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.

Dethroned

This is Wrigley. Otherwise known as Wriggles, Wrigleyville or Mr. Wriggles. And this is his story.

Not long after my friend Jan got married and bought a house, she and her hubby—like many young couples—began to feel a growing void. As is typical with most newlyweds who put down roots and establish a home together, the need for “something more” takes a hold of them and they, in turn, take a trip to the local pet store.

Many sleepless nights, soiled and tattered towels, destroyed shoes, half-chewed squeaky toys and bottles of carpet cleaner later… they settle in with their newest addition and deem their squirmy little puppy the King of the Castle… Lord of the Manor… and Love of Their Lives.

They honestly don’t know how they ever got along without this furry bundle of joy and he becomes the center of their world… their baby. He is regularly walked, obscenely spoiled with designer toys and gourmet treats and taken to “Doggie Daycare” or the grandparents’ homes when mummy and daddy are away.

Fast-forward a couple of years. Biology has worked its magic and now there is a new sheriff in town. That’s right, folks. Procreation has occurred. You know the good ol’ perpetuation of the species and all that crap. A tiny new bundle has entered the home and nothing is ever the same. This one is hairless and cries constantly and unlike the furry variety, it seems to demand much, MUCH more attention.

And suddenly, without warning, the former King of the Castle is literally cast aside in order to make room. Chew toys, tug-of-war ropes and tennis balls are shoved into dark, dusty corners to make way for pack-n-plays, bouncy-chairs and activity mats.

Excuse me... Where are all of MY toys?

Zero sleep and constant feedings and changings have made mummy and daddy rather cranky and impatient and rendered the notion of a daily walk or a game of catch virtually impossible. Life feels as though it will never return to normal.

UGH. I personally don't see what all the fuss is about. I'm WAY cuter than she is. Aren't I?

I’ve seen Wrigley’s story play out time and time again as my friends have done their reproductive duty and multiplied. The animal—once so adored—has now become an object of scorn and frustration. During a recent visit to meet the newest human addition to my friend’s family, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Wrigley (I personally like to call him Mr. Wriggles). Me being a perplexed, non-parent, I asked my friend how it was possible for them “hate” their once-cherished pet.

“He’s annoying. He jumps too much, barks too loud and begs mercilessly for attention. We worry constantly that he’s going to wake the baby. He is just one more thing for us to deal with. Now that we have 2 kids, it feels like we actually have 3.” She answered.

At least she was honest.

They admitted to giving some consideration to the thought of handing Wrigley over to a neighboring family who could offer him more attention—but being the sometimes-optimist that I am—I see their oldest, Brady, approaching 3 and I believe that perhaps Mr. Wriggles will soon get back his throne. Maybe he will become King … (OK that’s reaching) make that Prince of Brady’s world. And before long, there will be someone to take walks and play catch with once again.

Um... Are you old enough to take me for a walk yet?

Child’s Play

Red-Rover, Red-Rover let Julie come over! Julie lets go of my hand and rushes to the other side. Excitedly they snag her. Now she is a part of their team.

You know the game, Red Rover. It is the kid’s game where you form two opposing lines across an open field, facing one another. Everyone in each line locks arms and takes turns inviting a member of the other team to come over. And the strategy is to catch that person so they will then join your team and your line grows longer and longer while the other team’s line gets shorter and shorter until there is only one person left on that team. Game over.

I’ve been playing my own little game of Red Rover for years now. Only my team consists of all women… women with no children. The other team is a far, far larger team consisting entirely of mommies. Several of the members of my team are single and that’s the only reason they are still on the team. But then there are other players who, like me, have tried to have children. Prayed and begged and pleaded to have children. Some of us have even sought radical medical assistance to have children. Yet we still stand on THIS side of the field.

Over the years my line has gotten dramatically shorter. One by one I have watched as team members get called to the opposite side. Last year I lost another member and the line became shorter again. The really painful part about losing Julie to the other team was that she was a lot like me. She had been trying for years and seeking medical assistance. She too was familiar with the unique combination of hope and heartbreak that repeats over and over in carefully measured 28-day cycles. Because of our shared suffering, Julie was a little bit more valuable to the team as far as I was concerned.

“Red-Rover, Red-Rover let Julie come over!” They chanted. I guess it is her turn. She’s been chosen. Her hand slips from my grasp and I can do nothing but watch the back of her as she races toward the other side with total abandon. They snatch her up in their network of tightly-linked arms, thrilled to have gotten another member. She is welcomed onto the team.

My arm hangs limp at my side, my palm empty until I find another hand to hold. I see her across the width of the field… which oddly becomes wider with each passing year. She has locked arms with them now, and when our eyes meet… she is beaming. I am happy for her, but I will miss my teammate.

I slide over to compensate for the gap that her absence has created and I reluctantly take the hand of the woman now beside me. My line becomes one more person shorter.