I remember when I first realised where I figured on the birthing spectrum. I was aged 37, and just five months pregnant with my first child. Lying in the hospital, belly out, a tiny elbow stuck in my ribs somewhere, the midwife had just stepped out of our glamorous coffin of a cubicle when my enormous file – bursting with God-knows-what kind of detail about the inner status of my unborn child, and relative health of my own being – fell open at the cover page with the label ‘GERIATRIC MOTHER’ clearly written as the headline.
I vaguely screwed up my eyes thinking it was a misprint – or some weird car crash of hyperbole. The file was quickly whisked off, which left me furtively googling later just exactly what the hell was a geriatric mother. For those of you who are not either medically trained or who’ve never ventured down this google-road, it refers to expectant mothers over 35. Or women of ‘advanced maternal age’. Women who are technically at a greater risk than those below that very arbitrary cut off, though I’d wager, the 22-year-olds in my birthing class who hit the deck when the midwife brought out a floppy dolly and a model of the human pelvis were in more trouble than me.
Still, it was a shock to the system. Just when you are starting to feel a little bit attractive in your newly-found rotundity, it slaps you right in your ageing face. But it’s not for medicine to spare your feelings, and it turns out this status is actually pretty era-dependent. In the 50s, a geriatric mother was anyone over the age of 28, so it is as much about relativity as it is about physicality and ability. Having another child at almost forty, I didn’t even bother looking at the chart. And it seems, once you’ve done it once, they almost take a few years off just for good measure. Perhaps it’s just knowing there has been a road test?
Since then, I haven’t really thought about it. Until recently. It may have something to do with my first child being about to start school – looking down the barrel of 14 years locked into a system, a calendar, an expanse of routine and summer escapes, I realised that I am the same age sending my eldest to primary, as my mum was sending her youngest, and final child, to secondary. Teenage years were dispatched in her slightly more youthful 40s, while I will be in my 50s when that particular rollercoaster ride comes around. This will either make me mellow (exhausted), a pushover (that ship may have sailed), more out of touch (a given) and definitely very uncool (natch) – or all of the above. Then I began to think it through. Yep, only doing that now, but better late than never.
I realised if I become a granny, and I don’t want to force my child into a teenage pregnancy (I am thinking coercion might be a better tack), I actually do run the very likely possibility of being a genuinely geriatric grandparent. Just do the maths. If my daughter has a child around the same age as I did, 38, I will be 76 when my first grandchild comes along. If, as they say, grandchildren are the reward you get for not strangling your teenagers, then my prize is looking like it will have to come with very little physical demands and preferably an elixir of youth attached.
What’s the point of all this agonising over die that is cast? Well, for me, it has been a definite wake up call. On many levels. For starters, to stop putting off those yoga classes and pension payments. The fact is, if I want to enjoy and be there for my own, the way my mum has been for me, I need to step up now. At 42, I am already finding the physical mileage is impacting, and let’s face it, having kids can put years on you – just look at your resplendent unencumbered nubile childless friends if you don’t believe me.
My back is not what it was five years ago, nor my knees. Years of sitting hunched over computers, with decades more of that to come need to be offset. For people in their 40s, being in a reasonably good place physically into your 50s and hopefully, 60s is something you are counting on. Keeping up that level of health into your 70s is not promised to anyone yet. I have heard recently-made grandparents talk about the sense of completion that becoming a grandparent can give – perpetuity now complete, a peace with departing this mortal coil becomes something more tangible. I don’t want to miss that. Yes, some of us, more than ever before, are going to make it to 100, but to be a kick-ass 76-year-old is going to take some doing. I do believe having kids can keep your mind young, but it turns out, your body doesn’t necessarily follow.
If the yoga fails, there is always Unicorn blood. Only joking (ish).