Is This My Last-Chance Baby?
Most of my friends did not have children when I announced my first pregnancy. I was 32 and married for the standard couple of years when we decided to try, and seven minutes – literally seven minutes – later the seeds of conception met up in my body.
I wasn’t expecting that. My doctor suspected endometriosis and we all know how devastating that can be to conception. And I knew so many women who were taking, ingesting and injecting medication, who were putting in years into having a baby, who were well past any fun of “trying.” I expected to be one of them. I was shocked I wasn’t. (Friends who’ve been or are in the middle of conception heartache, I wish this wasn’t so for you.)
A few weeks before the cell division began, I’d taken some tests to assess my vitals and likelihood of conceiving, including one that measured my fertility age. Somehow, science predicted the “real age” of my eggs and other lady parts that I hoped would host a bunch of cells that would become a baby. My real fertility age was 25. I felt triumphant. For doing what? I had no idea, no reasoning, no real understanding of how a little blip on a chart could make me and my 30-something eggs feels so youthful. But it did. And I bounded toward birth and motherhood with all the wisdom and experience of someone 30+ and the insides of a much younger woman. (Not really. I just did my best to pretend the stretch marks were badges of honor and the baby weight would slide off if I breastfed long enough.)
Seven years later, my son was in first grade, I was divorced and dating and convinced my fertility age had caught up to me in a whirlwind of stress and sleep deprivation. I wasn’t sure what birthday my body had most recently celebrated, but I wanted a baby and my deadline was the chronological age of 40.
As that number crept up, I noticed more and more pregnancy announcements sneaking into my Facebook feed, blurted out during girls’ nights, slipped into holiday cards. Suddenly, it seemed, most of my friends were with child, with babies or adding just one more child to the family. We were, as a group, almost 40 and it was more than ever the real age of fertility.
I talked about it with my gynecologist. She no longer gave that fertility age test and she assured me that I’d need to feel ready and also understand how important time is, how quickly the years tick by. We could do other testing to assess the viability of my eggs and all that, but really, it’d be about putting the goods into me. Or adoption. Adoption is a beautiful choice. As is surrogacy. But if the bun would be in my own oven, I needed to be honest about the vintage of the stove. The older the appliance, the trickier and longer it takes to get the settings to align. I thought it all through, obsessively. I decided to try, somehow, to get pregnant again. The only thing I knew was that it’d take longer than seven minutes nearly a decade later.
“She’s my last-chance baby,” a friend laughed when she told me she was due right around the time she’d mark another big birthday of her own. She had three boys, all in grade school, and this was what she felt was her last big push for another.
That phrase didn’t leave my mind, and I thought it with every other announcement I heard and read. “Last-chance babies” made sense to me as we looked square in the face of menopause and said, “Back off, sister, I have more uterus work to do.”
Last-chance babies made sense to me as I saw my friends move in and out of relationships and careers and identities. They made sense to me as the women I know settled into themselves, came to terms with their bodies and quirks and failures and successes. As they opened up to more ways to make a family. Last-chance babies made sense to me just as a life list does, with a better understanding that time and mobility and health are fragile, and why not jump out of a plane! travel to every baseball field in America! run an ultra-marathon! go platinum blond! try to make a human life!
Last-chance babies made sense to me because I wanted one. Badly. Whether by sperm donor or committed partner, I longed to ease the ache and excitement at the thought of being a mother again.
As life and planning, good intentions and irate stubbornness goes, I did not put my thirty-something eggs to work right away, and I did not have a baby by the time I was 40. I had her when I was 42 (and a half).
Even with the bright red ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE sticker plastered to every page of my obstetric file, despite the incessant questions edged with surprise about whether I conceived her “naturally” (so silly, as I can’t imagine one way of becoming a parent is more or less “natural” than another), with lots of trying well past the point of fun and with a fertility appointment to prescribe my own medications and injections in the calendar and outside of my own late-night worries that I was way too old and the age gap with my son was far too wide, I had my own last-chance baby.
She is all cheeks and delicious thighs, drooly kisses and big opinions. She is a life force I dreamt of and she made our little threesome into a family. And she’s become a part of a growing circle, as many more of my friends are having or have recently had babies in our forties than those I knew a decade a go. This shocks many ladies at my church and my mother’s friends, but it is how it is, at least now.
Having her in my forties has been very different than having my son in my thirties. It’s been harder on my body, and I’ve been slower to recover from pregnancy and too many months of waking up hourly. But it has also been kinder on my soul, with an even deeper sense of gratitude and calmness and peace than I experienced the first time around.
But there’s something about this last-chance baby that I didn’t expect – the voice calling from deep within to have just one more child. I reason my way out of listening to that voice, reminding myself of the restless leg syndrome and postpartum depression symptoms and the anxiousness to delve back into my career, to feel myself again, to find my way back to my body. Still, the possibility is there.
Could I? Should we? Is there a remote chance an egg or two is still feeling spry? Is this the time of life for more fertility or it is the opportunity to center on myself again? Or perhaps adoption? Is this – and she – enough? More than enough? Was she really the last chance, or is there one more last-last chance?
I don’t have the answers. I do, however, still have some of the baby clothes and am hanging on to the possibility that one day, another child may come into our family. For now, I’m thinking of my baby girl as a dream that came true in her own beautiful time. As a second chance rather than a last chance.