Pregnant at 39

Pregnancy after the age of 35 is called geriatric because there are increased health risks to having kids later in life. But there are also benefits that don’t always get talked about. It was a journey to get here, but being pregnant at 39 is an exciting time and I hope me sharing my experience will help support others in the same boat.

Delay of game.

For those of you that listened to last season, you know that I was an almost middle-aged bride this past July, 2021. I was supposed to get married in May 2020, but then a global pandemic hit and well, like a lot of couples all around the world – our plans had to change. We moved our wedding back three times. First it was August 2020, which was when we were much more optimistic about this whole COVID thing. Then it was May 2021, however we actually had a non-related COVID calendar conflict that forced us to move it one more time to July 2021. 

Every time we moved it back, it was hard because at one point it felt like it may never happen. But really what made it hard was that it also meant pushing back our attempt to conceive and start a family of our own. We could have been one of those couples that had the zoom wedding and then had the reception at a later point, but I waited almost forty years to get married to begin with, and we got engaged eight years in, so we really wanted the celebration with our friends and family. We didn’t want to settle; we wanted our big day. And it didn’t make it easier that some of our closest loved ones had to travel from around the US and outside of the country. 

Each time we pushed it back, we were hoping we’d have a better chance of those that were on the top of our list would be able to travel to witness our special day. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly concerned that these delays would potentially be the make or break of our ability to have children. When we got engaged, I would have gotten married at 37. Our first couple shifts would put me at 38 and moving it to July 2021 meant I would be almost 39. While any of these options qualified me for a geriatric pregnancy, for some reason I had it in my head that I had to get pregnant prior to 40 if I wanted a chance at a natural conception. I have no idea if this was true, but that is the timeline I was working under. 

Geriatric Pregnancy? How Dare You.

Let’s talk about the Geriatric Pregnancy. First of all, the name sucks. Seriously, could we not have come up with any better name? We had to use an adjective that literally means old people? F-You medical community. Maybe use a little EQ next time you come up with a name. But the unfortunate reality is that it’s called a geriatric pregnancy because your age brings increased pregnancy risks – similar to that of old people and their healthcare. They say that starting in your forties, when you have aches and pains, your doctor just starts saying – well, that’s part of aging. Almost like they give up because you’re getting older and your body is breaking down. 

That is a geriatric pregnancy. The older a woman gets, the more things don’t work as well as they would have back in her twenties. For example, you have less viable eggs to begin with as your body has been consistently releasing non-fertilized eggs since you got your first period. Fun fact I learned during my journey – geriatric pregnancies are more likely to have multiples (twins or triplets) because your body is literally increasing the rate in which it’s releasing, or getting rid of, eggs. Basically your ovaries are giving up at the possibility of having children and there’s a clearance sale of eggs from your body – Store is closing! Everything must go! 

The chance of miscarriages increases by 20-30%. Your chance of birth defects increase dramatically with every passing year. For example, if you are 20, your risk of having a baby with down syndrome is 1 in 2,000 (still higher than I would have expected if I’m being honest). At 35, that jumps to 1 in 350. At 40, that’s 1 in 100. And at 45, 1 in 30!  Women have more of a chance of other fun side effects like gestational diabetes, blood clots, more of a chance of a C-Section and hypertension because our bodies aren’t in their prime anymore. And we have a harder time “bouncing back” because our metabolism has slowed since our twenties and it’s harder for us to lose weight in general. 

Now all this information sucks. I know. I feel the same way – but it’s scientific fact so deal with it. But it’s not all bad ok? There are multiple studies that have shown that older moms tend to be better educated and have higher incomes and therefore can provide better resources for their children. It’s shown that older moms tend to live longer and the children of older moms may end up healthier, more well-adjusted and better educated. Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just reporting what studies have shown ok? 

The clock is ticking. 

After waiting until 39 to get married, we started trying right away. Hell, I was taking prenatal vitamins six months before the wedding to prepare because I read online that it helps if you are thirty-five and older to have a healthier pregnancy. The ironic thing is it wasn’t until my mid-thirties I was even sure I wanted a child. I had gone back and forth on it my whole life but it wasn’t until I thought I was pregnant at one point, my mindset changed. For the first time, I took a pregnancy test and felt a ping of disappointment when it was negative. Yeah! It was a shock to me, especially considering it was days before we were supposed to go to Argentina and half the trip was dedicated to the wine country in Mendoza. Being pregnant would have really put a damper on that trip! 

That realization that maybe I did want the option of having a kid made me go to a fertility clinic to get some testing done. In my mind I was thinking I would freeze my eggs because while I wanted to have kids at some point, this second may not be the best time. After all the tests, the doctor said that to freeze my eggs, over the age of 35, she would recommend two rounds. This means, two rounds at 6 months each – so a year of my life of getting my blood checked at the doctor’s office multiple times a week, not working out for a year, and giving myself 365 injections with a needle. Yeah. This girl, who works out five to six days a week for not just her physical health but her mental sanity wouldn’t be able to work out for a year. This girl, who can’t even look at a needle at the dr. office or when giving blood has to stick it in my own ass every day? Oh, and all of this would cost about twenty to thirty thousand dollars because none of it was covered by my insurance. 

And after all of that – to use these eggs we would need to do IVF which also is mostly not covered by insurance and could cost on average $18,000 per cycle in Illinois where I live. And, after all of that – there is no guarantee I could actually get pregnant! Wow, I was not expecting all of this. I remember leaving the doctor’s office in a cab, crying. I was so frustrated because for the first time I felt the weight of my decision to wait to have kids. I was now starting to feel the full impact of my decision to focus on my career and my relationship ahead of kids. It made me angry. Angry that this pressure exists. Angry that if I wanted to give myself the insurance of frozen eggs, all of this would come at my expense. And I’m not talking about money as Christian would have split it with me – I’m talking about the physical and mental toll this whole process would take. That would fall on me. The impact of hormones on my body and mind. The negative physical and mental consequences of removing fitness from my life. 

Christian and I are very active people. Always signing up for races, both with consistent workout routines. The idea of watching him continue to be able to do these physical challenges while I sat on the sideline made me truly concerned I would get jealous. Having to go through all of this and potentially never actually be able to conceive made me concerned I would come to resent this man I love. Resent him for waiting so long to get married when I had been ready earlier. After a lot of thought and discussions, we decided that this would not be our journey. We would give it our best shot to get pregnant naturally and if that didn’t work, then it wasn’t meant to be. 

The time has come. 

So once we got married, I was ready to start. I had been taking my prenatals. I had multiple apps that helped track my ovulation. I was cutting down on my drinking. I was doing all the things that would give us the best chance. But each month, when I’d get my period, I would feel a little sense of failure. Why was it hard? As women, our whole lives we are taught that if you have sex, you’ll get pregnant. At any point, any time. Sex equals pregnancy. Well, first of all – I call bullshit on that. 

Why weren’t we told the truth growing up? It’s not whenever you have sex. In reality, there’s a small window of three to five days tops. Outside of that, you’re pretty much in the clear as your chances are very low. 

My whole life, getting my period gave me a sigh of relief that I wasn’t pregnant. And now for the first time, it gave me concern that my parents were right this whole time. Let’s face it, as an elder Millennial, having your parents right is one of the worst consequences I could imagine. What if they were right that I should have prioritized my personal life over my career? What if they were right that I was waiting too long to start a family? What if my past choices were now going to prevent me from having a future I only recently realized I even wanted? And the scariest part? I didn’t have all the time in the world. Our time is limited and for the first time in my life, I felt the pressure of time. 

We’re pregnant! Well, almost.

But each month we did our best, like we promised each other. In early November, my apps started to ask me if I’d gotten my period yet because according to their algorithm, I was late. So I took a test, and it was positive! I couldn’t believe it! No, really – this was the first time in my life I had seen a positive pregnancy test and my eyes didn’t believe it was true. So I took another and that was positive too! I told Christian when he came home from work and we went to dinner to celebrate. We were talking about the nursery, if it would be a boy or girl, what sports we’d put them in – we were all in and thrilled. 

That was until three days later, I started spotting. And the next day I had my period. What just happened? I was so confused, and crushed. Did I just miscarry? I saw our dream slip away and we only got to relish in it for a couple days. I went to the doctor and they told me I had a chemical pregnancy. What the hell is that?! No seriously – never in my life had I heard about a chemical pregnancy. For those of you that also were in the dark on this phenomenon, it’s when your egg is fertilized and becomes an embryo, but you lose it within the first five weeks. What makes it a chemical pregnancy is that because you have an embryo, you start producing the pregnancy hormone, which is what gives you a positive test. But it ends very early before there’s ever a fetus and a lot of the times, it never even implants in your uterus. 

According to my doctor, apparently these are very common. To the point where most women don’t realize they even had one because it happens so fast. They just think they had a period start a couple days late. But if you are trying, and using at home tests, you’re more likely to know because you are testing early and at home tests are very accurate. I guess this is a good thing – we want accuracy when taking these things. In a way, the idea that this is so common was helpful, but the loss of what could have been still hurt. What helped me get through it was hope. 

Prior to this, I was scared I couldn’t get pregnant. But to me, this was my body making it past the first step. We had created an embryo. My body and his sperm were capable of producing an embryo. That’s step one! Through the use of condoms and birth control, I had been telling my body to not do this for twenty years. It made sense my uterus needed a practice run before the real deal. You don’t go run a marathon without training right? To me, this was my body training for the real deal. This time it was an embryo, next time, a baby. At least, I hoped. 

New job, new embryo. 

When I got my period in January, it was officially six months without success. So I talked to my doctor and got a prescription for Clomid – a pill that helps women get pregnant. I’m not a doctor, but apparently it helps increase your ovulation and make your ovulation timing really exact so you increase your chance of conception. It’s most commonly used for women over 35 and has seen a lot of success. Now the trick is there is a very specific process in which you use this pill and our schedule in February was not going to work. Christian was headed to Israel for two weeks for school right at the time I would be ovulating so we’d have to wait for March to give it a try. 

But that was ok, because I had accepted a new position and was starting the first week in February so that month would be busy anyway. I had resigned from my previous role back in December and taken a month off before I started my new position to just get my head right. I had been burnt out and stressed like half the population it seemed and needed a break. But I was excited to start my new role and we would pick up trying to conceive in March. In the meantime, I was looking forward to giving myself a break from worrying about conception as well. It had been six months of ups and downs trying to have a baby. Being hopeful we did our part on the right ovulation days, the two week of the hopeful waiting game that it worked and then the disappointment when we found out it didn’t. A two month break would be welcomed prior to starting back up. 

So that’s what we did. We had planned a trip to Charleston in hopes of getting out of the cold weather for a couple of days before I started my new gig and Christian would be traveling for three out of the next four weeks. After Charleston, I went the next long weekend to Florida with a friend of mine to have some fun at my mom’s. Things were great. While we were in Florida, my friend had her period and it made me realize that I hadn’t started mine. I had an abnormal period in January so I didn’t think much of it. 

When we got home, I kept waiting for it to start but it didn’t. Christian came home from a Miami trip and I still hadn’t gotten it. So I took the one test I still had at home and it was positive. Although this time, we didn’t jump for joy. We were cautious. We were both scared to get too excited in the event it didn’t continue like back in November. So we held in our excitement and decided to wait a couple more days to see if it stuck. 

Couple days later, I took another test and was positive. Two days after that, I had a previously scheduled doctor’s appointment so I got a blood test and that was positive too! It was official. I was pregnant! 

Pregnant and Isolated. 

The thing people don’t talk about during those initial weeks of pregnancy is how lonely it can be. Especially after your husband leaves for two weeks only three days after your positive blood test. I found out at five weeks I was pregnant and we had a full four weeks to go until our first prenatal exam. Those four weeks were pretty much torture. 

It was too early to tell people we were pregnant out of fear we would have to tell them about a miscarriage later. But I was definitely feeling pregnant. I had all the symptoms. Crazy fatigue that I can only describe like this – remember watching Tom and Jerry? When Tom would get so tired he would try different methods to keep his eyes open? He would try to tape them open, or hold them up with toothpicks? That was me. I would be fine one minute, then all of the sudden, my eyes were so tired I physically couldn’t keep them open. I was nauseous all of the time. Thankfully I only threw up once, but if I wasn’t eating, I was nauseous. I was so constipated. Maybe TMI, but that was the worst symptom of all. I was so constipated, I had stomach pains which were so bad one night I was convinced I had to go to the ER. Oh, and through all of this, I was home alone and spending all day on video conferencing as my new job had a video-on culture. 

I’m sure my colleagues were puzzled why there were days I looked like hell – and this was because there was a three day span I felt so bad I couldn’t bring myself to even shower. Thank god they couldn’t smell me through the computer. Or were they shocked at how  much I ate because I was eating in every single meeting? The hardest part was the excruciatingly long wait for that first prenatal appointment. I desperately wanted a doctor to look at me and reassure me everything looked great. I was so hesitant to allow myself to get too excited until I at least made it to the first appointment. What I didn’t realize was my hesitancy wouldn’t be eliminated at that first appointment. There would be more hurdles to overcome. 

It’s been a journey. 

It had been a journey to get to this point. I had feelings of anger and frustration after going to the fertility doctor. I was hit in the face with the harsh reality that my time wasn’t unlimited. I feared that I had waited too long and prioritized in a way that would prevent me from this next step. I was terrified that my parents’ warnings all these years were valid and I should’ve listened to them earlier. Even if it was for just a few days, I experienced the feeling of loss from a chemical pregnancy. But here I was, 39 and naturally pregnant. I realize how lucky I am to not have needed supplements or IVF to get here, and I’m thankful. While six months felt like a lifetime, in reality, that is quick – for my age. We were one of the lucky ones. My hope now is our luck continues as we navigate through this geriatric pregnancy. Ugh – I still can’t say it without cringing. We seriously need a new name! 

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Until next time! 

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