The warnings started shortly after I had my first child, Mara. I was 34, a year ago that I was medically classified as a geriatric mother & # 39; – the age at which the risk of pregnancy complications starts to multiply.
At the time the term seemed almost comically archaic and does not reflect that women in their forties will give birth more often than teenagers in their teens. Figures released last week show that more than one in 25 new mothers is now in their forties.
I felt young and healthy. I looked young (I thought!). No geriatric fuss. But people started making remarks such as: & # 39; You better go, unless you want Mara to be an only child. & # 39;
I know how annoying it is to get a lecture about fertility.
Full joy: Tessa at home with Elena
My answer? An eye movement and an inner summary of all the reasons why it was not the right time for a second child: job loss, a bad place in my marriage, the death of my father. By the way, if I were fertile in my early thirties, would a few years postpone make no difference? How wrong I was.
Three months ago – when I was 44 – I finally got a baby. I can not believe that Elena is here. I am so excited that I do not even feel tired. But the last five years of my life have been lost by a terrible roller coaster of desperate desire, interrupted hope, miscarriage, fertility medications and pain – both physically and emotionally.
As pregnancy rates decrease in every other age group, the number of women who, like me, became pregnant in their forties, has risen over the past thirty years, from about 12,000 in 1990 to almost 29,000 per year now. And I will descend as another statistic that makes having a baby in your 40's seem relatively easy.
But these figures hide the fact that older women are no more fertile than they ever were. I soon discovered that late motherhood is often accompanied by a painful background story. In my case, what I had considered self-evident a few years earlier had become almost impossible.
That is why my message is to younger women: do not wait, please. Do not go through what I did.
There is never a perfect time. We recovered our marriage, my career continued, I recovered from the loss of my father. It turned out that everything was possible, except having a baby.
I was 39 when my husband and I went for a second child. Nothing happened. Six months and then a year passed. Still nothing.
As any woman who hopes to become pregnant will know, is a year of trying a long time. And the panic grew. Did I leave it too late?
And so I found myself in one of Britain's largest assisted conception units in Guy & # 39; s Hospital in London. Where Mother Nature could no longer supply, would modern science intervene?
Many women clearly had the same idea, as one third of the female patients at Guy's ACU is over 40. But although IVF success rates increased, senior consultant gynecologist Tarek El-Toukhy stated: & # 39; is non-age-related fertility problems that generally improve in treatment. As ovaries and eggs age, there is much less that we can do. & # 39;
The statistics support this. A little more than 33 percent of women under 35 years of age ends with a baby after one round of IVF. But for women older than 42, the & # 39; live birth rate & # 39; to less than ten percent. This is less than two percent for women over 44, because the egg quality decreases as they age, making them less likely to be implanted in the uterus. No wonder that on that first day I cycled home from the clinic in tears.
I was almost 41 when I started my first round IVF. I knew that the odds were drastically stacked against me, but I had not figured out how unpredictable our reproductive systems may be.
Elena with her big sister Mara
After a year of fertility treatment, I had been pregnant three times, but I still did not have a baby.
There was the cough of adrenaline when a test came back positive and the wonderful feeling of anticipation that accompanied swollen breasts and rising hormones.
Then the crash came. Crying, bleeding, cramp and pain that I had never experienced before, a nagging pain for a vital presence that was no longer there.
At any age, pregnancy loss can be devastating, but it is particularly cruel when you are sub-fertile – or "over the hill", as a family member put it. Unfortunately, he had a point – my ectopic pregnancy, when the embryo implanted outside the uterus, and a miscarriage of eleven weeks was almost certainly due to my advanced age. Midwife Roger Smith, an expert in IVF at King's College Hospital, London, is a fact. & # 39; For a woman of 40 years old, miscarriage occurs in the first trimester in about 38 percent of the cases and that rises to 70 percent in a 45-year-old.
& # 39; It becomes more difficult to achieve an established pregnancy for 12 weeks because poor egg quality often leads to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo. & # 39;
I was not alone. I saw women of my age who were stark waiting for IVF consultations they could not afford, or doubled in hospital corridors and sobbed silently for another loss. One friend had seven miscarriages before she eventually had her second child of 45 years old.
Mr. Smith says many women he treats with more than 40 people who receive a living birth do so with eggs from a much younger donor-even if they do not admit it. & # 39; There is a tendency for people, especially when they stand out, not to be completely honest about how they have become pregnant. & # 39;
Astonishing was that I got pregnant after two IVF rounds and that remained so after 12 weeks. I was high as a kite, invincible, overjoyed.
But then I caught listeriosis, a bacterial infection of food.
In my second trimester, two months before my 42nd birthday, I had a late miscarriage. My little son had died in me. I now know where the expression & # 39; climb on the walls & # 39; comes from.
I threw myself around, groping, crying, crying for my son. Even my IVF gynecologist, who regularly has to deal with grief, cried – undoubtedly the impossibility of ever getting pregnant.
Most women agree that the only way to really overcome such a loss is to have another baby. So I kept trying.
If you know the joy a baby brings, you may be able to imagine the pain if you fail to have one.
Like many women in my situation, I experienced emotions that I did not know existed in me: fear, isolation, despair, envy.
I avoided mothers with pushchairs, sent me away from brothers and sisters at the gate of the school and fought daily against suicide, with the growing knowledge that my predicament could be avoided so easily a few years earlier. How sorry I was for what I had lost: the ability to create and cherish new life. I was apparently a woman in the prime of her life, but I could not have a baby. I could not give my husband a second child and give my daughter no brother or sister as a gift.
I never thought that I would be the woman who would make me go through countless cycles of IVF in search of a perfect egg. But when I was at the age of 43, despite the diminishing opportunities and limited resources, I was.
Infertility cost me friendships, work and a lot of money: seven rounds of IVF, totaling £ 32,000. Holidays are a thing of the past and we do not have a car anymore. But in the end I struck gold. I had stopped treatment, but still had a frozen embryo from my sixth cycle – and that embryo became baby Elena.
You can tell from my story that everything is possible nowadays. If you're 40 and where I was two years ago, that's probably the message you need to hear and I wish you all the luck in the world.
But if you are a decade younger, keep in mind that if Elena had not arrived, this article would be too painful to write.
Instead of pink congratulatory cards, there would have been silent grumbling: "How could she be so foolish? Spend that money if she already has a child. & # 39;
But now nobody looks at Elena and tells me she was not worth it.
We tend to hear only about miracle births. The society likes winners; failure and loss are much more difficult to share. Unfortunately, the result is a distorted picture of what is possible.
When Elena finally became a proven pregnancy after 12 weeks, I was terrified and exhausted for the rest of the six months.
I became pregnant exactly ten years after the conception and birth of my first daughter, but the two experiences were incomparable.
Because I was fully aware of the increased risk of birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities in older women, I never slept the night before a neonatal scan.
With much lower energy levels, work proved to be a heavy task.
Mr. Smith confirms that the risk for older mothers is higher during pregnancy, and that includes the risk of maternal mortality. "We see age-related problems in 45-year-olds when heart disease occurs that we would not have with a younger woman," he says.
I was lucky. My pregnancy with Elena turned out to be incident-free, but when my team confirmed that I had a low-lying placenta, I quickly agreed with a caesarean section.
It is an important operation that often does not allow the mother to move for weeks, sometimes months, and yet it is older women who are more inclined to choose.
With my first child I had a home birth minus pain relief. Then I was so blas, I even made a film about the experience.
After a five-year battle, the birth of Elena would always be a joyful event, and it turned out that it was. But having a baby later in life is a completely different experience.
My father is dead now, my mother has bad eyesight; Elena's cousins are much older, like the children of my friends; therefore care options and Elena's access to the extended family have been reduced.
Of course I squeeze myself every day – I won the lottery of life. But it did not have to be that difficult.