Recently I have been lucky enough to experience a baby boom of sorts among various friendship circles; women who are experiencing motherhood the first, second and third times around. Some know the drill, some are new to the circuit, but all have one thing in common: they are at least 40 years old.
One friend in particular, a newbie if you will, had a sweet and simple path to motherhood. Pregnant for the first time at 40, her experience contradicts the script we often hear about women who start trying to conceive at this "uncertain" age: it was easy and it happened naturally. Yet, she decided to keep the news very much quiet for an extended period of time because she was riddled with anxiety. Terrified of the cautionary tales she had read online, she was hard-pressed to find a space that celebrated motherhood at what is becoming a much more common age to experience it.
When I heard her concerns, I decided to create a series that celebrates the myriad paths to motherhood at 40 and beyond. Here we will share honest, positive and supportive stories of women who, through whatever means worked best for them, are pregnant, having babies and raising toddlers, and for some older children at the same time. To start the series I asked mother of soon-to-be two, Jana, to share her story.
My husband and I were married for five years before we decided we wanted to have kids. I honestly thought we wouldn’t have any, but then the thought of growing old without a family seemed so unfulfilling. I was 37 when we started trying to get pregnant. Month after month, without a pregnancy, I didn’t really think much of it. I know everybody is different and for some it [can] take time.
Then I turned 38 and thought more seriously about why I wasn’t getting pregnant, and so we looked into fertility tests. I was actually shocked to learn that my ovarian reserve was highly diminished and that I was the problem.
After the tests, we decided it was either now or never. We started the IVF process in October 2014 and were given a 10% chance of having our own biological child. Hearing that was so upsetting, but I just forged ahead.
My body didn't respond to the first round of stimulation medication so we had to defer to an IUI. The IUI was unsuccessful, which we anticipated, and our hopes dwindled. Before starting the second round of medication, I started doing research on how I could prepare my body as best as possible to improve my chances. I started seeing an acupuncturist who specialized in fertility, took herbs and vitamins such as CoQ10 and exercised more. I also found an interesting piece of research that indicated that phthalates, which are found in many everyday beauty products, are known as hormone disruptors. I quickly threw all of those out and replenished with organic beauty products that did not include phthalates.
We started the second round of medication the next month, changed the protocol just a bit and, thankfully, my body responded as we hoped it would. Come egg retrieval day, eight eggs were mature, four of which fertilized. Out of those four, two made it five days to the blastocyst stage. We were ecstatic…two blastocysts! We also decided to do genetic testing because of my age, and thankfully both embryos were normal (and both were girls). We were on our way and planned for the embryo transfer.
My first embryo transfer was a success. I got the call that my blood test numbers were high enough to be a confirmed pregnancy. I went in two days later to ensure the levels were rising, but they weren’t. The clinic prepared me for the worst, and I was devastated. I miscarried. Our hopes dwindled even more and we knew we only had one embryo left.
So many thoughts raced through my mind: what if I miscarry again? Do we go through IVF again? How are we going to pay for it again? Do we consider a donor egg? On and on and on. We had to wait a couple cycles before the second embryo transfer, and finally the day came. The transfer went smoothly, and now we had to wait ten days before going in for the first round of blood work.
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The first round came back positive. Again, we were so happy but cautiously optimistic knowing we had to get through the second round of blood work. That morning came, and I had never been so nervous. The five hours it took for the clinic to call us back with the results were the longest five hours of my life. The call came, and tears of joy came next.
We had a beautiful and healthy little girl on February 1, 2016, whom we call our miracle baby. I often think of how devastating the loss was, but then I think, if not for that loss, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have Evie. We thought for sure we would just have one child.
Which brings me to my next pregnancy.
As Evie grew older, and her personality started shining through, we knew she would benefit from having a sibling. We finally decided again, it was now or never, and by this time I was 41. We knew of course we were going to start IVF again since we didn’t have any embryos left. So I went down the same path as I did with Evie: acupuncture, vitamins, phthalate-free products. I also added in acai supplements this time around. Aside from that, I wanted to do everything the exact same way.
We met with our doctor and went through blood work again to see where my levels were. My ovarian reserve was even more diminished however, and there was one indicator (I can’t remember the name) that was a bit better, so realistically, I wasn’t any worse than when I started with Evie. My successful birth with Evie was also on our side and, if we had not had her, my doctor would have really pushed us towards a donor egg.
Even so, we knew we had limited funds, and we could only give it one shot. We went back and forth on whether or not to use my own eggs and do IVF, or go the safe route and do a donor egg to more than triple our chances of a successful outcome. We looked at donor profiles and even managed to narrow down our list, but ultimately, we decided to go with IVF.
We planned on starting in October 2017 but, for some reason, my cycle was extremely late. That pushed us to November 2017 and when I went in for my baseline ultrasound they discovered a cyst, so we had to postpone until the next cycle. Unfortunately, the clinic’s lab was closed for holidays which meant they did not do any IVF starts in December. So then we were looking at January 2018, but we had a family vacation planned that would not have worked for a cycle start. With trying to time my cycle with the start of medications, we were looking at March 2018. This was a disappointment to me because, again, I’m 41 and biological time wasn’t really on my side.
Since the start was a few months out, I took a break from acupuncture and thought, “Well, I’m just going to start enjoying my wine again.” Then, this past New Year’s Eve, I took a pregnancy test and to my surprise it was positive. My husband and I couldn’t believe it. We even went to the store for two other boxes.
I called the clinic to let them know and they offered for me to come in for blood work to also confirm. To my surprise, I got naturally pregnant at age 41, and I am now 16 weeks along with another girl.
It’s funny, because I thought I would have to go through the same process as I did with Evie in order for me to get pregnant again. But this little girl has proved a different path and already has her own unique story, for which I’m so thankful. The way this second pregnancy has turned out (so far) has been so serendipitous. We started this journey with two girls and, in losing one, we thought one would be it. But, as it turns out, we get to end our journey with two girls, just as it was supposed to be.