What It’s Like To Have A ‘Geriatric Pregnancy’ With Baby No 6
Fourteen years ago, we told our families we were expecting our first child. Now I’m 41 and having a ‘geriatric pregnancy.’
The term came to light when Meghan Markle – age 37 – announced she was pregnant – you couldn’t read her name without it being followed by geriatric pregnancy.
(Never mind that the Queen was 37 when she gave birth to her fourth child, Prince Andrew in 1964, the Duchess of Cambridge had Louis at 36 and the Countess of Wessex, gave birth to her first child Louise when she was 38 and had her son James at 42.)
What is a ‘geriatric pregnancy’?
According to a 2009 report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the optimal age for childbearing is 20 to 35.
Get pregnant after that and you’re considered of ‘advanced maternal age’ and both you and the baby face an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications and health problems due to changes in the reproductive system and the increased likelihood of general health problems that comes with age.
According to the NHS, a pregnancy after 35 year old puts you at greater risk of complications such as:
Greater difficulty in initially conceiving a child, with the personal and psychological difficulties that this can cause.
Increased risk of complications for both mother and infant during pregnancy and delivery (although the actual size of the risk may be small).
Greater risk of general maternal health problems, such as high blood pressure, which can contribute to complications.
Higher risk of miscarriage in women above the age of 35.
Higher risk of having twins or triplets, which is itself associated with higher risk of complications.
Increased chance of having a baby with a congenital abnormality, such as Down’s syndrome.
Increased risk of pre-eclampsia.
Increased risk of complications during delivery, such as prolonged labour, need for assisted delivery or Caesarean section, or stillbirth.
When I fell pregnant in my 20s I had no such worries, everyone was delighted; we were a little scared, full of painfully excited angst over what we had been told to do and what not to do via well-meaning friends and second-hand books.
We knew when to tell work, the week-by-week internal changes, the perils of consuming parma ham and soft-boiled eggs.
I became prissily precious over outlawing underwired bras in case my milk ducts didn’t develop properly, overcautious about lifting anything marginally heavy, wary of tea and coffee, excessively and expressively tired for the first trimester.
I pounced on the latest issues of pregnancy and baby magazines as I wobbled to work in ill-fitting dresses, devouring photos of babies and weeping silently in hormonally-induced awe.
All this naive romance eventually wore off with each pregnancy, and last May, I found out I was pregnant again with my sixth baby.
I sent my husband a text with a photo of the pregnancy test stick, slightly out of date and hastily retrieved from damp recesses of the bathroom cabinet.
He came home and laughed. So did I.
Then we sat down and worked out what having a sixth baby might actually mean, and the ways in which we would tell our families (who are a little over such regular pronouncements from us), and how we would tell the people who would find the news verging on vulgar.
There were quite a few on that list.
We thought about where to fit a new baby in to our two-bedroom rented flat, and I privately thought about hair loss and weight gain.
We told our five boys who were mostly excited, the little ones forgetful and ambivalent, the teenager ever-so-slightly revolted at the burgeoning physical evidence that his parents still had fun in the bedroom.
So, with four months to go and a bladder that has forgotten how to work, here’s a roundup of what I’ve learnt about having my sixth baby.
Pregnancy Gets Harder
I’m now 41. I had my first baby when I was a sprightly 27 year old – when the skin was a little firmer, the stomach unlined by inch-wide silvery stretch marks, the boobs merely decorative.
Although the labour hit me like a bus, the pregnancy was *almost* enjoyable with no sickness and a delight in my changing shape.
I was paid so little by my publishing job that the loss in wages wasn’t going to be noticeable, so I didn’t have to think about going back to work. Pregnancy was like a nine month romantic trip for one.
Since then, the fairly frequent subsequent pregnancies, three miscarriages and one horrible molar pregnancy which ended in a termination in a sad, cold ward, have become harder and harder on my body.
Pregnancy is less romance and more about function. I know I am very lucky that I can get pregnant, and that we have been fortunate to be able to carve the space and time and energy into our lives to have a big family, but this pregnancy lark is now just exhausting.
My pelvic floor muscles have pretty much ceased to work – I will leak a little wee not just as a byproduct of a spontaneous sneeze or cough or stumble, but as a result of walking more than ten minutes.
I know the pubs and supermarket toilets to and from the school run intimately (though I wish I didn’t).
My hair has lost its former curl and thickness, and has a weird layer from the regrowth from my last pregnancy.
My first trimester this time was full of nausea, burping and farting, with acid reflux and a nose that couldn’t cope with the whiff of normal food – the smell of toast, or coffee or bacon or mushrooms made me lurch from the room.
Nothing tasted good and nothing felt ok in my stomach, although I wanted to eat all the time.
I am losing my balance and have constant mild round ligament pain. I cannot put my shoes on without vomiting a bit.
There is no romance here, and pregnancy isn’t kind – at 41, it’s not termed a geriatric pregnancy for nothing.
Maternity Clothes Are Pretty Dire
TopShop launched its maternity range six months before I had my first son.
It was terribly exciting then to think of a high-street fashion store catering to women who still wanted to dress well but just had to accommodate a changing and awkward body.
Gap Maternity followed soon after, and where I live, we had JoJo Maman Bebe, H&M and Petit Bateau all down the road.
It was a rich time for the demonstratively impregnanted. But this time around, a good five years since I had my last son, the clothes on the High Street reek of having given up.
The fabrics are creased and synthetic, the styles unimaginative and asexual.
I despaired at the faux-farmers’ wives’ billowing polyester plaid shirts with awful self-tie belts to bring you in under the boobs, with skinny jeans that on my water-retaining legs look like I’m about to split like an overcooked sausage.
The dresses are on the wrong side of modest – I love a Batsheva-inspired prairie number but not an imitation DVF wrap dress or a badly-cut shapeless sack.
I think the answer lies in a few basics from ASOS – a tube skirt, a few pairs of jeans, and a good rummage through a vintage store like TRAID where you can find big 70’s dresses with elasticated waists. Inexplicably, these work with boots and trainers and a staple biker jacket, although they won’t ever smell quite right.
Also, spend some money on your hair and buy some sort of luscious flattering lipstick and people will think you’ve made an effort.
Wear your own clothes until they cut off your circulation – at least you’ll feel like yourself until the numbness sets in.
NHS – The Information Changes
Over my fourteen years of child-wrangling, the one thing about the NHS that has been constant is change; from the set-up of midwife teams, the locations of appointments, the management of Group B strep, the immunisation regime, the weaning advice, the rules about where and when you can have your baby – all this has been different each time I’ve been pregnant.
I now make no assumptions and instead gratefully accept whatever the new rules are.
After all, the NHS helped me cook and deliver all my kids safely and kindly and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
Not Everyone Thinks It’s Cool To Have A Big Family
This is understandable, because it’s actually insane.
Most people find it baffling why we have chosen to have six kids, and sometimes I find myself wondering the same thing.
For the first time in all these years, I have all my kids at school and I am able to work from home for the whole day, unbothered by small people asking for another drink of water or a trip to the park to feed the ducks – and yet, I’m going to throw myself into the world of controlled crying and vomity muslin squares all over again.
Friends have expressed concern, wondering why we would do this to ourselves – concern for the possible strain on our marriage, the logistic difficulties, the undeniable effect another baby will have on our needy rowdy bunch of five.
I don’t really have an answer to give – and it’s quite boring to have to constantly reassure strangers that we aren’t part of a cult.
I’ve had to ignore the drunken rants from friends about our shameful contribution to the population crisis and had to tearfully admit my own inability to cope sometimes with the existing lot when they’re squabbling in public and out of control.
It’s not easy to feel constantly judged about choosing to have a big family when most people opt for two; and we have nothing to offer to those who think we are, at best, a bit mad and, at worst, selfish and delusional.
But we are a happy family that thrives on the chaos and the drama and the noise and the fun of it all, and we wanted a little more of that.
He or she will be the last one, mind.
You Don’t Need Much Stuff
We are starting from scratch because our last baby was so long ago.
With four months left, I have a girl name and a boy name sorted, a damp and cobwebby buggy under our stairs that someone gave us, one knitted blanket and a carseat stashed away. I am pretty much waiting for the neighbours to gave us all their castoffs, and will figure out anything else I need when the time comes.
There’ll be no nappy bag or steriliser, no musical bouncer or baby gates.
It’ll be a scantily-accessorised baptism by fire, once again.