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

Woman & Home - - In This Issue… -

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.

Mother­land

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

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