Sunday, 30 January 2011

How could you be pregnant?!

This is the reaction - either said (but not in so many words) or unsaid - from people who found out I was pregnant with my first at 42.

I look back and laugh now, but at the time, the hormonal me used to get REALLY annoyed! I think that without fail, when I told people I knew that I was pregnant they ALL had more or less a similar reaction - even my own mother! Although to be fair she was absolutely delighted once she had recovered from the shock! In fact when I told her the good news, it was me who had to ask her if SHE wanted to sit down, rather than the other way round!

But with most people there was that brief look of horror slash surprise. It was maybe only a millisecond, but I always noticed! Then they would remember, smile widely and congratulate me before saying the inevitable - "was it planned?!" Sometimes, this would be followed by "did you have treatment?" - and if they didn't say it, then I'm pretty sure that many were thinking it - or maybe I just got more and more paranoid!

It was like the only way that I could possibly be pregnant at my age was either the result of an "accident" or "treatment". Was there no room for natural conception over 40? I have nothing against IVF at all and have total respect for anyone who puts themselves through it, but not everybody over 40 has it.

And was there no way that it could be intentional? The truth is it was neither unplanned or planned. As I have said before, we knew what we were doing, we were just seeing what happened and if nothing did then that was what was meant to be. Luckily for us, it WAS meant to be!

The only person who didn't even flinch was my GP who, when I said, "I'm not too old for all this am I?" said, "If you were too old to be pregnant you wouldn't be sitting here telling me you were pregnant!" I could have kissed him!

But nevertheless, I don't think I had ever been so gossip worthy - well, not for about 20 years anyway!

At 32 weeks pregnant I snapped but rather than be rude to someone I resorted to my usual means of getting things off my chest - I wrote it down - and felt better! This is what I put!

"This is for all those who looked so shocked on discovering that I am pregnant with my first child at 42!

1. Why do you look so shocked? I am over 16 and happily married - I honestly think you would look less surprised if I was 12!

2. No, I didn't have any treatment to get pregnant - it IS possible to conceive naturally when you're over 40. And anyway, if I did who cares, it's none of your flipping business.

3. Whether it was planned or unplanned is none of your business either. For the record, it was neither - it just happened naturally.

4. Just because I haven't had any children before, doesn't mean I don't like them and didn't want them. I am absolutely delighted to be having a baby, I just hadn't been desperate for one and didn't go on about it continually. (Actually, I'm not over keen on other children - but mine's lovely!)

5. Yes - there are risks with being an older mother, but there are risks whatever age you are?

6. Yes - I am a bit nervous about being a new mum - but isn't that a natural thing? There really isn't any need to add - AFTER ALL THIS TIME!

7. If I was too old to have a baby, then I wouldn't be pregnant would I? FOOL!"

Since having my baby I have met a number of other women in the same situation, who all experienced similar reactions. Luckily I haven't been mistaken for my little one's nan yet - but I'm sure that will come eventually and I fully intend to make the person who says it feel as small as I possibly can!

Friday, 28 January 2011

I'm not that old! The starting point, the first post!

I am a geriatric prima gravida. Yes - a geriatric. How very dare they - I am 43!

And I gave birth to my beautiful daughter a week before my 43rd birthday!

This term, which refers to being an older first time mum, has apparently now been changed to elderly prima gravida and frankly I don't know which is worse as I consider myself neither geriatric or elderly. Luckily there was only one member of my consultant's team who insisted on calling me that and she - yes SHE for goodness sake - soon got short shrift from me!

But the truth is, despite the fact that more and more women are over 35 before having their first children, there still seems to be some sort of stigma attached to it. This isn't helped by the fact that at my hospital, over 40s are immediately referred to the high-risk clinic, they are only doing their job and looking after you but the name of it is enough to put the wind up you from the start!

Certain sections of the media like to call us either selfish or foolish or both. Selfish because apparently we will be too old to be any use to lively young children and a drain on the NHS, and foolish because of the risks attached to becoming pregnant at a later age. We are also often thought to be hard nosed career women who wanted to please ourselves before caring for anyone else.

Well I can firstly dispel the latter accusation. If I was an ambitious career woman I wouldn't have been happy in the organisation I have been in for the past 10 years without going for promotions. In journalism it seems that the higher the ladder you climb, the further away you get from doing the part of the job that you love. Managers don't get to be at the cut and thrust of the story, so I was just happy doing what I was doing.

So, what about foolish? Well, yes of course there are risks associated with being an older mother, I don't deny that. But as my wonderful consultant often told me, women can have problems with pregnancy at any age.

The issue that I had with my pregnancy was down to a condition that I had for many years - high blood pressure. Because of this I was closely monitored throughout, which is something that would have happened if I had fallen pregnant ten years earlier or was 20 years younger.

And when it came to the actual birth itself, it was 4 hours from waters breaking to my beautiful daughter emerging into the world, with no complications. It still hurt though!

The thing is, yes there are risks but I didn't CHOOSE to wait this long to have a child. I didn't think - oooh, it's really risky to have a child over 40, I'll wait until then! In fact, if you'd told me at 18 that it would be nearly 25 years before I would have a child, I would have been horrified - but luckily I have never been broody!

Selfish then? Well, if you think we are a drain on the NHS well - having worked full time without a break for 25 years when I got pregnant, I had paid enough in so I think it's only fair that I took something back! And to be honest, I have regular checks on my blood pressure anyway which seems in my case to be genetic rather than age-based.

What those who call us selfish sometimes fail to realise is that some of us didn't find the right man until later on. I was engaged at 39 and married at 40. Having a child with any previous man would have been a disaster and if I hadn't met my husband then it's highly likely that I may not have followed this particular path.

When we married my husband accepted that there might not be children. We decided that if we were blessed with a child that would be wonderful but if not then that was OK too as were were happy anyway. We wouldn't try any intervention to get pregnant we just wouldn't prevent it and let what will be, be. After 22 months I thought what "would be" would be no children but then wham - out of the blue - pregnant!

So what is it like being an older mum - am I too tired to cope? Well, of course I get tired, but then again most mums do don't they? And I think it's actually keeping me fitter as I am running around after a very lively nearly walking 11-month-old instead of vegging in front of Come Dine With Me with a ready meal!

To me, there are many, many other advantages of being an older mum.

I spent the 42 years of my life before getting pregnant generally having a really good time! Pubbing and clubbing in my teens and twenties (and thirties and occasionally 40s - ssh!) I was always at the theatre, eating out, travelling, going to A LOT of football and generally doing what I wanted, when I wanted. I have had a whale of a time so I now feel no restriction by the ties associated with having a young child!

When my daughter is getting cranky because I'm not quick enough with her food I am not hankering for a boisterous working lunch with the girls, supping a few vinos before sauntering back to the office.

When she wants to play instead of going to sleep, I'm not wishing that I was boogying on down to the latest toons at a club or sipping cocktails at a swanky hotel - been there, done that! And I'm more than happy to swap a stroll down the Champs Elysees for a walk in our local park - for the time being anyway. We'll take her with us soon!

In my job I have worked unsocial hours and in doing so met and interviewed some fantastic people in the entertainment business. I am now back at work and happy to work more normal hours and leave on time and don't mind sometimes missing out on the big interview. Ultimately, that's not important and is not as fulfilling as being home to put my baby to bed. An ex-soap actor pretending they are happy being "back in the theatre" does not look at you with unconditional love!

My husband and I are more financially secure and can afford a house with a garden, plus have kept hold of my husbands flat in another part of the country for weekends and holidays.

My daughter may not want to borrow my clothes as a teenager (although who knows what fashion will have thrown up by then!) but I have loads of life experience, taken two degrees, survived relationships and seen the world and feel that I am far better placed to provide moral and educational guidance for her than I would have 20 years ago.

In fact the only "con" I can think of is that, even though strictly speaking it's still possible, I am not going to have another, but honestly, that's not a bad thing!

I do know that I am hugely fortunate to have a healthy child and, for many reasons, I am not going to risk another. But I am not a career obsessive who has gambled with my fertility. I am someone who has been dealt a certain set of cards and been lucky enough to get a full house.