truth is, I met my amazing husband later in life and there’s nothing that could have changed that timeline. Having him as my husband makes me the luckiest woman on Earth, but there are still moments when I feel frustration that I’m in this position of having to weigh the risks and reward of motherhood under such a time crunch. Deep down, I know that if I was 10 years younger, this would be a nonissue. Obviously there are never guarantees, but at least I’d have time to let our son get a year or two older before having to make this decision. It’s a hard feeling to be on the fence because you don’t want another child YET, but YET might be too late.
What if I regret this decision?
Regret is an unavoidable possibility when you make decisions…it’s just a part of life. But, we’re not talking about the same regret you might feel after having one too many slices of pizza or spending too much on a pair of shoes. No, the regret that might come as a result of this decision might be hard-hitting and could quite possibly last for the rest of my life. (I know that sounds overly dramatic, but these are the thoughts that go through my head!)
To make matters worse, there are several layers of possible regret to consider. What if I decide that I want a second baby and I’ve waited too long? What if we decide to go for it and there are serious complications and, God forbid, one or both of us doesn’t make it? On the flip side, if we decide our family is complete as is…will our 2-year old wish for a sibling to grow up with when he’s in elementary school and his older brother (my stepson) is an adult? Will I send him off to college and feel anguish at the fact that I didn’t have another child when I had the chance?
I know that the weight of caring for two little ones will probably have days where it feels like too much or places temporary stress on our otherwise happy little life, but I struggle to see how I could ever regret adding another little person to our family…but what if the statistics turn out to be true and this decision ends up causing all sorts of unnecessary heartache and stress instead?
Am I just being plain old selfish?
Is my biologically driven desire to procreate completely ignoring the reality of the impact it will have on my husband, our boys, and the rest of our family? I mean, let’s face it, we’ve already shelved our early retirement plans because we will have a kid in high school. I know we can provide a good life for our sons, including fully-funded college accounts, and still remain financially comfortable. Having another mouth to feed, another college fund to build, and additional daycare expenses (among other things) clearly takes away from the people who are already in this family. And, let’s not forget that my deciding I want to go through another pregnancy and newborn phase would clearly put everyone else in this house in the predicament of having to go through it, as well. What about our toddler, who is the textbook example of a mama’s boy…would another baby take away from him and somehow make me a lesser mother? Would either of our boys feel less important or less loved? And then there’s my own aging parents (who, incidentally, had me in their mid thirties)…as the likelihood that they will need additional support increases, can I balance that with also taking care of a house full of little ones?
Am I tempting fate?
To be honest, I lucked out with our son. I got pregnant right away. I had an uneventful (albeit uncomfortable) pregnancy. I had a planned c-section with a skilled doctor and our son’s birth went completely as planned. What if I’m not that lucky this time? What if it isn’t uncomplicated or things don’t go as planned? I won the kid lottery once…should I quit while I’m ahead?
Which should I listen to – my head or my heart?
Look, I’m a smart girl. I know the risks…and the work…and the devastation it will likely cause to my body. I know that we have finally settled into a routine and life is starting to feel a little bit easier. I know another baby means losing the guest room, possibly buying a larger car, and two daycare payments. I know it will mean months (or years) of interrupted sleep, and diapers, and spit up, and crying. I do…I know all of this. But, that doesn’t stop my heart from aching for a sweet, newborn baby….from marveling at our adorable son and wondering what other awesome little person we could create. It doesn’t stop the twinge of jealousy I feel at pregnancy and birth announcements. It doesn’t stop me from picturing our lives 10 years down the road and seeing two kids at home (my stepson will be in college by then). All of the logic and sound judgment in the world can’t stop the wondering and yearning.
There are so many upsides to being an older mom, but this has definitely been one of the unanticipated challenges for me. Make no mistake about it – the seemingly constant internal monologue and almost DAILY back-and-forth, being driven by a biological clock that seems to tick louder every day can feel positively suffocating at times. In those moments, I have to force myself to stop, breathe, and remember just how grateful I am to have the life I have right now. There’s a picture in our bedroom that says “I remember the days I prayed for all that I have now”…and it’s so true. I can’t let my fence-sitting make me lose sight of how blessed I already am.
I honestly don’t know how this story ends or on which side of the fence I’ll land…until then, I’ll keep cramming our closets full of baby clothes and toys until I can decide what to do with them. No matter the outcome, given the growing sisterhood of old new moms out there who are struggling with this very same decision, I know I’ll be in good company on either side of the fence.