I distinctly remember standing in my office looking out over the busy Cardiff street and wondering if I would ever have a family. I had just turned 40 and, although my biological clock had long been surpressed, I was beginning to feel that there had to be more to life than marketing legal services! Odd that it took at least 20 years to come to that conclusion, but there you are.
|Caitlin, born November 2007|
I’m writing this because I want to say, to any woman out there staring out of the window this morning and wishing, that it is possible to start a family after 40. Yes of course we read in the Media about the number of babies being born to older mothers increasing year on year. Yes we see the endless debates about whether it is “right” to have a baby so close to, let’s be frank, the menopause. It is, detractors say, selfish to create a life when you are so close to conking out yourself. Your children will be ‘mortified’ when you turn up at the school gates wearing elasticated trousers and bearing a zimmer frame.
Well, here’s a newsflash. Having a baby is a ‘selfish’ act. We are programmed to reproduce. We are not actually on the planet to rearrange scatter cushions and pet the cat. Survival of the species is all. I am not talking about here about assisted conception, merely the perfectly natural urge of a woman to bear children in her reproductive years – which generally continue into her forties.
My story is briefly this. It took over a year to conceive my daughter and in fact our first attempt resulted in a miscarriage at 6 weeks. The consultant we saw at the hospital was completely matter of fact about it. The baby’s heart was not beating and I could either have a D&C or go home and let nature take its course. Devastating as this was, it became clear upon consulting “Dr Google”, that miscarriage is incredibly common and not necessarily a bar to going on to conceive and deliver a healthy child.
We tried again. We tried modifying our diets. Little caffeine, reduced alcohol, exercise, taking my temperature (useless – it didn’t seem to move at all), tracking ovulation dates, standing on our heads…. you get the picture. After about a year of this I had come to the conclusion that, at 42, it just wasn’t going to happen and was referred to the consultant (who would later become my maternity consultant) with a view to fertility treatment. During my examination (which featured what seems to be the obligatory medical student these days), the consultant pointed out that my eggs looked perfectly OK and I was about to ovulate.
Somewhat cheered by this I began to relax and on Valentines Day we went to a local Cardiff restaurant to celebrate where, for the first time in months, too much wine was consumed and Caitlin was later conceived. I am convinced that as soon as I relaxed, my body was more willing to co-operate. I think stress is a huge bar to conception for some women.
I sailed through the pregnancy, although I managed to put on four stone! Although I did not have morning sickness, I had a constant gnawing hunger and indigestion which only cheese would stop. Aside from slightly low iron levels, rectified by a simple supplement, I had no other problems. You would not have known that I was 42.
Something that we did do, however, being aware of the increased risk of Down’s Syndrome and other genetic problems for older mothers, was to have a Nuchal Translucency Scan, for which we paid privately. This is an ultrasound scan to measure the collection of fluid under the skin at the back of the baby’s neck which is an indicator of Down’s if the baby has an increased amount. The results of my scan were encouraging and on par with those of a woman in her thirties apparently.
My waters broke in the early evening on 14th November and we duly took ourselves in to the University Hospital of Wales where Caitlin was born by emergency caesarian the next morning weighing in at 7lb 14oz. I had dutifully studied the Mothercare catalogue and typed up a birth plan but this was of no use whatsoever. The surgery team were fantastic. I felt no pain whatsoever thanks to an epidural and top up anaesthetic when I went into theatre. Two days later we were home.
I tried to breastfeed. Expressing the colostrum (the pre-milk) to get things going was very painful. Once my milk came through Caitlin had difficulty latching on and never seemed to be able to get enough milk. I used to watch whole episodes of Midsomer Murders whilst feeding.
When it became clear that Caitlin was not gaining sufficient weight and feeling incredibly guilty, I consulted my lovely midwife who said that I should not beat myself up about putting Caitlin on formula and that many, many women struggle with breastfeeding. I had managed ten weeks so, although this wasn’t ideal, at least I had tried. Whether my breastfeeding problems had anything to do with my age, I’m not sure. I think it’s doubtful.
We had decided that, if it were possible, to provide Caitlin with a sibling and started trying relatively soon on the basis that it took so long to conceive our daughter. Ieuan was born when I was 45, just 18 months after Caitlin, this time by elective caesarian, at a bouncing 9 lbs 2 oz. I put him straight onto formula and he downed 4 oz immediately.
Now I know that my way may not be yours. You may not approve of caesarians or bottle feeding. You may not be as lucky as I was in terms of your own fertility. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful man to support me and who wanted to start a family. The truth is each of us may have our own obstacles to overcome but, as the quote says “we will either find a way or make one”.
What I want you to take away from this is that starting a family after 40 is possible. It is your life. Decide what is right for you and what compromises you are prepared to make. For example, I worry sometimes about dying before my kids have reached middle age. There is an increased pressure on us as a couple to keep ourselves healthy and young in outlook.
|Ieuan’s First Christmas in 2009|
But if I think of my life without Caitlin and Ieuan now, it would be somehow pointless, barren and flat. Of course I wish that I could have met my husband ten or fifteen years ago, but perhaps I wouldn’t have been ready then, wouldn’t have had the wisdom, patience or, more importantly, the courage I have now.
And that is what I wish for you. Courage. And hope.