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I’ll never forget the day I signed on the dotted line at the age of 44, consenting to an amniocentesis, and feeling like Christopher Walken in the 1978 film Deer Hunter, putting a gun to my head while in a smoke-filled den during a big stakes game of Russian (Miscarriage) Roulette.
I couldn’t help feeling sordid when the hospital counselor handed me the pen to put my name to what Frank later called their “Cover Our Ass” contract. Committing to the procedure was just like pulling the trigger, uncertain if the baby-bullet was in the next chamber, even as I agreed to waive liability to the hospital in the event it hit home.
As we sat in the small windowless hospital room, she shoved a clipboard at me which listed the oldest mother to have had an amniocentesis so far that year. My baby preservation instincts were on high-alert—lit up like a Christmas tree in Central Park on a cold December day—in an atmosphere that smacked of a shady sale transaction on the baby black market.
Was today going to be the day I signed my baby’s life away? When I looked down at the clipboard, I saw that the oldest mother had been 46. Even though she was a stranger, in that moment, she felt closer to me than a sister. We’d both sat in that same spot and shared the same fear and uncertainty. I wanted to hug her, like two parents waiting to hear the doctor’s word on the life of a child. Did hers make it?
I got up from my chair, went to the waiting room, and began to pray. While I huddled in my chair, the other midlife mother who was before me in testing order got up from her chair with tears welling in her eyes and protested she could not go through with it.
I realized then (and I am equally assured now) that the medical establishment does not comprehend the degree of angst—all too often verging on bald, raging fear—that older mothers feel about their high-risk pregnancies. In fact, they do much stir the unwelcome sediment of our darkest nightmares so that, despite our “advanced age”, pregnancy can feel like traversing a decision-making minefield while still as wet-behind-the-ears as any other novice.
In the moment of our greatest joy, we are all but robbed of the pleasure of it. And there’s something inherently wrong with that—against the nature of motherhood.
Jennifer Hoeprich (http://www NULL.desertmoondoulas NULL.com/), a certified Doula and Childbirth Educator based in Phoenix, AZ, agrees that midlife moms are generally more anxious. About them she oberserved: “Many had shadowy fears about the birth—not sure how to name them, but just fears about something going wrong due to their age”
According the Hoeprich, the medical establishment can exacerbate those fears by subjecting older moms to more rigorous testing and warnings about risk factors.
“I observed that these moms had to do non-stress tests twice a week, starting at 32 weeks, and I think it instilled some fear in them“ she says.
Hoeprich also noticed that over-40 moms tended to have control issues during natural childbirth and had more trouble letting go. (It begs the question whether long careers with lots of responsibility might have something to do with ‘vaginal-retention’, although Hoeprich suggests that being an IVF mom might play a role.)
Chicago-based Midwife (http://www NULL.oakparkmidwife NULL.com/Welcome_ NULL.html), Elise Erickson (http://www NULL.oakparkmidwife NULL.com/Midwives NULL.html) has worked with a number of over 40 moms, either prenatally or for birth, and says that midlife moms make up 10-20% of the clientele at her practice and that their numbers are increasing.
In her experience pregnancies for over-40 moms, some of these fears can be reality based—underlying health problems such as obesity, hypertension, or a history of infertility can make for a rougher road for pregnancy and birth. She adds that “unless these women keep very active and are in good shape prior to pregnancy, labor and birth can be more challenging because aging makes the body less flexible and can affect endurance.”
However, both Hoeprich and Erickson have noted some behavior of older mothers that might make them good ‘mom’ Scouts–meaning that they tend to come well prepared in terms of getting all of the support they need by hiring midwifes, doulas and childbirth educators as well as doing lots of research.
But Erickson warns “there a risk with TMI (too much information) for any woman exceptionally educated to every aspect of pregnancy and birth that we (her midwives) may spend a good deal of time trying to relieve anxieties and stresses from reading horror stories online or from relatives. High anxiety or fear doesn’t help a healthy pregnancy or birth. “
She says, despite the fear-mongering, she’s attended a number of “lovely natural births of ‘advanced maternal age’ women who have birthed beautifully”, and has learned to appreciate the wisdom and mature approach that the majority of older moms she has worked with bring to the clinical relationship.
Talking with Hoeprich and Erickson, who have dedicated themselves to supporting mothers—including the rising older breed—through the rite to which they have a birthright (motherhood), sets me to remembering my brief and miraculous two pregnancies.
If I could have a do-over, it would be this: to have embraced each and every day of those fleeting few months in the calm and grounded knowledge that all was well and would be well.
It puts me in mind of a saying a French midlife mother gave me. It doesn’t translate well, but here it is in raw, unrefined English: “The dog may jump and bark, but the circus still passes by.”
And now refined for our purposes: Your baby will grow, form and enter this world as he or she is meant to, whether or not you jump, bark or fear the worst.
Note to readers:
Jennifer Hoeprich (http://www NULL.desertmoondoulas NULL.com/About_Jen NULL.html), CD (DONA), CCCE, certified Doula and Childbirth Educator and student Midwife. Desert Moom Doulas (http://www NULL.desertmoondoulas NULL.com/Welcome NULL.html), Phoenix, AZ
Elise Erickson, CNM, MS–BSN University of Michigan and MS from University of Illinois Chicago; Midwifery and Women’s Health at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park IL. (http://www NULL.oakparkmidwife NULL.com/) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (oakparkmidwife null@null gmail NULL.com)
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