”What ever you do, don’t have children” was the advise imparted from my mother to a then impressionable eighteen year old. Looking back she clearly felt embittered that her only career had been that of a mother and homemaker.
Why has the most important job in the world been denigrated to the bottom of the pile? If Maslow had created a hierarchy of aspirational careers motherhood would sit on the seabed or akin to the aging raggedy towel that supports the rest of the laundry pile.
But turning a negative on its head, isn’t that the point? That mother in the ideal sense is the bricks and mortar, the solid foundation that allows life to flourish.
My mother didn’t see it this way. Her words firmly etched their meaning onto my psyche. So I became a career woman, of sorts. I once was a globe trotting DJ and professional party attendee. After the gigs evaporated I had a go at the corporate thing. I turned my hand at training administration and personal assisted a handful of corporate bigwigs. I didn’t wear suits well. Then during my third decade life took an entirely different turn as I retrained as a counsellor.
I had no maternal yearnings throughout my twenties and most of my thirties. This may have been in part to the motley assortment of boyfriends that came and went. None of them inspired any desire to replicate my genes. I probably chose them on purpose as a deterrent to having a baby.
I didn’t meet the father of my child until I was 33 and then he was seven years my junior. He was the first man I seriously considered marrying and having children with. I wanted to nurture a solid relationship first before deciding upon the pitter patter of little feet.
It was around 36 when my body unquestionably demanded, ‘I want a baby’. I noticed pregnant women everywhere. But with these first stirrings of maternal craving arose very ambivalent feelings about the idea of becoming a mother. The responsibility involved terrified me. All I can say is thank goodness for therapy. I was able to unpick and process so many complex feelings and beliefs I held about the notion of family. The relationship with my mother was complicated and had held enormous sway over my decision to have a child.
With the help of a good therapist I was able to allow my heart to play with the idea of becoming a mum. It was a big step. I opened, softened and matured. I also realised that this was how it was supposed to be. I was never meant to have a child until later in life . It wasn’t until my late thirties that I really felt emotionally and psychologically ready to bring another life into existence. I don’t think I would have been the same kind of mum if I’d had a baby in my twenties or early thirties. That doesn’t mean I would have been a worse one, just a different one. However I can confidently say that I was far too selfish a person in my twenties.
My husband and I eventually said our vows when I was 38.
We started trying for a baby immediately after our nuptials. I was very aware of the gamble I was taking but I was in very good health; I ate well, exercised and meditated regularly. I didn’t drink or smoke and felt sure this helped my ovaries to stay in optimum condition. I also took an over the counter ovarian reserve test which tests whether your ovaries are still producing eggs capable of fertilisation. I felt buoyed by the positive result.
Given all the horror stories I’d read about the fertility risks in women over 35 I still assumed it was going to be at least a year before I fell pregnant. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of enduring IVF.
Fortunately a pregnancy test displayed a positive result only after two months of trying. I felt blessed to have conceived naturally.
My GP was reassuringly laid back about my maternal age. He told me not to worry, that I was probably healthier than some women in their twenties, and that his wife had given birth to their first child when she was 35.
My first trimester was tough. I was totally exhausted, sick and unfortunately struggled with antenatal depression. But I don’t think this had anything to do with my age but a reaction to a hormonal surge. I experienced a much better second and third trimester and carried my baby full term until just over 42 weeks.
Some of the doctors I encountered were not happy about the length of my baby’s gestation although my midwife was very supportive. Both my husband and I declined an induction at 10 days after the due date as we wanted to give our baby every chance to come naturally. Subsequent and necessary scans showed that the baby, amount of amniotic fluid and placenta were absolutely fine. However that didn’t stop a consultant warning me about all the still born babies she’d delivered. That was a pleasant conversation. There was no way I was going to put my baby at risk but I wasn’t going to be pressurised into an induction either.
Labour was eventually induced 15 days after the due date. I employed hypnobirthing breathing techniques to help maintain my calm and assist pain relief. Unfortunately my baby was not lying in the optimum birth position of back to tummy but was instead lying back to back. This meant labour became increasingly painful and my cervix frustratingly didn’t dilate beyond 2 cms. In the end, after 20 hours of labour, my daughter was delivered via emergency c-section in January 2010. I was 39 years old.
I feel being an older mum has meant that I am intellectually and emotionally wiser. I am a steadier and more balanced individual compared to the younger me. This can only benefit my daughter. I think that being older has meant I am possibly more confident and informed in the way I choose to bring up my baby. In the end I opted on an attachment and baby led approach to parenting; for the first year I wore her in a sling and co-slept until her nocturnal wriggling became unbearable. I breastfed my daughter until she was recently two years old. We are currently in the throes of gently weaning her off mummy’s milk.
I don’t know if I’ll have another baby. Again I don’t want my age, I am currently 41, to dictate my decision. It has to feel right. I have to feel ready. And if my baby girl is destined to be an only child then this was how it was meant to be, and she will be loved, cherished and adored.