I’m inclined to believe the saying that whatever is said about me behind my back is none of my business. Thankfully that attitude has spared me a lot of unnecessary heartache since I moved to a sleepy seaside town in rural Ireland 15 years ago. Around here it’s impossible to go anywhere without knowing most of the people out and about. Generally I like small town life, even if some people are quite nosy. Every now and then, however, a friend will share a little piece of gossip she’s overheard about me. These insights into other people’s perceptions are not always welcome or kind. I am the only African American woman living in the area and don’t exactly blend in. Somehow I’ve carved a place for myself in the community and largely feel accepted, even though I’m technically what locals call a “blow in”.
Keeping secrets, as you can imagine, is near impossible here; there is always someone listening at the next table in a café, or watching so-and-so from across the street. When my partner and I discovered that we’d been successful conceiving, I was bursting with excitement. I desperately wanted to share the news with my family and best friend, but we decided to wait at least 12 weeks. Everything I had read warned that it would be difficult to conceive after 40, which was absolutely not true for us. The risks are apparently much higher for all sorts of problems at my age. It seemed best to keep quiet until I’d reached the end of my first trimester.
The day of our first scan we received a phone call from Christy’s sister. She’s the same age as me and had been trying for a baby for a couple of years. I couldn’t believe it when she happily announced, “We went for our first scan today!” We were thrilled with her news, but it meant we’d have to keep ours secret a little longer than planned. Not wanting to steal her thunder, we waited until her next trip home at Christmas to tell the whole family in person.
The longer we waited, the more concerned I became about how other people would react. Would they be shocked? Delighted? Supportive? We officially started telling friends on New Year’s Day. At 16 weeks I was fed up of wearing the same baggy Christmas jumpers to conceal my growing bump. It was a relief to have everything in the open at last! When some friends didn’t immediately respond to our announcement cards and texts, I was slightly taken aback. I expected some of them to be surprised, but I hadn’t anticipated silence. What did it mean? I didn’t want to be oversensitive and read too much into it, but I was a little hurt by the lack of response.
Some time later I met with a friend I don’t see very often. She’s in her early 50’s and gave birth to her only child when she was 40. These days she’s pursuing her PhD and is engrossed in academia. As our conversation progressed, it became clear that she had assumed the baby was a “surprise”. She admitted to chatting about it to mutual friends who all thought Christy and I were “putting a brave face on it.” Hearing those words gave me quite a land.
My partner and I thought long and hard about whether or not we’re prepared to bring another child into the world at this stage of life. We both share dreams of adventure and want to continue traveling the world some day. (Each of us traveled in our 20’s, but parenting put a stop to that). We also want to build an eco house of his design, grow organic vegetables and have a polytunnel, free range chickens, and a hot tub next to our pond. When we were younger, we both wanted this lifestyle for our existing children, but our previous partners didn’t support or share the same vision. Those relationships eventually fell apart. Christy and I have been fortunate to find each other later in life and recover our lost ideals. We have a chance to give our baby everything we wanted for the other 5 children, and they, too, will benefit from everything we intend to create together.
The way we see it, we don’t have to give up our goals or trade our freedom for another child. We’re not bound by convention and will homeschool if we decide to travel with our littlest one when the others leave home. Life is what you make of it, and I think family gives life its depth and meaning.
These days I’m trying not to feel offended by offhand remarks. When I talk about my pregnancy, I’ve stopped justifying my decision to become a mom again. If other women don’t understand the appeal of starting over, that’s alright. This is my journey not theirs. It doesn’t make me less of a feminist, and my career isn’t over. Yes, I’d prefer every single person in my life to be as overjoyed as I am about the little miracle growing inside me. I’m sure when the baby actually arrives everyone will instantly adore him/ her. When I saw my baby’s perfect little hand in such detail on the 23 week scan, I wanted to reach out and hold it. I already feel so connected to this precious person. Who needs a brave face when they’re truly, deeply, madly in love?