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I never intended to have a geriatric pregnancy. It's not like I was out trying to conquer the world in my 20s and 30s and deliberately waited to get pregnant until after I was 35 (the cutoff point between "advanced maternal age" and "geriatric"). While I did enjoy my career and travels, I also was hoping to become a mom during that time. Life, however, doesn't always go as planned, and I didn't meet my husband until I was at the tail end of my 30s.
We struggled a bit to get pregnant, and when it finally happened, I was six months past my 40th birthday. I was told I had a geriatric pregnancy during my first prenatal exam, and my pregnancy was deemed high-risk from the start simply because of my age. It didn't matter that I was healthy, or that my baby was developing perfectly. The fact that I was over 35 years old was a red flag that would be waving in my face for the next 30-something weeks.
Honestly, though, my geriatric pregnancy was a bigger deal to others than it was to me. I took it seriously; I'm rife with anxiety on a good day and a hypochondriac on others. I Googled every symptom, counted each kick, and was constantly checking my underwear for blood – just in case. But that wasn't because I was older. That's just because I'm me. Had I been 20 years younger, I would've behaved the same.
I didn't care for the labels I was given. I never felt old, and it was like a handicap had been thrust upon me.
My doctor and I made a deal to call my pregnancy a "gerry" or that I was of "AMA," as opposed to "geriatric pregnancy" or "advanced maternal age." That small shift made a big difference in my mentality. I went from feeling like a freak show at my appointments to laughing when my ob-gyn would greet me with, "How is my gerry mama doing today?"
Still, there was extra attention focused on my pregnancy: additional appointments, genetic testing, bedrest and twice-weekly nonstress tests (NSTs) in my third trimester. If I had to describe how I felt about all that, I can only say I was grateful.
Sure, sometimes it was a pain to constantly trek back and forth to my doctor's office. There were days when I felt like I should just sleep there. I even dissolved into a puddle of tears one day because I couldn't keep all my appointments straight, and thought I'd arrived late to a appointment that turned out to not even exist. Pregnancy brain was real for me – or maybe my old age was finally getting to me? (Kidding!)
Towards the home stretch of my pregnancy, those twice-weekly nonstress tests monitored my baby's heartbeat and activity, while checking for contractions. The tests took place in what my ob-gyn's office called "the quiet room," where it was dark and rather relaxing. I would lie back, usually on my left side, with pillows propped up against my back and between my legs. A fetal monitor would be strapped to my belly and I was handed a clicker to push each time I felt a movement.
If your baby is sleeping during the test, they have to wake up; drinking cold water or having something to eat can be helpful. I had a very early NST one morning when I was feeling queasy and decided to skip breakfast, which resulted in a sleeping baby. One granola bar later and it felt like he was bouncing off my internal organs. The tests took around 20 or 30 minutes, after which my doctor would review the results and give the all-clear to leave. It's aptly named, nothing stressful about it.
And at the end of the day, I knew it was all for my son's health – and mine. Each appointment reassured me that he was okay, and I was too. I was thankful I had such great medical care, and my doctor and her staff became a tribe of support that carried me through the final weeks of my pregnancy.
Of course there were frustrating moments, usually because of comments from other people. If my age came up, it was like a circus ringleader emerged. "Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and behold the unimaginable: the 40-year-old pregnant woman!" The conversations were often ridiculous, something I could have done without.
What they say: You might be dead by the time your grandchildren are born.
What I say: Let's hope not.
What I imagine saying: Considering that I am now a true "medical miracle" who became pregnant at 40, don't you think my odds of living a healthy life have increased and I just might make it to 70? (And please, can I at least get through the birth of my child before I start thinking about grandchildren?)
What they say: You probably won't have enough energy to keep up with your child.
What I say: Let's hope not.
What I imagine saying: I won't have the energy? Am I giving birth to a hyperactive golden retriever? Maybe I should hire a dog walker to run my kid around the block a few times a day while I nap. I'm sure you know how the elderly need their sleep!
What they say: You will be close to 60 when your child leaves for college, too old to enjoy yourself.
What I say: Let's hope not.
What I imagine saying: You're right, 60 is ancient! Maybe we can find a nursing home near our son's college to make visiting easier, because I imagine we will no longer be legally allowed to drive by then due to our age.
All in all, my geriatric pregnancy wasn't a problem for me. Did I like the way some people responded to it? No. But I'm a big girl, and I was able to have a little fun with that aspect. And yes, now that I'm an almost-44-year-old mother to an active toddler, I sometimes wonder if this would have been easier in my 20s or 30s.
But then I remind myself, everything happens as it's supposed to. I have a healthy, amazing son. I'm stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. And I've become quite skilled at building towers out of Duplo blocks.
Not too shabby for a gerry mama.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.