When I got pregnant at 41, a week after my wedding, I freaked out a little bit. I had wanted some time to enjoy life, finally, as a wife. But when I complained to a friend of mine, a mother of two, she remarked, “What else do you do?
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She was right. I had already been with my husband for a year and a half, living together for the most part (he was quick to move in but a little slower to propose), and we had seen every show, visited every restaurant, and walked every mountains – even Machu Picchu for our honeymoon (if that’s not true love, what is?). And before him, I had had nearly two decades of dating to experience life for myself.
However, I had no reason to panic. I had enough life experience to take the next step. I had no idea how difficult it would be to take these measurements.
Infertility, pregnancy and motherhood are so, so overwhelming – not only for the toll they take on your body, but also for the space they take up in your brain. “The transition to motherhood is a life-changing event,” reads a 2019 study published in the Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. “… Changes in maternal identity confirm an existential view of self; that sense of self is a process of becoming rather than a fixed identity. It is not uncommon for many women to experience feelings of shock at their change – or loss – of identity beyond “mother”.
“Infertility, pregnancy and motherhood are so, so overwhelming – not only for the toll it takes on your body, but also for the space it takes up in your brain.”
It didn’t happen to me – maybe it’s because it took me another three years and three more pregnancies to have a baby, but at no point in this bumpy ride did I wonder, Who am i? Nor when I had a baby at 44, staying home for the first year and a half to breastfeed and feed our daughter, did I wonder, Aam i just a mom? A maid ? A milk machine? What will people do think of me ?
While there are downsides to delaying motherhood – namely fertility issues – a loss of identity was not one of them for me. While general fertility is declining in the United States., with fewer women having children, the 40-44 and 44-49 age group of primiparae is increasing. And it’s not uncommon for many older mothers like me to have more money, more wisdom, and, dare I say, more self-confidence.
Sometimes during my infertility journey, I have wondered about roads not taken. What if I had married my boyfriend at 28? I would have had a child – probably a few children – something I wasn’t sure would happen while I was having IVF. But would I have been happy? In this case, I may have been panicked: What I’m doing with my life? Will I ever be someone other than someone’s wife and mother? Who am I?
“Sometimes on my infertility journey, I’ve wondered about roads not taken.”
Ever since I was young, I had this outrageous ambition that I wanted to be someone, to do something big with my life: to be a lawyer defending the poor, an activist who changed the world, someone who could make a difference. Lost in baby bottles and milk pumps, sleepless nights and preschool hunts, I don’t think I could have had noble thoughts. (I know a lot of young women manage to have both a career and a family, but as an older person, I can definitely say that wouldn’t have been me.)
It’s not like I deliberately waited until I had a baby to build my career. I really hate this terrible stereotype of the “selfish, career-obsessed woman” who puts the world on hold and hopes her biological clock will conform. (Although these days women can freeze their eggs until they’re ready to be a mom – an option that wasn’t really available to me in my 20s and early 30s). I did not “wait”. That’s how life went. I didn’t meet my husband until I was almost 40 – and we tried to start a family soon after.
But in that decade between my serious boyfriend and my husband, I managed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, to hone my skills as an editor and writer, to go deep inside- myself and to understand what I was good at and what I was not. Although I haven’t exactly changed the world, I have managed to influence my little corner, with a career in journalism, writing hundreds of articles on religion, politics, business, health, culture, adventure and travel – something I couldn’t have done while starting a family.
Writing about my experiences—whether it’s leaving my religion, dating someone in their 30s, or infertility—is not just a career, but my calling. It gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and out into the world.
And that’s also why I agreed to stay home with our daughter for the first 16 months of her life. I knew it was good to pause, slow down, and understand motherhood (and breastfeeding – so much breastfeeding!). All my wrinkles had taught me to take care of myself, to take what I needed and give it now to our new daughter.
Yes, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a sleep-deprived, makeup-free zombie with milk stains on my braless t-shirt, but I still saw myself: a mother, a wife , and also a writer. My decades of work ensured that this was never erased by motherhood.
I’m definitely not one of those women who says motherhood has made them more productive — you know, more focused, less procrastinating, yada, yada yada. I always postpone my deadlines, skip the laundry and start my day with Spelling Bee and now Wordle; yet, somehow, I managed to put a book proposal together when my daughter was two (and in daycare) and submit it to editors before COVID forced us into lockdown when she was four.
The pandemic has changed parenting and work for most of us moms. Being a full-time caregiver hampered my ability to think, create, write, and my daughter’s independence. (If you’re looking for it, it’s strapped to my hip.) Some days, especially for distance learning, I can’t seem to jump out of bed to face another day at home. I wonder when it’s weird Contagion world we live in will be over, when our six-year-old’s life returns to normal, when I can finally relax.
What I don’t think about, not with a new book out and another in progress, is who I am. I just want to get back to her, since I worked so hard to become her.
Childbirth has nothing to do with the movies, as these beautiful photos show.