I woke up on my 39th birthday very busy, very happy and very single – and I made a plan.
I was going to lose the stone my excellent social life had piled on, join an adult ballet class, work hard, play hard and enjoy life with my fabulous preteen in our princess-only castle.
I was going to New York for my 40th birthday; I was going to shop the outlets, glug cocktails and toast a new decade from the top of the Empire State Building.
Then I met the man, feel in love with the man, moved in the man, talked babies with the man and despite dire medical warnings of hormone, age, weight and fertility issues – found myself six months pregnant on my 40th birthday, drinking orange juice in my kitchen.
Ironically, it was at a friend’s 40th that I first suspected as my best buddy savvy blanc tasted like washing up liquid.
While we were thrilled with our news and felt very lucky, it came as quite a shock to be pregnant nine years after having my daughter at 31. But sure, her pregnancy had been relatively easy. Yes, I was older but I was healthy and so ready to welcome this game-changer into our lives. My own brother is ten years younger so I knew what shaking off the ‘only child’ tag would mean to my daughter, who had dreamed of a sibling for years.
Of course I was worried about being of ‘advanced maternal age’, a veritable geriatric in terms of pregnancy. We fretted about folic acid, various syndromes and higher odds.
To be fair, not one midwife or doctor batted an eyelid. My BP was low and apart from extra abnormality scans offered and strict lectures on weight gain, I wasn’t considered the least bit ‘high risk.’ Sure, this would be grand.
Then the morning sickness arrived and the hit-the-wall tiredness. Nothing like staggering out of bed at 2am and every half an hour after to be sick – knowing you’ve a 12-hour day ahead at work – to make you feel old. Trying to hide the grump, not drinking, and sheer exhaustion from everyone and still be there for your older child.
The stark realisation that this pregnancy would be very different to the girl child nine years ago.
From the start, I was more bloated, more exhausted, more incapable of tolerating the early stage of metallic tastes, sore boobs and running to the loo. A massive bleed at 13 weeks put the fear of God in us but thankfully our little bean was OK and I quit my moaning – for a few minutes anyway. After all, it was just pregnancy; suck it up girl and be grateful!
Scan after scan reassured us that our small boy was thriving, my BP stayed down and weight gain was kept to a minimum despite the fine bump. My pregnancy was ‘textbook’ and even the pelvic and back pain I’d suffered late on with my daughter wasn’t as bad this time round.
We did endure five weeks of exhausting prodromal labour that kept sending us to CUMH for overnight monitoring. I did have to be induced on my due date, which is never fun – but master Dale arrived hale and hearty and worth every minute of those back-to-back drug-free 18 hours of labour.
We were so grateful and happily settled into the ward for a few days to get breastfeeding established and sort a bit of jaundice out.
And then it hit me, this older mammy lark really only kicks in after birth.
The physicality of what my body had just been through was immense. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck and nothing would ever feel the same again. My joints ached, my hands clawed, I was swollen all over and could barely walk with the fluid retention in my feet. This took quite a while to settle down and my hands are sore still.
The clumsiness continued for months and the baby brain isn’t funny anymore when, six months after giving birth, you still leave your phone on top of your car, go out with a huge bag containing no nappies, or forget your keys. My short-term memory was shot to bits.
Yes, the recovery was very slow and I’m still not quite myself, a year later. Nothing pinged back, everything wobbled and no amount of walking shifted it. My shape changed, perhaps forever. As did my skin, hair, feet, nails, teeth, eyesight and pelvic floor!
Small man is adorable and thriving but didn’t sleep for nine months with hardcore silent reflux. As parents, older parents, we nearly cracked up with the sleep deprivation. The man barely remembers the last year at work, or how he got there and back. I didn’t iron for six months, forgot doctor appointments and relied heavily on the preteen for help. The big sister award is truly hers.
Your social life changes too. Most of our friends, while very excited for us, are well past the baby stage themselves and back enjoying date nights and weekend breaks. You don’t see them as much; an occasional snuggle of your baby is quite enough thanks – and I don’t blame them.
You find yourself mixing with younger first-time mums who all expect you to be the knowledgeable one – and yet you feel like the beginner as they seem to effortlessly juggle baby, gym routine and social life without bags under their eyes. And their jeans fit.
We worry that we won’t be able to keep up with our active boy and vow to do more exercise as we pass out on the couch at 10pm after a groundhog day of work, family time, housework and the rest.
We worry we’ll disgrace Dale as he grows up; will his friends think we are grandparents at the school gate? His actual grandparents worry they won’t be around to see that happen (they so will).
Financially, we will be still paying for third level education as we approach retirement. There will be no 60-is-the-new-40 world travel here; no clearing a mortgage, or a discreet tummy tuck!
But the pay-off is immense. The sheer joy we get from having Dale join the family is indescribable. He laughs all day and sees life through new eyes that shakes off our world-weariness. Birds in the sky become fascinating again, sunny days are an adventure and cuddles rule the roost.
Being older, we appreciate these early days far more and we co-parent better. We survived the tough months repeating ‘this too shall pass’, as we’d both been there before. I think that brought us through some very trying times and made us stronger as a couple.
We are fairly calm about illness, bumps, temperatures and rashes. Well, dad is anyway! Dale’s tough out, well able for a childhood we hope will be filled with sport and mischief; not technology and bubble wrap.
Our son eats what we eat and will greet everyone, having been brought everywhere from day one. He is referred to as ‘Mr Always-happy’ by café waiting staff, waving at them from a high chair. Women cross the road to chat to Mr Sociable who keeps smiling and calling out to them.
He is at his happiest when sitting at the table, eating together as a family, looking around at us all, jabbering in delight at feeling included. Because we know that’s what important; not stuff. There is a desire in us to teach him through life experience and not follow a book.
Still though, I think having a baby in your 40s is absolute madness and I have taken to advising younger women to get on with it and worry about the career and money later, like some old dear. We might be able to do it but really, we are not physically designed for it, no matter how fit you are.
A doctor told me that post-natal depression rates are much higher with older mothers because they consider themselves more settled, patient, well-read and financially prepared and get an awful shock at the reality. Ignorance is often bliss!
Also because the extreme physicality of it is overwhelming; there is a reason we are designed to have babies young. The recovery is much slower as you age.
Because your hormones go loo-la after birth anyway but add advanced years and sleep deprivation to the mix and it’s an absolute timebomb.
I teetered on the edge of PND. I knew family and doctors were very worried, I knew I was struggling and made no bones about it. I was so thrilled to have a second child but it was so much harder than I expected. I am so grateful for the help was offered but what worked, frankly, was going back to the day job and little man starting to sleep. Simple as that. Now, I adore my time with him.
Chasing after him leaves me stiff and sore but it keeps me young. Watching his dad build trikes and play wrestle makes my heart burst. Listening to the ten year old and one year old shriek with laughter together over breakfast is the best sound in the world. I can’t imagine life without him.
I just hope us old dears do him proud, because he is our pride and joy.
Wendy Good, Editor Cork Independent newspaper.