There is no way to compromise on an issue like this. As much as the census may claim that American families have one point something children per household, you can’t have half a baby.
I’m 44, and I bled again this month at exactly 27 days—the calendar of my body, clockwork of my reproductive system, as good as when I was 24. Yet each month goes by—for the past two years, since a miscarriage at 42—with no pregnancy to show for the ample time I’ve spent in the bedroom with my husband.
I should not be surprised by this. Everyone, including the fertility doctor I visited, tells me that a woman in her early to mid-40s should not expect to get pregnant, and when it does happen, often to the unsuspecting, it’s always a statistical aberration.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever spent time weeping in front of the computer with a second glass of wine (who me?) while reading hopeful messages on message boards from both the actual statistical aberrations (I got pregnant! So can you!) and those who think they could be a statistical aberration (I’m 45 and trying for my first child!), you’ve come to understand that even when the cards are clearly stacked against you, you will still hope that one good egg falls and is well met by sperm that swim so regularly through your female anatomy.
This happens—this hope in the face of near impossibility—precisely because we may feel young, we may look young, because we bleed at exactly the same time each month, because Halle Berry announces a surprise pregnancy at age 46, because we already have a child naturally conceived well into our late-30s. Whatever the reason, we may believe that if it could happen to someone else, then, surely, it could happen to us. To me.
But, really, what we must look at is personal evidence to the contrary: Two years of regular sex, a miscarriage at 42, the fertility doctor who says, “even if we do intra-uterine insemination, there’s only a 15% chance of success.” Therefore, regardless of others’ reproductive success, we—I—must admit that no one else’s narrative matters.
You are your own unique body, and I am mine.
My full account goes something like this: I married the true love of my life at 37, conceived two months later, and had my only child at 38. Prior to the wedding, my husband said, “Yes, let’s have one child and make a small family.”
And so we did. Just like that. Then I went to him when our son was 2 and I said, “I want another,” and he said, “We agreed on one.” Then I pleaded and wept for two more years while we had protected sex. Then I got pregnant by accident and miscarried. We fought bitterly. Several months later, he acquiesced. He said, “Look, if another child means this much to you, then let’s try.” But by this point, as much as he was willing to make his wife happy even if it would make him unhappy, my body said, “No.”
And this is where we stand. This is how it has happened for me.
When I met my husband, I was tending bar at a small Italian restaurant while attending grad school for poetry, and childbearing couldn’t have been further from my mind. I said to my friend, “That guy, that guy, is the one for me.” Then he broke up with his girlfriend, and I broke up with my boyfriend, and here we are, 11 years later.
I still think he’s the one for me, but here’s the part of our story where the tension deepens. Here is where we have to work through my resentment because I tried to renegotiate the terms of our agreement regarding family size, and he would not re-neg. It was as much his right as it was mine to ask for reconsideration. He is not the bad guy. He had, and has, logic and our age—his and mine—on his side. He has me saying, on the record, “I think one child sounds perfect.” Though if any message can be taken from our story, it’s this: There is no way to compromise on an issue like this. As much as the census may claim that American families have one point something children per household, you can’t have half a baby.
Therefore, I love my spouse, the one I still sometimes resent, the one who said just over dinner with friends last night, “I never wanted children, but when I met Sonia, I thought I could finally fathom fatherhood.” And so I thank him for that, and I thank him for being such a kind man to his son, who presents yet more fodder for the argument against another child. Even though he is the best and only child we could hope to have, a true original, his placement on the autism spectrum has presented us with challenges that are manageable with one child, but could only be exacerbated by the possibility of doubling should autism present in another child born to us: us parents of advanced age.
I leave you with this anecdote: The last time we were able to fly with our son still lap-sized, in that tender interim between infancy and toddlerhood, we laid over in the Alaska Airlines first-class lounge at LAX on the way to Mexico for a family vacation. This was also the last time we flew first class because we were not wealthy, just lucky and able to work the upgrades angle. It so happened that Halle Berry— gorgeous and serene with no makeup—was also waylaid with her daughter, Nahla, on their way back to the Bay Area. Ms. Berry and I got to talking about motherhood, among other things, as the nanny helped to feed her daughter, and I asked her if she thought she’d have another. I assumed she was about my age, which was 40 at the time. She said—to paraphrase at this point because memory is murky—“Well, no. I’m 42, and our eggs just aren’t the same anymore. I think I’m done.” That was four years ago, and she now has a new son.
Providing that the claim is true, that her second pregnancy was a natural surprise (and she has a right to her privacy about such matters anyway), then it follows that, in rare instances, 46-year-olds do have babies. However, even though it seemed we had something in common in that lounge four years ago, our children playing together on the floor, our casual conversations about life lilting through the hour and a half we spent waiting for our planes, the truth is that, though she now has two children, it becomes more and more likely that I will not.
And I have to live with my own story.
Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with her husband, son, and two slightly overweight dogs. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, and Rattle, and her work can be found in the 2010 Best American Poetry. She also writes fiction and essays, and her prose can be found in Mamalode (forthcoming), the Monarch Review, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She teaches writing at USC.