pregnancy

My Journey from Homebirths to Hospital on Steroids

Ever since we announced that we’re expecting a baby, I’ve repeatedly told friends how pleased I am that my plan worked.  I hoped for a June baby and as luck would have it our due date is the 17th.  I thought a midsummer baby would be perfect because my other children are off of school by then and my fitness classes slow down at that time of the year.  I’d spend the summer recovering and relaxing with my family and return to work part-time in the autumn.  Foolproof, right?  Of all people, I should know better.  Life has taught me again and again to expect the unexpected.

I’m in excellent health: I exercise regularly, eat well, and look after myself.  Although I’m an older mom this this time around, my pregnancy has been perfectly normal.  I assumed my labour and delivery would follow the same pattern as my previous three babies, even though I was in my 20’s for all of their births.

All of them were natural births lasting between 3-5 hours from start to finish.  The last two babies were born at home, one in a birthing pool.  My children entered the world in the soft light of dawn, to the sound of birdsong outside.  I was overwhelmed by a profound sense of peace and joy cradling my newborns in the comfort of our home.  I felt empowered as a mother and experienced deep gratitude for the gift of life.

The homebirth process and requirements have changed in recent years.  Although we applied, we weren’t approved for a homebirth this time.  Initially I was disappointed, but I also recognised that we could have a positive hospital birth.  Obviously we want the safest option for this particular pregnancy.

During week 30 I started to feel off.  Although many of my complaints were typical of the third trimester, I began to feel anxious that something was amiss.  I was consumed by physical discomfort and mental worry.  I started nesting and felt panicked because we didn’t have enough baby stuff yet.  I kept saying that I thought the baby might come early, which was completely irrational.

Just when I needed my partner’s support the most he needed to travel for work. Our timing couldn’t be worse.  Through no fault of his own, the project’s starting date was a month behind the original plan.  I had encouraged him to take on this massive project, but the reality of it is different than what I had envisioned.  We both suffer from incurable optimism and assumed everything would miraculously work out fine.  The way we saw it, he’d finish his project just in time for our baby’s birth and all would be well.

During week 31 he set off for the building site, which is a 4.5 hour drive from home, with the intention of staying for 10 days.  Within 24 hours of his departure I noticed swelling in my face, hands, and feet.  I contacted my GP and asked if I should make an appointment with her or wait until the following week when I was due an antenatal visit at the maternity hospital.  She pencilled me in for a few days later.  As the week progressed I felt worse and struggled through a couple of fitness classes.  My clients were visibly worried and recognised that I wasn’t myself .  I was exhausted and slept whenever I could.  I had no energy for housework or cooking so my kids and I ate takeaways.

I wasn’t surprised when my GP finally examined me and discovered I had symptoms of preeclampsia.  I’d googled as much as I needed to know and she confirmed what I’d already suspected.  It is important for pregnant women to be informed about this potentially life threatening condition and listen to their instincts.  My doctor handed me a referral to the emergency room on Good Friday and warned that I might have to stay for the weekend.  I quickly packed and made arrangements for my kids and pets.  A friend drove me 90 km to the hospital.  That’s when it really became surreal.

After more testing and waiting and testing, I was given several different medications.  My blood pressure refused to cooperate and crept higher as time passed.  Little was said and I had the feeling the staff wanted to keep me calm by withholding information.  The kindly midwife did, however, inform me that she’d soon be administering the “most painful injection you’ll ever receive.” If I was lucky enough to not have an emergency c-section overnight, I’d be given a second steroid injection in my derriere the following morning.  She explained that the steroids would help the baby’s lungs mature if I held on to him/ her for 24 hours.  Suddenly I really did feel like I was in the twilight zone!  My baby wasn’t due for 9 weeks…  It was hard to mentally process the possibility of having a premature infant within such a short space of time.

Christy arrived around midnight after a long, stressful drive.  He’d only been away 4 days but it seemed much longer.  In the beginning we were told I’d be kept in hospital for observation for 48 hours.  On account of Easter and the bank holiday, it was extended until Tuesday.  We’ve now been here 9 days and going home is no longer an option.  The reality is my condition is severe, unpredictable, and my blood pressure has been dangerously unstable.

The last week has been the most medicalised of my life.  If I hadn’t received treatment I might not still be here to share my story.  I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to the midwives and doctors who have given me such wonderful care.  It has been a terrifying, painful, exhausting, mind-expanding, emotionally wrought experience.  And it’s not over yet!  At this stage I’m on the maximum dosage of medication available; if it suddenly fails to work, delivery is imminent.  There is no possibility of carrying my baby to full term. Each additional day in my womb is a bonus.  Living with uncertainty is difficult, but my partner and I are better prepared now.  Fortunately the prospects of a happy outcome are good.  Today we reached a milestone of 32 weeks and have been reassured by a neonatal doctor that our baby will likely thrive with the necessary care.  All we can do now is hope for the best and wait.

My mom and oldest son will soon board flights from America to Ireland.  Knowing that help is on the way has put my mind at ease.  Family and friends have also offered us huge support.  Whatever happens we’ll pull through this together.

When you walk through the hospital corridors you see that our humanity is inescapable; vulnerability, heartbreak, fear, sadness, tenderness and joy all coexist here.  The veil between life and death is thin.  What’s remarkable is the spirit of determination I’ve seen on this high risk maternity ward… we’re all fighting for our babies with everything we’ve got.

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Parenting

An Unfiltered View of Mother’s Day

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful admitting this.  Despite the beautiful, heartfelt cards and presents my children gave me, certain events on Mother’s Day left me feeling a bit battered and bruised.  Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, I’m not alone in feeling like the day didn’t quite measure up to expectations.  Of course social media is half of the problem: posts of extravagant gifts, images of “perfect” families, and a glossy portrayal of Mothering Sunday left some women feeling inadequate.  I frequently remind my children that the fastest way to misery is by making comparisons, but sometimes it’s hard to resist.

One Facebook friend half jokingly wished all of the other moms lots of enjoyment eating their chocolates and so on… hinting that her sons had given her nothing of the sort.  Comments immediately followed reassuring her that their lack of generosity was in no way a reflection of her mothering.  The thread contained statements like “Boys are less thoughtful than girls,” or “That’s just typical of teenagers,” and “Mother’s Day is just another commercial holiday invented to promote consumerism!” Others left affirmations such as, “You’re a great mom” to make her feel better.  It struck me that many of us- myself included- attach too much meaning to this one particular day.  The result is that a lot of pressure is placed on loved ones to create a perfect day, which is almost impossible to fulfill.

There was one post that particularly resonated with me.  It consisted of a small child’s drawing of his entire nuclear family, including the half-brother and sister he rarely sees due to a messy separation.  The boy’s mother shared the picture and wished all moms, step moms, and women in various roles to have a great Mother’s Day. She mentioned that blended families are great, although it’s hard work to keep everyone happy at the same time.  I appreciated her honesty and could relate to what she had expressed.

I was tempted to make a glowing post of my own, but decided against it out of sensitivity to my stepkids’ mom.  Considering that I spent more of the day with her children than she did, it seemed fair not to post anything that might upset her.  We are all still adjusting to our circumstances and ever changing family dynamics.

The day started off perfectly.  My family insisted I have breakfast in bed. I read happily while I waited for food to be prepared. Christy and his daughter cooked a beautiful meal for me, delivered with several bouquets of wildflowers, a vase of roses, and a potted orchid. Every room of the house smells of springtime and hyacinths. My stepdaughter made sure the boys remembered to write messages inside my card.  I could hear the strained tone of my daughter’s voice when asked to sign as well.  “I have my own card,” she said tersely to her stepsister.  To say their relationship is strained would be an understatement.

My 12 year old daughter and I have always been extremely close.  She’s very thoughtful and had taken the time to paint a floral card.  She also included a voucher to my favourite cafe so I can treat myself and a friend to lunch.  My 14 year old son apologized for not having enough money for a gift or possessing his sister’s artistic talent.  He sounded genuine when he said wistfully, “I wish I could have made you something beautiful too.”  He asked if there was anything I’d like for him to do and was happy to cut the the grass for me.  My primary Love Language is Acts of Service so I much appreciated his gesture.

I enjoyed the special attention my family gave me, but somewhere along the way things began to unravel.  The four kids wanted to stay in pajamas and relax past midday.  The previous night the clocks moved forwards so we had already lost an hour.  Since the sun rarely shines here, my partner and I were anxious to make the most of it.  We planned to take everyone for a walk beside the sea.  Not long after the breakfast dishes were cleared, and other household chores completed, the kids were hungry again.  It’s an endless cycle on the weekends when we’re all at home.  It felt like we’d never get out of the door!

No one would cooperate and I started to get frustrated.  When my kids started talking in Irish- knowing full well that I couldn’t understand them- I sensed they were ganging up on their stepsister.  There has been a build up of tension, and I was extra sensitive to the unresolved, petty resentments between them.  “Please don’t be mean.  Can’t everyone make an effort to be nice to each other for just one day?” I implored.

I can’t say for sure if it was pregnancy hormones, but I eventually snapped when the kids ignored my plea for harmony.  I hid in my room as a flood of worried thoughts accompanied my tears.  How will I cope with a newborn and sleepless nights thrown into the mix in just a few short months?  Is it selfish and unrealistic to expect my biological children to embrace my partner and his kids just because I happen to love them?  Will my daughter ever stop feeling jealous when I show affection to my stepchildren?  Is it simply a matter of time before our kids fully accept our situation?  No one can replace my children’s dad since he passed away, but I hope that their new father figure will be welcomed more fully into their hearts as the years go by.

My daughter knocked on my door, apologetic and full of promises to make more of an effort for the rest of the day.  A few hugs later and I was back on my feet, only to discover a new drama had evolved in my absence.  Christy’s ex was on the phone demanding a last minute change of plans.  He had already conceded to handing their children back early on account of Mother’s Day.  Her latest request would impact our day too much so he refused.  As they argued, I became annoyed that once again her behavior affected all of us.  It’s an ongoing pattern that she makes decisions based on what suits her, ignoring the fact that Christy has a new family to accommodate as well.  From what I’ve read and observed, all blended families are complicated.

At last we packed everyone into the car with the dog and drove to our destination.  My back ached so I couldn’t walk far, but the fresh sea air did wonders to clear the cobwebs from my head.  Did the kids stop fighting?  Not really… I just quit caring so much.  In between squabbling they did manage to run, play, skip stones, and share stories about school with each other.  We took photographs and you’d swear we were one of those perfect- if offbeat- families too.  Although we had promised to go for ice-cream Sundaes after the walk, we ran out of time.  The younger children’s mother arrived so we said our goodbyes.

We spent the rest of the evening at Christy’s sister’s house.  She invited the whole family over for an impromptu Sunday roast.  It’s rare that we all gather together so it felt like a special occasion.  It’s the first time I’ve seen Christy’s dad since he had major surgery last month, and he seemed different.  He was in the mood for telling stories so we all listened attentively.

I realised then how much they all missed Cathy.  Christy’s mom passed away 17 years ago, leaving a void that can’t be filled.  While Mike reminisced about the night he met his wife in Oxford back in the 1960’s, we were each transported back in time to the beginning of a great love story.  I was intrigued by new details about Cathy’s character and wished I could have met her.  I reached under the table and squeezed Christy’s hand.

 

Was the evening stress free? Not really… Even as adults, I noticed the tension that quickly rose to the surface from time to time between Christy’s siblings.  Their parents hadn’t divorced, and yet their dynamics were similar to our children’s. I somehow felt reassured by that.  Family life simply isn’t easy, but nothing is more worthwhile.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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I have a piece of artwork on my piano that serves as an important reminder whenever I look at it:

The beauty of life lives inside the smallest of moments

(pay attention)

Reflections

Musings of an Expat on Storytelling, Immigration & Being Wholehearted

As the end of my second trimester approaches, I’m instinctively beginning to slow down.  Though the demands of parenting and work haven’t decreased yet, I’m being more selective about how I expend energy in my spare time.  I’ve given myself permission to rest whenever possible, to let go of unnecessary busyness.  While reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet a few years ago, I realised that I’m what she describes as an ambivert, someone who falls exactly in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum.  As a result I sometimes feel like I have two different personalities, depending on whether or not I’m experiencing a period of extroversion. At the moment my introspective side is taking over, and my focus has naturally shifted inwards, requiring more space and time for reading and reflection.

Since childhood I’ve been an avid reader.  My greatest admiration is reserved for my favourite authors both classic and contemporary.  Over the years books have offered me escapism, comfort, personal transformation, and a sense of connection to unknown people and places. While I love words, and the artful way esteemed writers compose them, I am most fascinated by the stories they tell.  When I was younger fiction was my mainstay, but nowadays I’m drawn to real life stories in my pursuit to understand humanity.

I’ve been haunted by an excerpt I  recently read taken from Valeria Luiselli’s book Tell Me How It Ends.  In her essay On the Choices People Make In Coming to America, she writes eloquently about her experiences as a translator working with unaccompanied child migrants from Mexico and Central America.  As her family travels across the states on vacation during the summer of 2014, they listen to reports on the radio about undocumented children detained at the border.  The children have lost their mothers and fathers, their identity, their homes.  With great sadness Luiselli asks, “How do you explain any of this to your own children?” The answer, quite simply, is that I don’t.  I cannot make sense of what is happening in my native country, and I certainly don’t have the ability to help my children understand the cruelty and bigotry which dominate my newsfeed on any given day.

The thought of tens of thousands of refugee children- hungry, scared, alone, unprotected- making an arduous journey across the Mexican border, only to swiftly be deported back to where they originated from, literally brought me to tears.  I consider myself to be a global citizen and would like to imagine a world without borders.  I’m of the perspective that we are all connected, but too many of my fellow American citizens do not feel the same way.

Over the weekend I spoke with my oldest son who happens to be taking a gap year in Ohio with his grandma.  Despite feelings of homesickness, he’s happy he came to America because it has taught him to appreciate Ireland.  He remarked on the extremism he has witnessed, which is largely absent in Irish culture.  Race, religion and politics in particular are sources of division in America, even within our extended family. I’m struck by how my “Christian” relatives are often the first to judge poor people and blame victims of adversity for their hardship.  The lack of compassion is astonishing.

Last Friday we celebrated Ireland’s national holiday as we do every year on March 17th.  It was also my 20 year anniversary, marking the day I first took a ferry to this beautiful island from England .  Back then I had no idea that I would live here for so long!  Watching our Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s pointed speech about the value of immigration, with the US president standing beside him, was the most satisfying moment on St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s no wonder that the video has gone viral considering the state of current affairs.  I am grateful that my experience of immigrating to Ireland has been positive.  It saddens me to see  that my native country has become unwelcoming to foreigners, and I wish America would remember and honour its founding ideals.

Why is it that some societies are more humane than others?  Why are some people locked in selfish, narrow perspectives, while others are passionate about creating social change and equality for all?  I’m reminded of several quotes from one of my favourite books, Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby.  This passage is taken from the chapter entitled Wound:

If boundaries of the self are defined by what we feel, then those who cannot feel even for themselves shrink within their own boundaries, while those who feel for others are enlarged, and those who feel compassion for all beings must be boundless.

Solnit goes on to say,

If numbness contracts the boundaries of the self, empathy expands it.

The test, it seems, is to remain wholehearted, despite the pain that entails.  It is tempting to turn the radio off, to look away, to avoid unhappy stories that confront our prejudices or fears, but we must resist such temptations. Nothing is to be gained by shutting down and becoming small.

Even if our questions have no answers, I think it’s still important to ask them. By sharing our stories it is possible to reconnect.  Listening and bearing witness to the lives of others changes us. Walls collapse… and slowly we piece ourselves back together.

 

Photo Credit: Reflection by frankieleon

 

 

 

self care

How to Avoid Becoming “The Scary Pregnant Lady”

There’s always a period of adjustment when my partner arrives with his two children for the weekend.  They are younger than mine, lively, and as in all blended families, the dynamics change when everyone is thrown together after a period of of being apart. Last Friday Christy’s youngest sister also arrived unexpectedly to visit with her niece and nephew.  We haven’t seen her since Christmas so it was good to catch up.

I had planned to make homemade pizzas and enjoy a family movie night.  As the evening went on it became evident that not everyone was into the idea.  Christy wanted to watch the big rugby match (yawn…), and both my tween and teen locked themselves in their bedrooms with their electronic devices.  Neither of them could be persuaded to watch a “baby movie”.  It’s true that finding an appropriate film to hold the attention of young people ranging from 8-14 is almost impossible. Yet, I still cling to hopes of recreating scenes like when my kids were younger and we all sat contentedly around the fire, enjoying each other’s company without the constant ping! of Snapchat notifications.

Covered in flour, I continued kneading dough while clenching my jaws.  I could feel my mood darken and my face must have reflected the storm brewing within.  I became more acutely aware of my backache, sore feet, and end of the week exhaustion.  I was no longer happy to work in the kitchen alone and demanded help in a not so subtle manner.  Christy’s sister isn’t known for tact and made a throwaway comment, saying, “I’m scared of pregnant women!”  It wasn’t hard to between the lines.

The next day I woke up irritable, hormones raging.  My teenage son was disagreeable which didn’t help.  My 8 year old stepson couldn’t have been sweeter, but even that annoyed me.  He’s fascinated by the baby and repeatedly asks if he/ she is kicking.  I usually welcome his interest and think it’s adorable when he asks in a serious voice, “Do you think the baby is a Ninja? Could it be practicing taekwondo?  I suppose there isn’t enough room in there.”  On this particular day he wanted to constantly touch my bump and shower me with affection… when all I craved was space!

By the time the youngest ones returned to their mom on Sunday evening, after a long day of them bickering with each other, my nerves were a mess.  Later, when my oldest son phoned from America, we had a fraught conversation regarding his college applications that sent me into a full-on meltdown.  My backache intensified and I knew I needed to take some “me time”.

I’ve had a subscription to Ekhart Yoga for the last year.  Most months I feel guilty for not using it, but I was so grateful when I logged onto the site that night.  Esther used to teach in my town before she returned to Holland, and the sound of her voice was instantly soothing.  I chose to do a chest opening class for the first and second trimester which also included standing poses.  By the end of the session, I felt much better and vowed to incorporate more asanas into daily life.

As my pregnancy is progressing, I’m experiencing more of the common ailments that develop as the baby grows.  I’m beginning to tire of listening to my own complaints, and I suspect my partner feels the same, although he wouldn’t dare admit it aloud.  My experiences over the weekend inspired me to create a plan to cope with the final trimester leading up to labor.  If you, too, would like to avoid lapsing into the “scary pregnant lady” mode, read on for tips to take better care of yourself.  Maybe you don’t have time to incorporate all of these suggestions into your self-care routine, but you might like to try one or two ideas.  Feel free to let me know what works for you in the comment section!

Yoga

Yoga aims to create balance in the body.  As I mentioned, there are various online sites 33418187175_055269e366_m_doffering free or paid for yoga sessions if you can’t find a suitable class in your local community.  The benefits are holistic, meaning they affect you on a physical, mental, and spiritual level.  Yoga is a great method for learning to slow down and relax.  I find that it relieves tension and creates space where energy has been stuck.  Many people approach yoga from a purely physical perspective, hoping to improve flexibility and strength.  It might take them by surprise if they aren’t prepared for emotional releases which sometimes accompany the physical changes.  Yoga has helped me to cope with back, neck, and shoulder pain.  After I performed the chest opening exercises, I felt much softer and became aware of how vulnerable I felt.  Overcome by tiredness, I went to bed early Sunday night and had a little cry under my duvet.  Sometimes we just need a little assistance letting go of a difficult day, week, month…

Naps

Speaking of tiredness, I haven’t been able to sleep properly for the last week.  I keep waking up at least an hour before my alarm, not to mention nocturnal trips to the bathroom.  Apparently pregnancy insomnia is an actual condition affecting a lot of women. While I don’t have difficulty initially falling asleep, the quality of my sleep seems poor lately.  Even though I bought a fancy pillow to support my legs and bump from Mothercare recently, I’m still uncomfortable at night.

Naps have become a lifesaver.  My daughter may  be embarrassed that I sleep in the car while I’m waiting for her to finish her pony riding and piano lessons, but 10- 20 minute power naps set me up for the rest of the day.

Another remedy I use is dōTERRA lavender oil.  I add it to my diffuser at bedtime and drift away inhaling the pleasant scent, known for calming anxiety and aiding sleep. A soothing cup of chamomile or your favorite herbal tea an hour before bedtime may also help.

Exercise

The best stress buster of all is aerobic exercise if you ask me.  I teach dance-fitness classes and have so far been able to keep up with my usual routine, with slight modifications.  Walking and swimming are most commonly recommended for pregnant women.  Generally the rule is whatever fitness program you were following before pregnancy is safe to continue with, but it’s not advisable to try something new. Exercising during pregnancy has many benefits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, reducing constipation, and increasing energy.  It often boosts your mood, helping you to feel happier and have a more positive outlook.

Massage

Today I went for a 90 minute full body Swedish massage and it was pure bliss!  Christy gave me a voucher at Christmas which I’d been saving.  Even if your partner is kind enough to offer regular foot rubs like mine does, it’s not the same as having a professional knead your muscles into submission.  Disposable cash isn’t always easy to come by, but if you can save a bit each week, why not treat yourself to a nurturing massage?

If you’re suffering from aching feet at the end of the day, roll a tennis ball on the floor and massage all the pressure points on the soles of each foot.  It’s an easy way to unwind.  Also try to lay on your back with your feet up against the wall.  This restorative pose will help with any swelling.

Skin Care 

Pregnancy hormones often affect skin and hair.  I’ve changed my facial routine and I’m happy with the results.  I started to develop milia on my cheeks, which isn’t uncommon for mature skin.  One way to prevent these little white cysts from forming is to exfoliate regularly. I’ve developed a weekly routine that involves using a natural exfoliator three times.  Once a week I have an 8 minute facial sauna to deep cleanse before applying a nurturing mask.  (Simply add hot water to a bowl with a drop of essential oil for your skin type and cover your head with a towel.  A selection of facial masks can be purchased at chemists like Boots or in the beauty section of TK Maxx).  The rest of the week I use a natural Weleda cleanser and toner both morning and evening.  Always follow with a good moisturizer and eye cream. (I prefer Clinique eye products).  Skin care doesn’t have to be expensive.  There are many recipes online to create products to suit every skin type.  Experiment and see what works for you!  Before long you will have a natural glow that matches the twinkle in your eye.

Hydration

Drinking enough water will also assist you in achieving healthy, clear skin.  On average pregnant women need at least 10 cups of fluid a day.  I don’t drink enough which may be why I’m having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions already.  Other benefits of drinking water include:

  • Prevention of constipation and hemorrhoids
  • Prevention of urinary tract infections
  • Helps prevent headaches, cramps, and dizziness

If you’re experiencing indigestion, try not to drink anything with meals.  Also eat smaller quantities more frequently.

Unplug

It’s important for me to recharge by unplugging from social media for a day or two when I start feeling overwhelmed by the news of the world.  I’ve become somewhat of a political junkie, reading article after article online while having virtual heart palpitations.  I think it’s important to stay informed and engage in social activism when possible.  However, there are times when I’m consumed by issues that are largely out of my control, which can result in a sense of powerlessness and despair.  I question the wisdom of bringing another child into the world- between climate change, the rise of racism and nationalism, economic disparity, and so on- and I feel sad about the mess today’s youth are inheriting.

When it all becomes a little too intense, I need to shut down my computer, turn off my phone, and focus on simple tasks at home.  It helps to spend some time alone reading an inspiring novel or memoir.  At the moment I’m enjoying  A Year of Marvellous Ways.  It’s also important to spend quality time with loved ones.  Meet a friend for coffee and cake, see a movie, or go for a walk in nature.  Taking a short online sabbatical can do wonders for restoring energy and faith in humanity!

What works for you?  If you’ve any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section.

 

Photo Credit: Pregnant Warrior With One Knee Up by Bonbon. No changes have been made to the original image and the creator holds full copyright.

 

Parenting

A Brave Face

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?