About 11 years ago, after having had two great kids, resulting from smooth-sailing pregnancies at ages 29 and 31, my husband and I realized we wanted a third child. Pregnancy at age 37 actually came easily again but didn’t stick—and we struggled through two miscarriages.
I went from having been blissfully unaware of how common miscarriage is to thinking about it almost obsessively. I doubted a third child was really in the cards for us. I was convinced another pregnancy would surely end in more heartbreak. When I became pregnant again at nearly 39, I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. I didn’t announce my pregnancy for fear of “jinxing” it. I just couldn’t seem to allow myself to relax and enjoy the pregnancy, and I regret that now.
I kept the frustrations and worries bottled up; I didn’t think anyone would understand.
If only I had known then how many women shared these common struggles, particularly as we approach motherhood after 35. I recently read “Beyond the Egg Timer: A Companion Guide for Having Babies in Your Mid-Thirties and Older” by Maryland authors Sharon Praissman Fisher and Emma Williams. I wish I had been able to read this book a decade ago.
Williams is a public health researcher and Fisher is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and Buddhist lay teacher. Both experienced their own struggles with pregnancy after age 35. They decided to write “Beyond the Egg Timer” to help other women. The book draws upon a dozen real-life, personal stories from women in varying situations who found themselves navigating the challenges of pregnancy over 35. The narratives are honest, vulnerable and inspiring. And they are super easy to connect with—so many parts of each story rang true as I considered and compared our experiences.
Camaraderie in a book
Fisher and Williams thoughtfully reflect on each account from their professional perspectives, offering advice and evidence-based coping skills that readers can apply in their own lives. The book is divided into three sections to reflect recurrent reasons why women are having babies later in life: indecision, infertility and simply life’s way of not always working on your intended schedule.
In 1970, the average age of new moms was 21. Today, it’s nearly 30. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, birthrates for women ages 15 to 39 were decreasing, but the number of women ages 40 to 44 giving birth has been increasing by 3 percent each year since 1982. There are many benefits of having children later. Older women may have had more time to build careers, gain financial security, travel and become wiser and more confident, allowing them to feel more grounded, prepared and ready to tackle parenthood.
Pregnant in a pandemic: Read what these mothers say about it.
However, parenthood after 35 also comes with additional challenges. For starters, the term “advanced maternal age.” The much worse “geriatric pregnancy” or “elderly primgravida,” are pretty darn off-putting, aren’t they? There are certainly more precautions that health-care providers would like patients to take. That includes more screenings, more frequent checkups and perhaps stricter attention paid to stress factors. Yes, there are risks with any pregnancy, and for an older mom-to-be. Those risks can create even more fear and uncertainty for the pregnant woman and also for those who surround her.
There are also societal judgments and pressures, and there’s simply never a shortage of people who want to take the opportunity tell you the worst possible stories about what can go wrong. Unlike the Negative Nellies and Debbie Downers of this world, “Beyond the Egg Timer” maintains a positive energy, aiming to inspire and motivate women embarking on an uncertain pursuit of childbearing a bit later in life. Fisher and Williams reinforce the importance of connections, flexibility, humor and acceptance.
They also coined the term “pregtiquette” with helpful lessons on how to address the social awkwardness and “icky emotional and interpersonal situations that can arise” while trying to conceive and being pregnant. For example, pregtiquette vignettes demonstrate how to handle common scenarios, such as unsolicited advice, nosey questions about fertility, intrusive opinions on birth plans and how to respond to a pregnancy announcement from a friend or relative when wrestling with your own fertility-related issues.
Another section explores self-care and mindfulness to manage stress and create healthier relationships with our own thoughts. It reminds us that “we cannot control when we will conceive or if we encounter major health issues along the way. We can only control our response.” There’s even some handy basic instruction on how to meditate. If stress is more pervasive and becomes anxiety, the authors note that talking to a therapist and pursuing help such as cognitive behavioral therapy can be empowering and ease suffering. Plus, the book outlines a host of recommended additional resources on fertility and conception, mental health, mom blogs, pregnancy and parenting.
We’re not alone
The personal stories are the heart of the book, presenting different perspectives and giving new ways to think about things. Fisher says goals of “Beyond the Egg Timer” are to normalize having children later in life and give you a chance to better understand your own feelings and concerns. She says: “Maybe you’re like me: ambitious, goal-oriented and experienced at working really hard and really smart toward something and achieving it. I give a lot, expect a lot and, at the core, attempt to control a lot. But here is the thing: Pregnancy is not like that. Parenting is certainly not like that. Life is not like that.”
The messages within will resonate with many women who never pictured themselves in this situation. If you or a loved one would appreciate some compassion and coping skills for the unpredictable journey to motherhood in later years, this book has much to offer.