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Geriatric Mama

Here’s the thing: I had jumped out of airplanes, scaled enormous mountains and gone diving with sharks. I’d given presentations to hundreds of people, taught graduate classes at a large university and led professional board retreats.

But for the life of me, I could not figure out how to register for baby gifts.

As I lay on the soft brown couch that was quickly folding itself into my ever-growing physique, I frantically flipped through catalogs, scanned books and searched the web. This task was almost too much to bear. I worried, how do I know what the right thing is? How does anyone ever know? What if I do the wrong thing?

 

I was overwhelmed and exhausted by all of the choices. My baby was coming in two months, just after I turned the BIG FOUR-O. I remember thinking—perhaps due to my British-
snobbery genes—that gift registration was rather a crass practice when my husband Jay and I did it for our wedding. But, I understood. We needed stuff and people wanted to give us stuff. So why not come right out and tell them exactly the stuff we need?

 

The only problem was this: I had no clue. Seriously, no clue whatsoever. I did not have nieces or nephews. Neither did Jay. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of close friendships with women here in my adopted state of Colorado that had done the baby-thing. Or if they did, it was ten or fifteen years ago! Most of my friends were leading wilderness trips, making jewelry, writing songs and performing, and studying the life and times of bees and beetles up at the university. They were most decidedly not changing diapers.

 

I did not know who to ask for help.

 

Thoughts darted through my mind: Did the baby need a crib? We planned on co-sleeping in a family bed. Did the baby need bottles? I’d be nursing. We knew she was a she so I could eliminate all the blue and green things and could concentrate on pink, purple, and yellow.

 

But what about a baby monitor? Did we need one with bells? lights? One that dings or dongs? Did we need two, three, ten? Did we ‘snap and go’ or ‘pack and play’? And what of these teeny little socks and shoes…did a newborn really need shoes?

How could baby swings and bouncy things, backpacks and blankets, Baby Einstein, Baby Joggers and baby carriers possibly intimidate me? I tried to squeeze out a laugh. C’mon! I’d gone spelunking, hang-gliding, white water rafting, and rock climbing. I’d taught people who have no legs how to ski and moved across the country solo. I had met the challenges of alcoholism (getting sober at age twenty-three), depression and infertility head-on. Why oh why did I break out into a cold sweat when looking at baby gear?

 

Ugh, the pangs of a headache were coming on.

 

So I rolled over, clicked on the TV and anxiously waited for my buddy. Good ‘ole Dr. Phil, the one person I counted on to show up every afternoon at three o’clock. Right when I was about to pull my hair out. He was the person who kept me the most consistent company when I was on bed rest now for, how long was it? Twelve weeks.

 

***

 

So how did I end up there? I had been blissfully pregnant. After all, it had taken two years, five surgeries (two, just to correct my irregularly-shaped uterus), one birth intuitive, a Reiki master, three acupuncturists, a couple of sessions with a freaky Maya abdominal masseuse, multiple rounds of in-vitro fertilization at two infertility clinics and finally, finally one embryo fought its way into my uterus and decided, against just about every odd in the book, to stay.

While my infertility issues were not necessarily caused by my “advanced” age, it did not help matters much that I was fast-approaching my fourth decade on the planet. So my pregnancy was oh-so-scrupulously monitored. And I was given two labels: “geriatric” and “high-risk.”

 

I was actually been feeling pretty darn sprightly on the day I learned that I was a geriatric pregnant lady. I know, it just sounds wrong. My doc had been keeping a close eye on my tendency toward preeclampsia (high blood pressure, swelling, headaches). I had to have my blood drawn once a week. Walking into a new clinic, I gave my name to the woman behind the glass window. She looked at her appointment calendar and peered back up at me through her dark-rimmed glasses.

 

“Funny,” she said with a wink. “You don’t look geriatric.”

 

“Excuse me?” I managed.

 

“Well, I am looking at your file from your OB’s office. Says here you are a “geriatric.” I suppose this means you are over thirty-eight?”

 

I squeaked out, “Uh huh.”

 

What I wanted to do is shout, “Hey! I am ONLY forty! Do you have ANY idea what it took for me to get here?” But I did not. I sat down in the waiting room on a hard chair and tried to lose myself in an old, tattered magazine. Ah, MORE magazine, for “women over forty.” Evidence that I was not the only geriatric pregnant woman who came to this clinic.

Being called “high-risk” was indeed ironic (and sometimes even funny) given the high-risk adventures I had once embarked upon. Unlike all of those outdoor escapades, this time I was responsible for two lives, not just one.

 

***

 

Life is funny, ya know? It can truly change in an instant. On Sunday I was in Florida, twenty weeks pregnant, jumping up and down in the waves of the Atlantic, squealing with delight like a small child. On Monday, back in Denver in the sonogram room I was told that my “incompetent cervix” was not doing its job properly and that I would need an emergency “stitch.”

 

When my infertility doc had first informed me of this condition, I looked up the word incompetent: “not up to it.” Inept. Useless. But I had decided that my cervix was certainly not useless, thank you very much. I had a baby growing in there, a miracle. More of a miracle than most babies! My cervix was not useless. Compromised perhaps. But not useless.

 

Most women discover, sadly, that they have incompetent cervixes because they miscarry. I was told that I was very lucky that my doctor had warned me of this, which is one of the reasons I was monitored so closely. I didn’t feel so lucky at that moment, but I knew this in my mother heart of hearts: this child was meant to come.

 

Lying on the cold gray table on that Monday morning, I was informed that I would need to quit my job. Immediately.

(Me: “WHAT!” Doc: “Yes.” Me: “Omigod. Okay, I guess I can go over and discuss this with my boss.” Doc: “NO. There will be no driving. You will tell them over the phone.” Me: “You mean I can’t drive and talk to them face to face?” Doc: “That is what I mean. That is, IF you want this baby to go to full term.”)

 

Oh.

 

I asked many questions. Finally, with more than just a hint of annoyance, the doctor checked my chart again and asked me how old I was. “Ah ha” he grunted. Then he asked what my education level was. What does that have to do with anything? In his experience, he sighed, people with more education argue and try to negotiate, while some women (I am assuming, the less educated ones) just nod and agree to these terms.

 

I suppose he was thankful then, that I had just a Master’s degree and not a Ph.D.

 

The next day was April 1. Happy April Fool’s Day. The procedure—an emergency cerclage—took less than twenty minutes. A MacDonald stitch. Well, at least it was a nice Scottish thing. My great-uncle near Glasgow would be proud. Essentially, my cervix was sewn up. I was told: NO sex (duh, what with the stitches and all), no hiking, walking, aerobics, or standing for long periods of time.

 

On Wednesday I started my new life: TWO DOWN, ONE UP, TWO DOWN. I was given strict instructions to lie on my left side (better blood flow for the baby) for exactly two hours, after which I was allowed to get up for one hour. No jump roping or salsa dancing during those precious sixty minutes, mind you. I could take a nice long shower, walk—slowly and mindfully—with my dogs, even plant a few seeds in the garden. I came to relish those hour-long respites when I could relieve my hips, my butt, my back. I began to understand on a new level why most women go through this at a much younger age. But I was happy to be pregnant, incredibly happy and grateful, too. And I knew that this was the right moment for me, and for my husband, and that it was happening at the perfect time in our lives.

 

Sometimes I went to the nearby park and sat on a large boulder by the soothing waters of the St. Vrain River. I talked to the baby girl that was growing inside of me and told her: listen to the water, this favorite sound of mine. I hoped she too would love water and rocks and nature. There were moments of peace in this, by the river, a deep knowing that I was doing the right thing.

 

There were also moments of amazement. For this was probably the first time in my forty years of life that I followed the rules so strictly, so religiously. I always had a bit of the rebel in me, constantly questioning authority. I suppose as I was approaching mid-life it was indeed time to give this up, to let it go. For there I was, fighting, fiercely and quietly, for the life of this child. This child I was already in love with.

 

***

 

Thirty-two weeks into my pregnancy I was liberated from bed rest. I bade faithful Dr. Phil a fond farewell. (Truth be told, I never really liked Dr. Phil. I was just using him to keep me company). I said goodbye to the labels that I have been living with: Infertile. Incompetent. Compromised. Irregular. Geriatric.

 

I began, instead, to think of myself as “Mommy.” A mommy who had prayed, chanted, and cried; endured endless poking and prodding, operating rooms, foul-tasting Chinese medicines, injections, doctors, nurses, acupuncture needles and blood draws; and breathed fear, heartache and faith to bring this child into the world. A mommy who could bring her sense of adventure and love of learning to this new journey, this new life that was just beginning for me at forty.

 

A mommy… who had no earthly idea what type of baby monitor to get.

 

This was the first essay of mine that got published, in Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex and Work in our 40s (lovingly edited by Molly Tracey Rosen, WIngSpan Press, 2009.) This

photograph was taken at my first-ever public reading, held in Greenwich Village, NYC at a great little place called Cornelia Street Cafe. Also reading their pieces were the wonderful Ona Gritz (http://onagritz.wordpress.com) and Gabrielle Selz.

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