My husband and I were what you might call late bloomers. We met later in life, we got married later in life and after many failed attempts with fertility treatments, we finally were winners with the birth of sweet daughter, Alice, in September of 2015. When she arrived, we were ecstatic. I was 41 and my husband was 44. But now that we've been parents for more than a year, I'm realizing all the medical advances in the baby-making business that made my pregnancy possible won't change the fact that I'm going to be an older mom for the rest of my hopefully long life.
My husband and I met shortly after I turned 35. It was right about the time that I ditched the dating sites and Jewish singles events and decided that my life was going to be just fine even if I didn't meet my beshert (soul mate) -- that I finally met him. I did not want to be one of those women who shoves her personal dreams and life schedule down her boyfriend's throat, but about six months into our relationship I let him know that I wasn't just dating to date.
I always loved kids, I was good with them, and I knew that I was going to be a mom. It just seemed like the natural progression of what I expected from my life. Not to mention I was acutely aware of the data suggesting fertility drops off after the magic age of 35, meaning my eggs were losing their freshness with each passing birthday. With the ticking of my biological clock so obscenely loud, I needed to know if he was on board.
After almost choking on his sushi (I can't drive by Akai-Hana and not think of that almost disastrous date) we agreed to continue dating with marriage on the horizon. As for children, he thought he was too old. He didn't want to be in his 60s when his kid went to prom. But I kept on with my dreams of motherhood. I was pretty clear: If you want to be with me then you're going to be a dad and that's that. It took another couple of years before he finally proposed and we began to plan our family.
The challenges of being an older mom started with the fertility waiting game. After trying the natural route for six months, my gynecologist recommended a well-known fertility specialist. We found out we were both completely healthy, which should have been great news, but it really meant that there was no medical reason why we weren't getting pregnant besides our age.;
I was 38 when we met with the doctor to set up our game plan; I distinctly remember her being optimistic because I had a "three" in my age. When I turned 39, I endured three rounds of intrauterine insemination with no luck. Finally, she suggested we try in vitro fertilization (in retrospect, something I wish we would have jumped on sooner, but again, there was no "real" reason I wasn't getting pregnant).
During the second round of IVF, I had just returned from a wonderful weekend in Manhattan to celebrate my 40th. My husband desperately wanted to throw me a big party, but I told him over and over again that if I wasn't pregnant then I didn't want to; it would have been too much. We returned from NYC on a Monday and found out on Tuesday that the transfer did not take. That day I did things you can't do when you're pregnant: Went to a spa and sat in the hot tub and pigged out on all-you-can-eat sushi. Happy birthday to me.
But that wasn't even my lowest point. A month later, I found out I was pregnant. I had conceived naturally, only to lose it a week later (on Yom Kippur no less). Knowing that I could get pregnant, but just couldn't keep it -- that was devastating.
It was hard to convince my husband to try IVF a third time. He started talking about the possibility of life without babies and asked if I would I be able to accept that. The answer was no, even if we had to adopt. Let's just try it one more time, I told him. Sure enough, I got pregnant.
My pregnancy started off quite uneventfully until I found out that I had gestational diabetes. Anyone can get it, it just occurs more frequently after the age of 35. That was a downer, but nothing I couldn't handle, just many more doctor appointments. The other challenge was that I was really looking forward to the excitement of having my water break and the spontaneity of heading to the hospital, but between my age and the gestational diabetes, my obstetrician suggested pre-planning everything.
We set a date that worked with our doctor's schedule -- it happened to fall on Yom Kippur, exactly a Hebrew calendar year after I had nearly run out of hope. In fact, this year on the High Holidays, we were called to the bimah (pulpit) to introduce Alice Ivy to the congregation, and I couldn't help thinking how full circle we had come.
Delivering Alice was easy. (Seriously, three pushes and out she came.) We went home and began to settle in with our new bundle and had lots of visitors, including my parents, who live an hour away.
I soon realized how lucky my older sister was to have had our mother and her mother-in-law at her disposal to help with her first baby. But because I was a full 10 years older than my sister was when she had her first child, my scenario included a mother who was in horrible pain while she awaited a second hip replacement and a mother-in-law who passed away two years earlier (who is Alice's namesake). I couldn't help thinking if I were "normal" and had my baby at 30, I'd have two extra sets of hands helping me.
But I got by during the first few weeks thanks to my sister, who lives 10 minutes away, and my aunts who would stop by to watch the baby so I could run to the store. They were especially sensitive to the fact that my mom couldn't be there, so they really stepped up and were amazing. Still, how nice would it have been if my mom had been there for the first bath, or to show me how to master breastfeeding, or a million other things?
Outside my family, I had an unexpected source of help in jBaby Chicago. I still have no idea who connected me to jBaby in the first place, but I'm forever grateful; it was one of the best things that happened to Alice and me.
I received an email a couple months after Alice was born and the next thing I knew the lovely jBaby Ambassador came and brought me Starbucks and some jBaby swag and introduced me to this wonderful organization. I was just excited to have company! But I couldn't help but fixate on the fact that she was in her mid-20s and already had two kids. I wondered if maybe I was going to be too old for this group -- and sometimes I still do.
I've made some great friends through jBaby, but most of the moms are in their early 30s, still an entire decade younger than me. Although I don't think a stranger would walk in on one of our playgroups and automatically spot me as the old mom, I'm aware of it.
At the beginning, my young mom friends would try to convince me that they never think of me as old. This was nice to hear, but I still found myself searching for "older" moms, hoping we could connect on issues such as infertility, whether to try for a second kid, or just general concerns like being in our 60s when our kids are in college.
One time a mom in her late 30s invited me to a dinner with older moms, but I was still the oldest. Instead of older mom issues, we talked about breastfeeding, traveling with babies -- the regular gamut of mommy talk. It was a nice night out, but I still haven't quite found anyone else in my boat. I'll keep searching.
Sometimes I wonder when I really will start looking a lot older than the other moms. I wonder if this will motivate me and my husband to get in great shape; I worry about how he's going to coach Alice's softball team when his knees already hurt from playing on the floor with her. I wonder about her taking care of us when we are old and she's still in her 20s. When Alice is 10 I'll be 51. When I was 10, my mom was 36. Let that marinate for a minute and maybe you'll get a sense of how I feel.
Sometimes I convince myself it's not my fault that my husband happened to enter my life later than most, or that I just couldn't conceive naturally with my old eggs. I'll get angry that I didn't make things happen fast enough. I'll wonder if I should've pushed to get engaged sooner, or eloped instead of having a 10-month engagement -- we would have had a lot more cycles to get it right.
This line of thinking can really kill your already hormonal spirit, so I remind myself that what's done is done, and I convince myself to get over the circumstances that led me to where I am today. And where I am today is an anxious, older mom and wife trying to enjoy each day as it happens and be content with my life and excited for what's to come.
Bonnie Sporn loves the Cubs, traveling to the cities that her favorite shows are based in, her husband, and baby girl, Alice.
Read more stories in the "Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" blog series at www.oychicago.com/baby.
"Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" is being produced in partnership with jBaby Chicago, which helps expectant parents and families of newborns and tots (0-24 months) make connection, build friendships and engage in Jewish life in Chicago.