The truth about being a first-time mum at 46 one woman’s experience
Rachel Pashley suffered a series of setbacks on the path to motherhood before finding herself unexpectedly pregnant. Here she reveals how she feels about being a midlife mum
As I write this I have my sixmonth-old daughter Lily draped across me. I have cramp in my elbow and the slight delirium of too many late nights and early mornings, but I couldn’t be happier. Lily is the little being I never thought I’d see, the one I’d cheerfully take a bullet for and for whom I feel a powerful, all-consuming love. But getting to this point was far from easy: let me explain.
I work in advertising, which is code for regularly working 55-hour weeks. The sleep deprivation and constant demands, while the perfect rehearsal for motherhood, are lousy for getting knocked up, as I ruefully discovered. In fact, my journey to those two little blue lines would prove to be the most gruelling three years of my life.
If you believe the headlines, I had everything stacked against me. I was one of those selfish “career women” and I was in my forties, so the few eggs I had were probably a little stale. Therefore IVF or getting used to the idea of childlessness were my only options: advice cheerfully dispensed by my former GP, a tad insensitively if you ask me. At this point we’d been trying unsuccessfully for a year.
£20k – and no baby
The thing is, I met my husband later in life – at 38. My first marriage to a comedian (unfunny) and subsequent divorce (even less so) chewed up my thirties; that and caring for a terminally ill parent – my beloved father. James was the man I should have met in my twenties: smart, sexy, sensitive and… broody. He mooned over baby shoes while I obsessed with progressing my career. He loved me for me: insecurities, ambition, dark sense of humour and weird hero worship of Doris Day. >>
“As a mum in my forties I’m not seized by the selfcritical insecurities of my earlier years”
We had the most wonderful wedding, and I convinced myself I had fallen pregnant on honeymoon – only for the airport lounge toilets on our return to reveal otherwise. And so a much harder journey began. Our failure to conceive baffled me at first: tests confirmed I had abundant eggs. As the months went by we slowly resigned ourselves to IVF. Our first consultant’s opening gambit – “For £20k I can give you a baby” – made the blood drain from my head. Needless to say we left empty-handed and empty-wombed.
What few people tell you about IVF is how dreadful the success rates for women in their forties are. We endured four rounds and one miscarriage, and the next “logical” step – nothing about IVF feels logical when you’re in it – was donor eggs. I remember so clearly James and my shared understanding sitting in our consultant’s office that day. We’d had enough, we were £40,000 poorer, exhausted and in need of a break. It’s funny because despite what seemed like our bleak odds, we stubbornly refused to think that it couldn’t happen for us. Why else, we reasoned, would I have all these eggs?
We booked a trip to Israel, our first proper holiday for years, a chance to meet James’s extended family and a blissful escape from fertility clinics. The only fly in the ointment: I was too fat for my bikini and my period was a week late. I knew it would arrive on holiday just to throw a spanner into our romantic escape. Only it didn’t arrive. For five days I braced myself, as by now I was nearly two weeks late.
Two blue lines
Then one morning something happened: my coffee tasted horrible, and I could smell the chefs preparing the lunch from the hotel kitchen metres away and it was making me heave. I quietly confided in James and we sat there at the breakfast table thinking so much but not daring to say it aloud. We schlepped in the searing heat to the nearest pharmacy and bought two pregnancy tests. I was used to peeing on sticks by now but this time I couldn’t bear to look, so I handed the test to James: two little blue lines had appeared.
We feverishly consulted the instructions, in Hebrew – James was a little rusty, but it seemed to be saying we were pregnant. We hardly dared believe our luck. On our visit to Jerusalem, we said a prayer for our little embryo, pleading for a healthy baby, as by now the IVF had convinced us that “at my age” (I heard that a lot), I wouldn’t be able to conceive a healthy child.
The next few weeks were a heady mix of quiet excitement mixed with high anxiety. It was only when I saw a tiny heart beating on the monitor at my eight-week scan that I started to believe maybe – just maybe – we’d been gifted something truly magical. The anxiety of my age stayed with me until our 12-week scan, the worst four-week wait of my life, but the test confirmed that the embryo was normal.
From that moment on, despite 20 weeks of morning sickness, I enjoyed my pregnancy. I had never felt more alive and energised, swimming every day. My consultant rolled his eyes at my refusal to slow down, yet reassured me that despite my years, my health and level-headedness were in my favour.
In my ninth month I launched a consultancy, worked on a global business pitch and finished writing a book;
I was hell-bent on not only going out on a high, but also disproving the
“baby brain” stigma that serves to hold women back in the business world.
Fact is, I’d never felt more focused, and the little kicks I felt during meetings were a lovely reminder that we were in it together. Perhaps also because of my age, I was remarkably relaxed during my pregnancy – the hard work had been getting pregnant and I wanted to enjoy every minute.
Lily was born by planned Caesarean, my only concession to age. As a parent in my forties, I feel very grounded
– I’m not seized by the self-critical insecurities of my twenties and thirties. I know who I am, and on a good day I can tune into my instincts (I tossed the parenting books out very early).
Equally being a mum “at my age” has been accepted by those around me as normal: no snide remarks, no reminding me of how old I’ll be when she’s a teenager (I can do the maths). To my surprise I’ve also emerged as a hippy attachment parent, breastfeeding on demand and carrying her around in a sling. Lily’s happiness is all that concerns me, sod the schedules.
She wakes up smiling, and laughs at will – and although like most mums I often feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, if I can raise a happy little girl, then I’ve done something right. w&h
Left, Rachel with Lily and right, together with Rachel’s sister Marian