Advanced Maternal Age

biological clockWith a sharp exhale, I dried my hands and put a dampened palm to my sweaty forehead. Blinking at my reflection a few times in the bathroom mirror, I looked at the test again, making sure that I was seeing exactly what it was I thought I was seeing. Had I imagined it? Had I read the instructions correctly? This. Is. Impossible.

I needed another opinion — a pure and unbiased opinion from a pure and unbiased (and not nearly as hormonal) person. So as not to influence my pure, unbiased (and not hormonal) husband , I carefully hid the answer key by partially replacing the torn foil wrapper and summoned him.

“Tell me EXACTLY what you see here. How many lines do you see?” I said in cautious tones, simultaneously standing on my tiptoes and biting my pinky finger, anxiously awaiting his reply.

“I see two lines.” He replied and then looked at me quizzically, his expression asking a thousand and one questions, for which I had no answers. So I removed the wrapper and let him read for himself exactly what the presence of “two lines” indicated on the home pregnancy test. And then I cried. I REALLY cried.

I’d like to tell you that those very first tears after learning we were (shockingly) about to become parents were tears of unbridled joy and expectant bliss. But they weren’t. Those first tears were nothing but sheer, unadulterated fear. Fear that we weren’t ready… Fear that we didn’t have what it takes… Fear that in my 39 years alone on this earth I had grown far too selfish to EVER be equipped to care for an innocent being… And OMG! I AM THIRTY-NINE!

Then the real fear came: The fear that I was too old… Fear that we (but still mostly me) were too old… And fear that my dilapidated-broken-down-ancient-ruin-of-a-nearly-40-year-old body was too old to successfully bear a healthy child. “How is this even possible?!?!” an internal voice screamed. “My eggs are from the FORD ADMINISTRATION!” But apparently it WAS possible, and it IS possible, because it IS happening. And that test (along with the four additional tests I would take soon after) wasn’t lying.

A mother of “advanced maternal age” is what they call you when you find yourself with child over the age of 35, so it’s a pretty safe bet that I am really pushing the envelope here. Apparently, there’s a seemingly endless supply of things that a “woman of a certain age” ought to worry about because of the “advanced maternal age” label, such as: genetic anomalies, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, low birth weight and premature labor and/or delivery. But here’s the thing… I’m choosing not to spend exorbitant amounts of precious energy worrying about all of that stuff because, you see… I wasn’t supposed to be here. Ever.

Many of you who regularly read this blog already know that I have long held the belief that children were not in the cards for me. I had, for the most part, accepted this and Lee and I were about the business of building a happy, meaningful and productive life together sans children. That is, until right before Christmas, when we got this bit of earth-shattering news.

And I can tell you that the most jaw-dropping bit of all is that there was no magic pill. Years ago I tried the magic pills, the magic shots, and the magic procedures and surgeries performed by the magic doctors — all to no avail. And yet somehow I am here now, against all kinds of odds. I am here now—at a ripe, old, advanced maternal age—terrifyingly, dumb-foundingly, shockingly… miraculously.

The Edge of My Comfort Zone

edgeMy husband finds it extremely puzzling that I enjoy the occasional Lifetime movie. His reasoning is good enough. He thinks I am intelligent, but those movies… not so much. And while I’m appreciative of the reason for his puzzlement, it does not change the way I feel about them.
 
Right around the time I got the ax from my previous place of employment, a movie came out about a woman named Tess who, much like me, had been unexpectedly handed her walking papers. However, this is where the similarities between my life and Tess’s life end. 
 
Reeling from the new reality in which she now finds herself, Tess takes off for a career conference in the hopes of making new connections and netting herself a new gig. Now, the conference, mind you, happens to be taking place in a breathtaking tropical locale. (Of course it does. This IS a Lifetime movie after all)
 
Though, it is at this point that the movie takes an unexpected turn. I know. The mind reels that ANY Lifetime movie plot has the capability to surprise anyone… but this one does. You see, Tess does not find a new job nor does she ever really figure out what it is she wants to be doing. But she does meet a man (obviously) who challenges and ultimately changes her way of thinking. 
 
“Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone.” The handsome stranger says after observing her for little more than a day. Watching her come apart over the notion that she has no job and nothing promising on the horizon, he encourages her to take a leap of faith into the great, big unknown. 
 
I won’t tell you how it ends in case you want to see it for yourself, but suffice it to say, I’ve been holding on to that line… “Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone” because these days, I believe it to be true. When I first moved to the big city of Columbus, I worked as a freelancer / consultant for over a year before landing a “permanent” job. 
 
Although I met some great people and did some challenging, new work — I had my mind made up that my “life” wouldn’t officially begin until someone invited me into the fold… officially. I worked that entire first year, making the most income that, up until that point, I had ever made. But it wasn’t good enough. I wanted the whole nine yards: full medical / dental coverage, life insurance, disability, vacation, 401k, stock options… you get the idea. Nothing short of that was ever going to make me feel “comfortable.”
 
It did happen. I was eventually offered a permanent job and I slept a little better at night. Knowing where I would be going day after day, week after week and (hopefully) year after year, was extremely comforting to me. I finally had a nice, warm security blanket to wrap myself up in. Or so I thought. I do find it ironic, however, that the circumstance I once deemed to be so completely “secure,” was actually anything but. I waltzed, (quite nonchalantly) through the door on a Wednesday morning, Starbucks in hand, and wound up leaving via escort… carrying all my belongings in a pathetic cardboard box. My point being this: No matter how secure you think you are… You just never know. 
 
Looking back on it now, I realize that I mainly wanted to be employed for the sake of being employed and I never actually got around to asking myself what it was that I really wanted or needed to do with my strengths and abilities. Some of you may not believe this, but I am actually glad that it happened the way that it did because until I was shown the door, I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to walk out of it on my own. I would have wallowed in my comfort zone and I’m convinced I would have wound up staying too long were I actually ever given the choice. 
 
Admittedly, I am a wee bit “uncomfortable” right now in a contract position rather than a “permanent” one… But I guess (according to the handsome stranger in last month’s Lifetime movie) I should be on the lookout since “life” apparently begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone. 

 

Making Peace With Gravity?

apple tree

I probably shouldn’t be, but sometimes I get jealous of the fresh-faced, smooth-skinned twenty-somethings I see walking about. Tan and toned in shorts and tight vintage tees, they flip-flop around reminding me that once upon a time, I too filled out a pair of short shorts like they do. In fact, watching them only succeeds in making me painfully aware of the fact that gravity is most certainly winning in the epic battle of Me vs. It.

As forty looms large, hovering ominously on a not-so-distant horizon, all I need to do is look in the mirror to be reminded that nothing stays the same for very long. I can’t help but notice every new crease, line, wrinkle, dimple or dent that forms in my reflection as everything continues it’s relentless march southward. It’s so much easier now to get depressed thinking of times I looked better, felt prettier or had the stamina of the Energizer Bunny without any help from Starbucks.

However, (and this is a BIG however) if I were to be REALLY honest with myself about those alleged “better” times, I’m fairly certain I was unhappy with my appearance back then too. Surely it’s a losing battle entertaining thoughts that I was also miserable at a time when I should have been THRILLED that all the important parts remained solidly north of the equator. But it DOES beg the question: Am I EVER going to be happy!?

I’d love to find the answer. I know my mother would too as it’s a question she’s been asking me since the first Bush Administration. Someone older and wiser than me, please tell me this is something I’ll learn to do in my 40’s!?  I’m begging you, because as I come to grips with the fact that gravity IS going to win in the end and my knees (among other things) are NOT EVER climbing back to where they were a decade ago, I need to believe that peace is possible. Please tell me that at some point in the near future I will be able to shake hands with my reflection and sign a peace treaty with gravity — or at the very least declare a ceasefire.

Moving Day

red letter dayIt’s odd how the most important moments in our lives are marked. It’s not so much by the grand pageantry of big events, but rather the small details that define our daily circumstances. We just don’t know it at the time. The little moments happen, building a collection of days and weeks that gradually mounts, moving us along until one day we look around and notice we’re no longer standing where we used to be. 

As expected, moving day on campus was a flurry of activity. Anxious parents, faces wrought with concern, clucked and fussed over their newly-minted “adult” children while those same children worked to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings. Hard as it was to wrap my mind around it — my nephew was part of this new batch of freshmen at Ohio State. An avalanche of applications, test scores and campus visits now behind him, he met his roommates and unpacked his modest supply of dorm stuff. Class schedule in hand, he seemed set for this monumental First Day of the Rest of His Life. 

Although I’m not his mother, an odd mix of emotions washed over me after we said our goodbyes. As I stood, squinting in the sunlight, watching his broad, grown-up shoulders fade and disappear into the darkness of the dormitory, feelings of pride, nervousness, nostalgia and sadness ran together in a silent churning sea of sentiment. The day he was born naturally leapt to mind alongside flickering memories of massive Lego builds, movie nights, school plays, sporting events and spontaneous trips to McDonalds. 

I felt a smile tug on the corners of my mouth when I recalled the time, just before he left for camp, when he gobbled three cheeseburgers I was sure he’d never finish. The the hot sting of tears followed quickly after the realization that he was no longer that little boy on his way to summer camp and cheeseburgers no longer an effective currency for affection. 

As we drove away I glanced out the window, noticing hundreds of bright-eyed coeds walking and laughing as they unloaded boxes or rested in slanted rays of sun on late-summer lawns — I felt emotion rise up in me once more. Only this time I recognized it for what it was: a beginning. It is the time when everything is shiny and new and the world rolls out in front of you like a warm and welcome ribbon of highway. It was at that moment—that little moment—that I knew it wasn’t the goodbye that was taunting me. No, caught instead in the corners of my mind… was the quiet turning of the page. 

Walking Papers

heelsOne week ago I was unceremoniously dismissed from my job. It was done without pageantry or fuss. I was asked to surrender my security badge and handed a white envelope with my name printed on it. The envelope was said to contain, quote: “All of the answers to any questions you might have with regard to what comes next.”

I was then escorted from the building (the same building, mind you) that I had entered hours before with the same security badge I’d just handed over. And as though on cue, like a scene from a movie, it literally started raining on me as I walked across the parking lot. Suffice it to say, that day is not likely to be ranked on the “Best Days of My Life” list.

I’ve been home now for seven days and have thus far stayed busy doing the things that one does when one has been shoved out to sea and set adrift on the churning waters of What Now. So far, I have not been clinging to inspirational quotes, or religiously reciting mantras to help me remain positive. No, instead I’ve been taking it as it comes. And here are a few of the things that I’ve observed.

  1. The middle of the afternoon on a Thursday is an excellent time to visit the grocery store.
  2. Answering the email you sent earlier this morning is not the only thing on the head hunter’s To Do list.
  3. The true horror of daytime television WILL force you to update that resume.
  4. Eventually you realize you’ve begun tailoring your job search around afternoon reruns of Roseanne and King of Queens.
  5. It is a scientific fact that going to the grocery store will, indeed, cause the head hunter to call you.
  6. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front is more beautiful than you knew.
  7. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front illuminates the thick layer of dust that has accumulated — on everything.
  8. Life doesn’t stop just because you lost your job.
  9. You realize that the thing you loved most about your job was that it was “secure.”
  10. Security is a relative term.

While I was sitting in the conference room, looking out the windows as they told me my position had been “eliminated due to restructuring,” I thought I’d be more upset than I am. In my mind I flashed forward to this time at home, this time right here and now as I type this — and I thought I’d be marinating in self-pity. But I’m not.

Maybe it’s because I’ve got a contract gig on the horizon. Maybe it’s because of the support of my husband. Maybe it’s my age. But I do seem to understand, on a deeper level than before, that there is no such thing as “permanent” or “secure” in a world where the only constant is change. All we have is the here and now.

And right now, that’s enough.

Thou Shalt Edit Thyself

red_pen

Thanks to our culture’s rampant use of social media to immediately convey our every thought, word, deed and bodily function, I am learning a new skill! I am learning the art of “editing” myself and what I post online. Be they posts, pictures or opinions in the forms of status updates or comments… I am developing some restraint.

Cruising through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook feeds, scrolling over photos of drooling babies, kids kicking soccer balls, hands formed in the shape of a heart hovering above bare baby bumps, a meme about the Obamacare website fail, mud or paint-covered friends posing at the finish line of the latest gimmicky 5K, endless selfies or acquaintances jetting off to exotic locales… I am thankful that my thoughts don’t come pouring instantly forth from my fingertips. If they did, I would be in serious trouble.

If they DID… Well, let’s just say that things could get ugly, fast. I’ll offer up a few “for examples” to help illustrate my point. A sort of “Top Ten List” if you will. Bear in mind, these are ONLY hypotheticals. I am in NO WAY admitting to actually thinking these things or letting them slip over casual dinner conversation with my husband… They’re just a few what-if scenarios.

  1. That is one ugly baby.
  2. Please post MORE drunken pictures of yourself.
  3. That is NOT a good look for you.
  4. Wow! Look how amazing you look now!! You were a total ________________ in high school. (I’ll let you fill in THAT blank yourselves, it’s more fun).
  5. Seriously? Another one? Have some more kids. Now that I think about it, the Duggars DO need some competition, after all.
  6. I see that you are headed to the Caribbean AGAIN… With another “new friend.” I guess that means the boob job’s all paid for then?
  7. How can YOU GUYS afford THAT house?
  8. But really, how do you HONESTLY feel about the 2nd Amendment, Obamacare or Miley Cyrus? I really, REALLY wanna know because I can’t tell from the rest of your posts.
  9. At exactly what point in your life did you forget how to spell or use the English language at all for that matter?
  10. I didn’t know that you were constipated. But now that I know… Well, that just changes everything!

Make no mistake, I don’t believe that I am exempt from annoying people by the things that I post. In fact, a friend once told me outright that they had “hidden” me from their news feed on Facebook because I posted too many pictures of my cat. And I totally respect them for their honesty. I really do.

We just don’t happen to be friends anymore.

The Apron

By Tara Canestraro

The following was written by my friend Tara who lost her mother four years ago. Late one night, filled with deep emotion, Tara stayed up and penned the following about her mother, the relationship she had with her and the special kind of love that exists between a mother and her children.

the-apron

Anyone in my family can tell you what the words “go get my apron” meant. For as long as I can remember my mom always had an apron she wore to work. I used to think this apron was magical because so many things came from it.

From this “magical” apron came groceries, utilities, clothing, house payments, wedding dresses, car payments, college tuition and even toys. And the most magnificent thing that it could produce was a Christmas beyond a child’s wildest imagination.

Her apron was not only used for her own children — it was carried on to the next generation. It provided school clothes, more prom dresses, lunch money, Beanie Babies, books, coats and shoes. With her smooth tone of voice—never condescending—we were always told, “It’s in my apron.” Oh was this apron magical!

As the years went by, what I always knew to be “the apron,” had lost its shape and became the pocketbook. The pocketbook could take on the same majesty as the apron. It could provide for anyone in need without question. Even if was something as simple as a piece of gum, the pocketbook miraculously provided.

As an adult I now see that the apron/pocketbook helped a lot of people, and wasn’t really magical after all. I realize now that deep inside the pockets of this apron were things like sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. What came out of it were things like patience, loyalty and love.

She, like many, many mothers, was very dedicated to her children and worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything we needed and then some. Patience and loyalty were given without hesitation, and love and sacrifice provided expecting nothing in return.

Although I cannot repay all that the apron gave to me, I truly pray that my children will see her wisdom and virtues through me. I hope I can provide for my own family in the same way she did — without hesitation, without questioning, always loving, always putting their needs first.

Losing her has been the hardest thing in my life, but I have learned so much from it. What you have is material, but what you need is love. The most precious gift I can give to my children and my children’s children comes from my mother’s apron — self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

I hope in all my years, the contents of that “magical” apron will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

Tara

Tara Canestraro