What It's Like to be Pregnant at 42
People often ask. The answer is yes -- I knew I wanted a lot of children from the moment I married my husband, Jack, at 22. But I was always afraid to say that out loud. There were too many unknowns: What if I couldn't get pregnant? What if my pregnancies were horrendous? What if my children were horrendous?
It turns out I didn't have to worry. By the time I was 34 we were a noisy, happy family of eight. We had four girls in a row (now 18, 17, 15, and 13) followed by two boys (11 and 10).
In the summer of 2011 Jack and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Europe. Leaving the kids with our parents, we spent eight dreamy days traveling from Barcelona to the French Riviera, finishing up in Florence and Rome. Our actual anniversary was the week after we arrived home, so although we were in Tennessee now, not Tuscany, we partied on. Could it be that, amid all the fun, I lost track of the calendar? Calendar, you ask? I'm afraid so. After baby number six, my husband and I could not agree on birth control. Neither of us wanted surgery. The Pill made me crazy. We finally settled on natural family planning, which so far had worked just fine.
Then suddenly it was August. School started again, and with it our usual, frantic routines. Three weeks into the school year, Jack flew to China for a 10-day business trip. And there I was at home, with six busy children in three different schools.
Each stage of childrearing has its unique challenges, but dealing with three teenage daughters was proving the toughest yet. Boys, body issues, peer pressure -- these are not matters for the faint of heart. My oldest daughter was battling an eating disorder, my second daughter was figuring out where she belonged, and the third was just trying to adjust to high school. After a calm summer, we all felt overwhelmed with academic and social demands. And with my husband overseas, I was on my own.
I was so stressed out that my period was two weeks late, which meant one more problem to solve, one more appointment to make. I realized that the first question my ob-gyn would ask was, "Are you pregnant?" I mean, come on. I was 42 years old. What was the likelihood? The cause was stress, or maybe perimenopause. Still, I figured I'd better take a home test just to be able to rule it out when the doctor asked.
How times have changed. Instead of pastel lines, there was now a single bold black word: "pregnant." I'm a mother of six. I knew better than to hope this was a false positive. My first thought was no, followed by No, NO! Then the reality hit me: I'm 42 years old and I'm going to have a baby.
In other words, I'd have a student in high school when I was 60. This child might be closer in age to his nieces and nephews than to his own siblings. I'd be coping with crazy pregnancy hormones at the same time I was coping with crazy teenage hormones. One foot in teenworld and the other in babyworld: How would that work?
I couldn't think straight, and I dreaded telling my children. With all that my oldest daughter was going through, I felt she should know first. In the grocery-store parking lot, through tears, I stammered out my news. She was surprised, but happy. That night, the two of us told Daughter Number Two. She could barely believe it, but she was thrilled, too. When Jack got back from China, I waved the new-fangled pregnancy sticks at him (the test came in a pack of five and I'd taken three): pregnant, pregnant, pregnant. His smile could not have been wider. What is wrong with these people? I wondered. Life as we know it is about to take a major downturn. Don't they get that?
Eventually, we told all the kids. I expected someone to moan, "That's so embarrassing!" Or "You already don't have enough time for us!" Or "I'm not sharing my room!" Instead, I heard, "That's so exciting!" And "Why do we have to wait until May?" And "Can the baby sleep with me?" They were delighted.
I, on the other hand, was miserable. Pregnancy in your 20s is exciting. In your 30s it's tiring. In your 40s it's just...wrong. "Exhausted" doesn't begin to describe how I felt. I was pretty much a goner by 3 p.m. I suspect my sons told their teachers I was on bed rest because in bed is where they found me every day after school. One day I fell asleep before lunch. As in, for the night. At the pharmacy I had to pull out my reading glasses to see the ingredients on a bottle of prenatal vitamins. I bought maternity clothes and wrinkle cream at the same department store. Nothing made sense to me.
And I worried constantly: that my age would affect the baby's health. That my time would be spread even more thinly among my older kids. That pregnancy was making me a terrible wife and mom. I could not cook or clean or even carry on a decent conversation let alone help with homework or stay awake at nighttime school events. When I wasn't crying, I was cursing.
And how would we all not resent this baby? Once the novelty wore off we'd be stuck with a squalling, drooling, toddling little person who held the rest of us hostage. The kids would complain that The Baby kept us from doing fun stuff. I imagined nonstop screaming -- from The Baby, the six older kids, and, most of all, me.
Apart from exhaustion, my pregnancy was uneventful and the nine months flew by. My due date came and went. It was May and as all parents know, that means field days, end-of-year recitals, talent shows, final exams, class trips, and graduations. It's hard to plan and coordinate everything in May for six children in three different schools under normal circumstances. Add a baby who's five days overdue to the mix and it's nearly impossible.
Just as we began to think The Baby would never come, he did -- on the morning of my ninth grader's AP exam and the fifth-grade promotion ceremony. You'd think I'd remember giving birth, having done it six times before, but I'd completely forgotten the transformation that occurs: The second I laid eyes on our new son it was as if he'd touched me with a magic wand. In an instant he ceased being The Baby and became my baby, my son, my husband's son, my children's brother. He was every bit as precious and important a part of our family as my other children, and I'd do anything for him.
We named him George Declan Bailey, and immediately this tiny infant cast his spell on the whole family. My husband beamed and passed out cigars as if George were our firstborn. Our oldest daughter, our youngest son, and every child in between just drank him in. All summer long the eight of us walked on a cloud. The teenage dramas dwindled. My anxieties about having enough time for everyone evaporated. We'd changed, I realized. And not because we had a baby; the baby changed us. My 15-year-old may glare and roll her eyes at me, but she looks at George and melts. He is the antidote for her teenage attitude. My 17- and 18-year-olds argue over who gets to walk Georgie to the library or take him to the grocery store. Hearing his little giggle and holding his chubby hand makes their high school problems vanish. Even my two boys want to make sure "Georgie can come" whenever they go outside to toss a ball. He has become everyone's favorite.
Most of all, this sweet little guy has forced us -- willingly, gladly, unconsciously -- to stop focusing on ourselves. When I first saw the word "pregnant" form on the side of a stick, I was sure it was the end of everything I knew and loved. I'd never have guessed it was just the beginning. With George Bailey in our family, it's a wonderful life indeed.