My 40-Year-Old Pregnancy:
By Bernice Bamburak Anderson
A real mother’s experience getting pregnant with her first child — in her 40s.
Growing up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, I knew I was different from other girls my age. I didn’t love playing with baby dolls or dreaming up elaborate scenarios for my wedding to Prince Charming. I was a tomboy.
Riding dirt bikes and having cat parties in my tree house were my top priorities. I loved school, and I set my sights on some fun years in college followed by a great career. Heck, according to some very reliable sources — my mom and dad — I could be president some day. So, for several decades, I took precautions. Meaning I took birth control.
Don't get me wrong. I hoped to have a family some day. But that day was far off. Like, in my early 30s. Listen, I was young, confident, and I had a plan.
Thankfully, having children was in the cards for me. But I have to tell you, it was pretty touch-and-go for a few decades.
There's Still Time
As planned, I graduated from college and began my career in advertising. I spent most of my waking hours working. Five years went by in a flash. I found myself relocating to Las Vegas. Fast forward another five (or was it 10?) years, and I found myself in a corner office with a big title and an amazing view.
My coworker’s toddler would busily dump paper clips all over the floor, smiling at me with her feisty little grin, then run away laughing. But chasing her down the hall in my $400 heels one day, I realized I might be following the wrong dream. What if I really was in a race against my biological clock?
The problem was, I’d always been a serial singleton. At 35, I pretty much gave up on finding Mr. Right and asked my doctor to find me a sperm donor. Most of my mom’s friends complained that their husbands were just another mouth to feed.
My plan: I’d just hire a nanny and go back to work. I could be mommy in the evenings and on the weekends.
My parents were all for it. My brother had decided not to have any children, and I was their last hope for a grandbaby. But that’s probably what threw me off. In what world would my parents think having a baby with sperm I bought from a stranger was a good idea? They won’t even eat leftovers. No, I couldn’t do it. Not yet. There was still time.
Our Amazing Fortune
Then one day, I walked onto the set of a photo shoot, and there on a ladder adjusting the lights was Prince Charming himself. We fell in love, he moved in, and I said, “Let’s have some kids before I’m too old.” He said, “OK, let’s do it.”
Three months later, at the age of 39, I peed on a pregnancy test stick and moments later, saw a blue plus sign. It was 2006, and they had all kinds of new pregnancy tests. If you were willing to pay, you could get one that would tell you ‘yay or nay’ right away. We opted for an immediate response. The smile on my husband’s face after we found out we were expecting is forever burned into my brain.
We felt such beaming happiness, and we almost couldn’t believe our good fortune. So many friends of ours had struggled to conceive. Or maybe worse: They had no trouble conceiving, but couldn’t hang on to the pregnancy. A few women I know had multiple miscarriages.
I remember thinking, I should keep this news to myself, wait the obligatory three months, and make sure everything’s going to be OK. But I didn’t. Instead, I shouted it from the rooftops. I wanted our families and our closest friends to know I was pregnant, because if something went wrong, I would need them all to be there for me.
I loved being pregnant. I didn’t have morning sickness, I never had a hangover, and I finally stopped smoking. For the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t on a diet. I started eating and didn’t stop until I was the size of John Goodman.
That was only one of many mistakes I made during my first pregnancy, and I’m happy to say we all survived, except my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which my husband threw in the trash and forbid me to ever look at again.
A “High-Risk” Pregnancy
I was over 35, so mine was automatically considered a “high-risk” pregnancy. Therefore, I went through all sorts of testing to assess just how much “risk” there was. Luckily, it turned out that I was having the pregnancy of a 20-year-old, and if I’d started having babies earlier in life, I probably could have had an even dozen.
So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to skip most of this ‘having-a-baby-later-in-life-means-you-are-at-greater-risk-of-having-a-baby-with-special-needs’ part.
Thanks to great strides in medicine, I’m told there’s a single blood test now that provides all the genetic information you might want about your baby. And mostly, these tests just made me feel crazy inside, because I loved our little bean from day one, more than I could fathom. I knew she was perfect, and she is perfect, and if she weren’t perfect, then she would be even more perfect. Do you get what I’m saying here? If you’re already a mom, I’ll bet you do.
The Best Part
The best part of my first pregnancy came when I started to show. Wow, I’d never had people be so nice to me. I was still working at my big important job, so I flew all over the country right up until my doctor said, “STOP, ALREADY!” Luckily, my doctor gave me a written excuse to give to my bosses, and they were supportive.
Here in the United States, many companies won’t encourage you to stop working because they know you are about to go have a baby and will be out of the office for an extended time. They fear you’ll flake out and decide you don’t want to come back to work at all — but that’s a whole other story.
Back to me being a cute preggo on a plane.
I remember going to lift my carry-on bag into the overhead bin and several gentlemen tripping over themselves to help me. I also remember the cute knowing smiles from women who used to size me up and wonder why I didn’t do something better with my hair. I don’t think I opened a door for myself for months!
My advice to every pregnant woman in the world: Wear obvious maternity clothes as soon as possible, so everyone knows at a glance that you are with child. Suck up as much unfiltered kindness as you can.
Unfortunately, once you’ve had the baby, you are just a flabby, tired old thing with an infant car seat perched precariously on a grocery cart so loaded with food you can barely push it. And those same smiling faces? They turn away and let the door slam in your face. You aren’t expecting a baby anymore, you aren’t the miracle of life, you’re just like the rest of us, and you can stop expecting special treatment of any kind.
Seeing It All
By the time I had our first child at the age of 40, I thought I’d seen it all. My cousin had two boys via cesarean delivery and then popped out number three, a girl, the old-fashioned way.
My young, extremely healthy friend spent 24 hours in labor, only to have an emergency cesarean. Other women I knew chose cesarean delivery for personal reasons, while many set out to have a natural childbirth experience.
One of my dearest friends, a mother of three, had gestational diabetes with each pregnancy, but she still looked and felt great throughout each one. Lately, I’ve seen a generation of girls much younger than me return to using midwives and taking a more holistic approach to childbirth. I think that’s wonderful — for them. If I had it to do it over again, I would still say: Bring on that epidural!
I’ve seen unplanned pregnancies, overly planned pregnancies, the pain of infertility, the awesomeness of artificial insemination, the joys of adoption, and couples make the personal choice to not have kids. There are boys, girls, siblings, twins, only children, great big families, and extended families made up of the best of friends.
I’ve witnessed do-everything-yourself-‘ers, those who believe it takes a village, and every single theory on parenting in between. And to me, there is only one way not to do it: the right way. Everyone is different, so just go with your big, brain-building, baby-making gut, and you’ll do great.
Those Special Moments
I wish I had enjoyed the special moments of my first pregnancy more. The first little kicks, the warm fuzzy sleep, the gentle assurances of my loving husband.
The great, big honking baby shower that my friends threw for me, complete with hot wings and a limousine. The swollen feet, enormous boobs, and the endless worries that were all forgotten, even momentarily, when I looked at our baby girl’s face for the first time. Trust me, that’s a big moment.
I was determined to enjoy all of these moments and more during my second pregnancy. But now I had a toddler, too. So if I was lucky, I might occasionally remember to take my prenatal vitamins…
P.S.: When it comes to breast-feeding, do whatever you want.