The term “geriatric pregnancy” no longer makes me wince.
Neither does the “AMA” (advanced maternal age) stamped on my chart at my OB/GYN’s office. I no longer panic when I read about all the increased risks of pregnancy among the “older” set: chromosomal abnormalities, stillbirth, pre-term labor, gestational diabetes, and on and on. My doctors don’t seem to find my pregnancy to be in any way remarkable so I’m trying not to either.
I was 36 when my three year old son was born, and I’ll be 40 this fall when this baby (a girl!) is born. I don’t feel like an old mom, but then again I have no idea what it feels like to be a young mom. Compared to my last pregnancy, I need more sleep at night, get more tired during the day, have more leg cramps and leg pain, am more irritable, had worse morning sickness during the first trimester, and feel generally more uncomfortable. Is all of this because I’m older now? Or are these just the inevitable side effects of raising a toddler while pregnant?
If the physical aspects of pregnancy at 40 have been relatively easy and predictable, I’m having a little more trouble coming to terms with the social and psychological dimensions. As a younger adult, I never imagined myself adding to my family at 40. During my first years of teaching, I taught with a woman who had her first and only two children in her forties. I remember how strange that seemed to me. In my mid-twenties, my co-worker seemed ancient to me, way past the age that seemed “normal” to me to be caring for infants. I mean, wasn’t her hair almost entirely gray?
Most of all she seemed out of step with the rest of our co-workers. Among the other women in their forties, mostly worried about kids with new driver’s licenses and getting seniors into college, my friend didn’t fit in. But she didn’t fit in with the other teachers who were new moms either, mainly in their late 20s and early 30s.
That’s sort of how I feel: out of step. Doing the same things that I’ve observed my friends and family go through — adding siblings to their brood, buying double strollers, juggling multiple school schedules, making the decision to trade in the sedan for an SUV — but just a few steps behind.
My friends — old co-workers, classmates from high school and college, neighbors — are mostly done with the baby stage. My writing friend Allison Slater Tate wrote a piece for Scary Mommy about turning 40 (she turned 40 just a couple of days before I did last weekend!). She wrote:
“Forty is walking into a baby store and realizing that I know very few people that might have a need for sleep sacks or pacifier clips anytime soon. After over a decade in the ‘baby zone,’ I have graduated; by this time next year, none of my children will even have a need for diapers.”
Yes, most of my friends have graduated out of “the baby zone.” And it feels a bit like a divide. It makes me feel like a follower, and some part of me is afraid of being left behind for good. The weddings and baby showers have mostly stopped by this point, and now my friends talk about elementary school homework, soccer teams, dance recitals, and their “Frozen” fatigue. (I’ve never seen the movie.)
I know in the big picture it’s silly to be worried about whether my friends will be sick of talking or thinking about breastfeeding struggles, infant sleep cycles, and baby milestones with me, when these concerns still dominate my everyday life. Will my concerns feel as irrelevant to them as living in studio apartments, applying to grad school, and finding a boyfriend (the trials and tribulations of our twentysomething babysitters) feels to me?
I do know that I’m not alone. There are lots of us out there, figuring out a new way to be fortysomething. I know that there are endless ways for a woman to turn 40: single, married, divorced, child-free. Many fortysomethings are hitting their strides in their career, reaching milestones that they’d dreamed about for decades. Others of us are embarking on new adventures and new career paths.
I know that in so many ways it’s a privilege to turn 40 today. I have choices and opportunities — in fertility, employment, family structure, education, technology — that women even a few decades ago could never have imagined. I can add to my tribe of friends, join new tribes, and rejoin others later.
That doesn’t change the fact that someone needs to come up with a better name for mothers over 35 than “geriatric mothers.”
How old were you when you became a mother, the first time and the last? Did your age ever bother you?