When I’m lying flat, stretched out like a starfish on our king sized bed at night and trying to fall asleep in the cool dim of my bedroom, I imagine I can hear my ovaries crusting over, disintegrating, and blowing in a puff of breeze into the night sky.
I beg my body for just a little more time. One more month. Maybe three. I’ll do the fertility yoga. I’ll drink the fertili-tea. I’ll get the acupuncture. I’ll take the acrid herbal “uterine health” capsules and pour the rest of my cold brew down the drain.
At 43, I know that the pregnancy ship has almost certainly sailed. Part of me thinks I could swim out and catch it if I just tried a little harder. I could do the special diet and the supplements of dubious origin. I could lay face down on a table every week and get embroidered with acupuncture needles. I could get up every morning while my family sleeps and do the Yoga for Fertility DVDs. I could take my temperature before rolling out of bed each day and skim my cervix for “egg white consistency” mucus a few times each month. I could probably even get my husband on board with cringy, unsexy, hyper-scheduled sex. I did all of those things and more to conjure forth my daughter. I could do it again.
I don’t really need to entertain this To Do list. The helpfully depressing charts and graphs on every fertility related website all tell me that at 43, I have a 10% chance of conceiving with my own eggs in any given month, and a 50% chance of miscarriage even if I do manage to find one good egg to meet up with one stalwart sperm. IVF at 43 offers similarly low odds of success. My chances are very, very slim. But my grandmother gave birth to her sixth baby when she was 44, so, for the record, geriatric pregnancy is not unprecedented in my family.
I have baby fever, so menopause must be just around the corner. My uterus is clawing at me from the inside in its last sputtering gasps for life, desperate for some assurance of her relevance and evergreen utility. She and I have our toes at the very edge of that fertility cliff, and we both know we’re about to be pushed off. My hormones conspire to wring one more baby out of me in panicky desperation. After years of pregnancy ambivalence, my abdomen cranks into a tight knot as I shove my cart through Target and see the moms with their buzzy broods. A ruffly lemon print onesie inflicts a stab of actual pain in my eyeballs. Every pregnant belly and every mom and baby stroller combo in the neighborhood feels like a personal insult.
I’ve been almost perfectly content with one child for all six years of her life. The thought of another pregnancy or another screamy, sleepless new baby were not appealing to me at all, even if the idea of a sibling for my one kickass daughter has been pretty tempting. She is a brilliant bright light, and I’d love to give her a partner in crime, and someone to talk smack about her messed up parents with when she’s an adult.
But another baby? I was pregnant three years ago and miscarried in the first trimester. We weren’t really trying – in that, I was not doing my To Do list of fertility-boosting semi-science or scheduling sex. Somehow, I got pregnant anyway! At 40! And was excited and terrified for about three weeks. When I realized I was miscarrying, I was 70% heartbroken and 30% relieved. I wasn’t most afraid of birth complications or genetic abnormalities or even the increased chance of multiples (I was definitely worried about those things, but vaguely). No, I was saliently terrified that I would gain weight with this second baby and I wouldn’t be able to lose it. When I imagined my post-40 postpartum, I saw the specter of a person who was bigger than I could emotionally or psychologically handle.
When I lost that pregnancy and I admitted to myself that my fear of weight gain was bigger than my fear of much more dire health risks of “advanced maternal age”; that was my fat-phobic Come To Jesus moment.
Mentally wrestling with the miscarriage and my warped view of my body and my deep, deep fear of weight gain was the catalyst for my first efforts towards body acceptance. It has not been fast or easy or linear work. I haven’t “arrived”.
Bet here I am, three years later, ovaries crusting over, exerting real daily effort to appreciate the body that I have no matter what size my stretchy jeans. Today I feel ready to confront that fear of weight gain and just do the whole damn Get Pregnant thing, but it’s too late. If ever you need a cautionary tale for how internalized fat phobia can screw up your actual life, let me be your case study. This body has carried me through a lot, and I’m grateful. The body I have today – my real one, not an imaginary diet-culture-infused smaller one – is pretty great. I wish I had realized that much earlier.