©2015 Jessica Ashley, as first published on The Mid
The nosy lady at my church leaned down to my torpedo belly last summer—just weeks out from the birth of my daughter—and asked me, "What does your specialist say?"
She wanted to know if the specialist she'd decided I needed to facilitate a safe pregnancy had OK'd me actually bearing a child. I was 42.
"But I thought you were 35! You're older than that?" she went on.
"I am! And if Halle Berry can have a baby at 46, then by God, I can crank one out at my age," I said, a little too chipper.
The truth is, I had many wonderful comments and supportive questions during my pregnancy, which came exactly 10 years after my first child was born, with my boyfriend, while my oldest headed off to fourth grade.
But there were plenty of blurted, badgering, prying, inane, insensitive statements and questions, to which I responded with a smile and nod. And another smile and nod. And then an interrupting finger held up to answer a very urgent fake call from the phone not-vibrating in my purse, just to escape more smiles and nods.
My intention was not to have a baby at 42. But I did it—on purpose!—anyway. The alternative, not welcoming another child into our family, seemed much more devastating. People don't want to know all the backstory, though. They don't want to hear how you were slow and strategic and prayerful and thoughtful about making a human being, especially one made not on their timeline.
They also did not want to hear my smart-ass or too-truthful responses. Here's how I answered the worst offenders, or wish that I had, while with child over the age of 40.
How did this happen?
Over a bucket of wine and reverse cowgirl, just like you and I were conceived, and our parents before us. Classic conception does not go out of style.
You got pregnant without drugs?
The physician assistant who took vial after vial of my blood for genetic testing, the ultrasound tech and even people who do not know my middle name asked this invasive question, which is apparently prompted by the big, orange ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE sticker on my medical file/the slightest creep of gray roots/being one of those members of your high school graduating class who is already a grandparent. First of all, the answer to this question doesn't matter to anyone but my healthcare provider. Second, shut up. Third, just tell me I am pretty and also very smart.
Are you even more tired than you were in your 30s?
Pretty much every day. And that was before I was pregnant and started going to bed for the night at 2:30 in the afternoon. I am also wiser, more confident, more financially solvent, happier, and in a far healthier relationship. Granted, the sleep deprivation, sleep training, and disappearance of Sunday morning sleep-ins hits a lot harder than when I was 32. Fortunately, it does not feel as god-awful as it would at 52. So there's that. And also the pour-over bullet coffee trend.
This is obviously your last child. Right? Right.
Possibly. Maybe. Probably. I'm not (completely) sure. But thanks for asking, MOM. I get that you are worried my womb may drop out of my cavernous hoo-hoo at any moment and that there's not enough acupuncture or mother's milk tea to keep this bod procreating. But please get off my lawn until I find my teeth and my partner and we make that very private, super personal decision together.
You'll be HOW OLD when she's in college?
Oh, this is the second child. We're totally signing off on her skipping college, living on a commune in Punta Cana and selling pottery wares as inspired by her unschooled life studies. No one in Punta Cana cares how old that one girl's mama is.
Are you getting married?
This is the glory of choosing to have a child out of wedlock when you are well past the parental side-eye age. The answer is just "nope."
What does your mother think?
She thinks I should get married. Just kidding. She thinks I should not even consider for one moment putting my decrepit body through another pregnancy. Other than that, she—a lover of all babies in her family and all babies at the table next to us during wing night at our favorite restaurant—is thrilled. She delights in having another wee one to love, teach, and sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" to 400 times in a sitting, and to have as a beautiful reason to buy every pair of size 3-6 months Juicy Couture leopard jeans on the kiddie clearance rack at Marshall's.
You do realize a lot has changed since you last had a baby, don't you?
I do. Electricity has been invented! And what a wonder are those mechanical replacements for horses and buggies! Truly, the gadgets are better, the clothes are cuter and the apps—hallelujah for the contraction timers and guides to safe medications for babies and breastfeeding mamas, and most of all, the Starbucks finder. But other than the stuff and the newfangled technology—and minus the Mad Men mentality of birthing babies with a gimlet and Virginia Slim in hand—raising children 3.0 is pretty similar to bringing them up a decade ago. And a generation ago. And even a century ago. But thanks for your passive-aggressive fear-concern! I will add it to the pile of Dr. Spock manuals, metal-and-arsenic rattles and other old-timey parenting gear I've kept in my cellar.
Are you afraid people will mistake you for her grandmother?
I'd be more concerned that people think I am her sister, guiding her toward recess drinking, wayward after-school activities with bad boys, and a summer of following Nickelback on world tour. Or that strangers mistake me for a not-so-kindly old librarian who has come in search of ne'er-returned Spot books. If they do see me and think, "HOLY NANA!" then they can tip off Daily Mail and OK! Magazine about the oldest living breastfeeder who can't help but nurse her grandchildren. I'd totally read that story.
Yes, it is wonderful news! I am growing a brain! Inside my body! In honor of the wonderment that is human life in formation, do drink a glass of champagne, say a prayer of thanks or throw a little Namaste our way. And please refrain from suggesting I name this precious child after you. Or myself. Or my first-name-sounding last name. Or Elon Musk/LOLHillz/Iggy Azalea/the name you never used in 1997. Mwah!