Expecting the unexpected: Getting knocked up at 42

At 42, novelist Lana Citron thought the doctor's words, 'you're pregnant', were a joke. Her chances of becoming pregnant were almost nil. Here, she gives an honest account of navigating the minefield of becoming an older mother, of telling her oldest son and her ex-partner the news and why she feels lucky.

'This could be an amazing opportunity, a divine gift. Then again, it could just mean three years of sleepless nights, baby sick and dirty nappies.' - Lana Citron. Photo / Thinkstock
'This could be an amazing opportunity, a divine gift. Then again, it could just mean three years of sleepless nights, baby sick and dirty nappies.' - Lana Citron. Photo / Thinkstock

I sat facing the doctor as she tapped away at the computer. It was 5.30pm on a Thursday evening. She was hoping this last appointment would be brief, an easily diagnosed problem.

"Yes?"

The words forming in my mouth were nothing short of miraculous "Yes ... ?" she hurried me on.

"I ... I ... seem to be," I muttered eventually, "pregnant."

For the past couple of weeks I had been emotionally at sea, tears breaking free, fast-flowing downward. I'd assumed stress was the culprit. I had, of late, been very stressed, hence the missed period. It had to be that or an ovarian cyst, female trouble but not of the pregnant kind.

The doctor glanced up from the screen. "You seem shocked."

I was. This should not be happening. For the past 10 years, I had used the same reliable method of contraception.

"I'm on the coil, Doctor."

"Oh," she said, "so it wasn't planned?"

I am not the planning sort. Hours earlier, I had taken a pregnancy test to rule out the impossible and then, perched on the edge of my bath, watched flummoxed as two pink bars appeared in the plastic rectangular window of the tester. One bar would signify single status, two bars ...

Immediately sobs broke forth, then I googled the words "coil, pregnancy, IUD and copper". Within seconds, the following came up: miscarriage (high chance of), ectopic pregnancy (ditto), and 99.8 per cent effective (coil).

Added to the above is the fact that I am a 42-year-old single mother of a 12-year-old. I am no spring chicken. My fertility should be on the wane. Around me are friends desperate to conceive; IVF'd up to the eyeballs, contemplating all manner of 21st century technology just to get pregnant. The chances of this happening were one in a ... my maths deserted me. Blue moon?

Logically, I realised that before anything, I needed to determine whether the pregnancy was viable or not.

Back at the doctor's surgery, I was informed I would need an emergency ectopic scan as soon as possible.

"If," she continued, "this is an ectopic pregnancy, you do realise you may need surgery."
Silence.

Honestly, this really shouldn't be happening. Three weeks before, I had split up with the man I had been seeing.

We had reached the six-month mark - the "where do we go from here?" stage. A decision (his) was made that rather than set sail into the sunset, it was better to abandon ship. Since then, there had been zero communication between us. All I knew was that currently he was on tour with his recently reformed glam-rock band.

Outside the surgery, I toyed with my mobile before dialling his number. The call went straight to his answer phone. I left a garbled message, alluding to the fact that we needed to talk, as I had been to the doctor's. It was only later I realised I could just as easily have been talking about an STD.

The following morning, in A&E, I was filling in forms and answering questions. From there, I was directed to the early obstetrics department, a place I was to become very familiar with over the next few weeks.

The Ex hadn't called, so I texted a further plea, "am having an emergency scan - please do call".

About an hour and a half later, I lay on the hospital bed, covered in a white sheet. The doctor, armed with a camera, looked inside me.

"There it is," she announced.

"What is?" My insides presented on the screen were a swirl of white, grey, and black shadows.

"The coil."

"Anything else ... ?"

"Yes ... the egg."

"Is it ectopic?" I asked.

"No," she replied.

I repeated my question.

"No," she said.

I started laughing. Since childhood, nerves have always made me giggle. I was almost hysterical.

"But it's very early days," the doctor noted, calculating its size to determine its age at just over 3 weeks.

Barely pregnant, I was advised there was a strong chance of miscarriage, irrespective of whether the coil was left in or taken out.

I left to pick up my son from school. My psychological state remained consistent: one of shock. Reaching for a tissue from my bag, I noticed my phone blinking. It was the Ex: two missed calls. I called him back. This time, he answered. I told him all I knew.
"We should meet and talk," I said.

He agreed. This, I considered a positive sign and we arranged to meet for lunch on the weekend.

Discovering I was pregnant provoked a host of kaleidoscopic emotions spanning from abject fear to denial, absolute joy to disbelief. I reckoned this could be a turning point in my life. This could be an amazing opportunity, a divine gift. Then again, it could just mean three years of sleepless nights, baby sick and dirty nappies.

The possibility of this pregnancy even occurring had been so slim as to be practically anorexic. In a naive way, I saw the yolk (its present state) as a most tenacious being and I felt slightly beholden to give it at least a fighting chance. On the other hand, I am a selfish woman who loves her independence, adventure, travel, to dance, party and sometimes pretend she is stuck in some late-20s vacuum.

Less than a week before, my immediate future featured my teenage son's expected departure for boarding school early next year. As for myself, I had been nurturing vague plans to go to Paris and learn French. Being an author, this allows me in theory at least the luxury of working wherever I want. However, the reality is that the furthest I travel tends to be to my front room. Given my situation, living in Paris was not outside the bounds of possibility. Who cares if I was the oldest au pair in town? I would enrol in the Sorbonne, spout pseudo philosophy, and take up smoking again.

My first pregnancy was also a surprise. Over the past 12 years, I have fallen in love repeatedly with this boy at my side and on each occasion deeper and deeper. My relationship with his father, if unconventional (we never married nor even lived together - I live in London and he mostly in New Zealand), has been wonderful. However, he is a great and "very present" dad, emotionally and financially supportive of us both. There has never been any dashed expectations, bitterness, or acrimony between us. We have spent Christmas and summers with him in New Zealand and as a result, my son can drive a boat, fishes with aplomb and hunts possums with his father. He has goats he tends to at his father's home and has even tried his hand at selling organic grapefruits at the Blenheim Farmer's Market. It has been a very positive experience but, yes, I admit, at times lonely.

Initially, I found being in a state of pregnancy limbo most frustrating. There was no need to involve my son at this stage; acutely aware it was not only my life that would change but his too. It was hard hiding it from him. He kept asking if I had cancer because of the non-stop doctor's appointments I had to attend.

Over the next few weeks I kept my secret from almost everyone. Only a few knew of my predicament and it would remain that way until I was out of the miscarriage danger zone.

The coil was successfully removed yet I continued to bleed for several weeks. This was compounded by a walloping tiredness. By 9.30pm on a school night, I would disappear into Vassily Grossman's Life And Fate. Losing myself among its pages stopped me from worrying ... when I did, swathes of fear enveloped me. My rational logical mind demanded to know what I was doing. Was this what I wanted? What about Paris? All those talks about re-inventing yourself? Don't you know the 40s are the new 30s? The 30s ... the new 20s? Yes, yes, I'd hoped to regress back to my youth, but alas ...

And what about the Ex? What was happening there?'

The Ex (whom shall be known as the Glam Rocker) and I had taken up where we left off. Well, sort of ...

I like this man, a lot. His instinct matched mine and both of us felt intervention wasn't necessary and that we would see what hand fate dealt us. Of course, everyone loves a baby, and being a parent gives meaning to one's life. After all, it is the stuff of it. Yet the Glam Rocker and I are two very different species, our life experiences diametrically opposed.

For the past 12 years I had played mum in a leafy, northwest London suburb, tending to my son's needs which have always come first. The Glam Rocker spent that time surfing a rock 'n' roll wave. Let's be honest, the only thing he'd ever really had to tend to was his ego.

Anyway, following that initial call, we met for lunch. It had been almost a month since we had seen each other and in the politest way possible he tried to decipher if he was definitely and unequivocally the father: "What have you been up to?" he asked. "Been out at all? Any parties?"

I had been out and partying. Unaware and oblivious to my condition, on one occasion I had downed a fair few vodkas. I had met one guy and we had gone for a coffee, though, I hasten to add, not a late-night coffee.

Back then, the Glam Rocker's band was touring, allowing him and I time and space to absorb the news. I was all too aware that if I was beset by doubts, it was to be expected that he would be too.

Sure enough, one night he called to express them. I didn't want to listen. By that stage I was eight weeks and I knew that if he were to disappear, to take to the hills and flee, I would continue with the pregnancy.

I am not scared of being on my own. Loneliness has little or nothing to do with one's single status. Some of the loneliest people I know are those in relationships.

By the ninth week, the doctor said I would be treated as a first-time mother, a geriatric primagravida - not a particularly sexy image. He said, "your body will have forgotten it was ever pregnant before". I begged to differ. Physically, changes were abreast. Mine were huge, almost indecent. One of the first things I did was stock up on tummy support pants and underwired contraptions that hoist, and then hoist some more. Morning sickness had also arrived, as well as questions about where and how to have the baby.

To be honest, as long as I was in and out of that labour ward as swiftly as possible, I didn't care. Giving birth is no mean feat. It is undeniably painful. There are those that surrender to the pain, those that conquer the pain and those who elect to have caesareans.

I have a non-martyr approach to pregnancy and abhor the pink, soft focus in which it is sometimes conveyed. Giving birth is primal and rude. There will be blood, tears, sweat, tearing, and all manner of human effluvia.

Three weeks later I had the mother of all scans. This 12-week milestone scan determines whether the baby may have Down Syndrome and/or a host of other neural irregularities. It was a trying time and my mind pondered various what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.

The Glam Rocker accompanied me to the hospital. The process was now familiar: waiting, more waiting, blood tests, further waiting and finally the scan. I lay on the bed, the Glam Rocker beside me in a chair and then there it was. Our tiny interloper appeared proudly waving its newly formed limbs, all four of them: two arms, two legs. I was quite taken aback that it had a fully formed head, a jaw and nasal skeletal bone, eye sockets, a growing brain (my side of the family), a beating heart, and stomach. There was 4.5cms of life paddling away inside me, half a finger's worth. It existed within. It was only then that I realised I was not going to be waking up Bobby Ewing-style any day soon, declaring the past three months a dream.

Time, then, to break the news to my son. I had thought long and hard about how to tell him and timed it specifically. Earlier that day he had sat the exams for a boarding school. Many bristle at the thought of sending one's progeny away but this school is something else. I smuggled a note of motherly affectations into his pencil case, with such spurring words as "You can do it" and "Go Boy Wonder".

He later informed me it ended up in the adjudicator's hands. Her keen eyes had thought it was evidence of cheating.

Nevertheless, he survived the ordeal and at home was rewarded with a new Xbox game and ... the news.

Boy Wonder high-five'd me, then issued forth a sob. He was shocked. Being presented with an 18+ game was a unique experience, as was learning he would soon enough be an older brother.

I told him he would feel a whole host of things. He may hate me, feel disgust toward me, reject the idea, even accuse me of ruining his life (and this time with, let's face it, good teen reason). Then again, he may embrace the idea. Instead, he asked how it happened. Why I wasn't using sufficient contraception? He asked if I was going to have an abortion. What did the Glam Rocker think about it all?

Next, he grabbed his game console and began playing. Immediately, his anxieties eased. X-box is his teenage dummy and calms him. I left the room to let him absorb the information.

If telling my son was difficult, telling my parents was harder. I grew up in a Jewish family in Dublin in the 70s and left in the early 90s to seek my fortune in London, a city I have since come to love. My parents are of a certain generation. Traditionalists at heart, my father was shocked, my mother appalled on hearing the news.

"Whose is it?" they asked.

"Mine," I replied.

"Why do you always have to be so contrary?" muttered my father. "Who's the father?"
They had met the Glam Rocker once, for about a minute, in my garden at an end-of-summer party I had.

They asked if we would get married.

No.

"Engaged?"

No.

"Will you even live together?"

Too early to say ...

They were flabbergasted and didn't know how to respond. My dad put on the kettle.

I understood. They only wanted what many other parents would hope their pregnant daughter to have: basically, social legitimacy. That I am a 42-year-old woman with a teenage son and my own home is irrelevant. I am still - and will forever remain - their little girl. I need to be looked after, preferably by a man. My mother began twitching. "What have I reared?' she lamented.

Next in line to be told were my siblings. My youngest brother, a New York shrink, declared he was happy as long as I was happy.

"Are you," he asked with a searching shrink-tone of voice, "happy?"

Despite the increasing nausea, dry, itchy skin, (though I am not sure if this is from stretching or the central heating) and a continuous low-level headache, "Yes," I replied, "I am happy."

Truthfully, I felt incredibly lucky - lucky to be fertile at my age, lucky and gushingly proud of my son. Boy Wonder has taken this huge transition - so far - in his teenage stride. Even the fact that the baby is due on the weekend of his bar mitzvah in July has not completely thrown him. Lastly, I realise I have been extraordinarily lucky with the men in my life.

Boy Wonder's father has never disappointed us. Despite my perceived unconventional lifestyle, I believe very strongly in family and that every child deserves both a mother and a father. I just don't necessarily believe they have to live under the same roof.
Good parenting has nothing to do with one's social or marital status, though I concede it is more practical for two people to share the job of child-rearing.

However, being married does not necessarily deign parenting attributes on anyone. If you don't believe me, just go to see We Need To Talk About Kevin.

As for the Glam Rocker, perhaps it is because we are both of a certain age and experience that we are realistic in our expectations of each other.

Over the past few months his excitement toward this pregnancy has correlated with my expanding belly, and our affections (I hope I speak for both of us) have blossomed.

Still, let's not get overly mushy; he is currently touring the United States with his band, and booked to play a host of festivals every weekend for the next few months. Already I am a rock widow ... bar a recent bout of jet-settery when I was whisked away to New York to play the oldest groupie in town.

There are, of course, plenty of issues to contend with and bridges to be crossed; from the meeting of both families, to religious differences, the painful matter of circumcision, to where we will live, even if we will live together.

Meanwhile, I am now into my second trimester and all bodes well - or, rather, swell - as I have, at present, a bellyful of love flutters.

Currently working on a book about her pregnancy, The Diary Of An Accidental Mother, Lana Citron is the author of five novels. Her latest book is A Compendium Of Kisses.

- NZ Herald

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