Until the day I called to make my first prenatal doctor’s appointment, I thought of myself (when I took the time to be reflective enough to think of things like this) as fresh, young, and vibrant. I was a “fun-young-married.” I was healthy. Guys noticed me. Even young guys. Sometimes they bought be tequila shots, and I drank them. My concerns in life revolved around story deadlines, hangovers, and paying for car insurance.
It’s amazing how one three-minute phone call can change everything:
Doctors’ Office Receptionist: “Hello, Consultants in OB/Gyn.”
Me: “Oh hi, I’d like to make an appointment, because I think I’m pregnant!”
DOR: “Congratulations. Let me take a bit of information from you. First, what is your date of birth?”
DOR: (Pause) “Okay, well it looks like we can get you in next Tuesday at 10 a.m. Just so you know, the appointment might take a little extra time because the doctor will need to talk to you about all the risks and tests you’ll need due to your advanced maternal age.”
Me: (Another pause, during which the earth shifts on its axis.) “Fine. But now you’ll have to excuse me, because this old lady has to go throw up.”
There—in three minutes and three icky-sounding words—was my new and forever-altered self-image: “Advanced Maternal Age.” I was no longer the robust, adventure-seeking, late-night-sushi-eating chick I had been three minutes before. Now I was mature, fragile, and worried about the health of my microscopic unborn child. What had I done? I was 36 years old! Why hadn’t I thought of this when I was 21 like my mother had? Why was I so damn old?
Getting married at 34 was a choice I’d made by default. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but in my 20s and early 30s, I was just living. The conscious choices I did make—to move to New York to work in publishing, to travel on foot around Asia, to date guys pretty much just for their blond ponytails and access to Red Rocks tickets—didn’t exactly involve a thought-out life plan. Or finding a mate.
When I did meet and marry the right guy (no ponytail, go figure), we had so much stuff to do before settling down. He was building a business and traveling around the West with indigent-but-genius fine art photographers; I was getting paid to ski in places like Niseko, Japan, and Lech, Austria. Plus, we were young and healthy! We had plenty of time! Since I wasn’t focused on having children, I guess I didn’t pay that much attention to the statistics on birth defects, miscarriages, and Downs syndrome in “older” women.
Well, after that phone call, you can bet I started researching. And anguishing. Every day I was sure I would miscarry. When the next Tuesday finally came and I went to my appointment, the sight of that bean-shaped fetus on the ultrasound screen made me cry with renewed fervor over the fact that he or she would be raised by elderly parents and what a terrible, un-fun life he or she would have—that is if he or she survived this high-risk pregnancy of course—all because I was not on the ball.
While I was glad to have gotten pregnant (and didn’t appreciate at the time how easily that had happened for me), I envisioned a future filled with anxiety and woe.
I know every pregnant woman must experience moments of fear and self-doubt, and maybe it was partly due to the hormones, but the shift in my mindset was especially dramatic. (I’ve got to believe that stress wasn’t helping my child’s perilous chances, but that’s a subject for another post.)
But you know what? I (miraculously, apparently) had not one but two healthy pregnancies. That fetus I fretted over is now in middle school—and yet I am still quite able-bodied. We ski together, ride bikes, go backpacking. I can still beat my younger child in a 5K (barely). Sure, I’m pretty responsible these days (and I have moments of sheer panic over the immensity of the job of raising children), but sometimes we eat sushi and stay up too late. We even laugh a lot.
Twelve years later, I can honestly say I’m glad I was too selfish and free-spirited to have babies in my 20s. I did a lot of amazing (and some stupid) things before I had kids, and my family benefits from those in so many ways every single day. These days I might not see myself as young and pretty, but I don’t exactly see a hag when I look in the mirror. I see a pretty damn fun mom.
Formerly a world-traveling editor at Skiing Magazine, Bevin Wallace is now a freelance writer and mom happily living in Denver, Colorado. She blogs about healthy food, life with kids, and trying to make dinner something to not dread at www.reallifedelicious.com.