“As for old age, embrace and love it. It abounds with pleasure if you know how to use it. The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in a man’s life, and I maintain that, even when they have reached the extreme limit, they have their pleasure still.” Seneca the Younger
A woman in the United States of America is considered geriatric by age thirty-five in terms of reproduction. A pregnancy is no longer just a pregnancy but a “geriatric” pregnancy. The acronym AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) wiggled its way into my health charts and the question “How are you feeling?” was enviably followed by confirming my age during medical visits while pregnant. I didn’t feel geriatric but according to the US medical system, I was just that.
My grandma was in her late thirties when she had children. My mother was forty years old when she had me. My stepsisters both had children in their late thirties/early forties, as well as my two brothers who procreated with woman well into their thirties. Essentially, everyone in my immediate family is a result or participant in/of geriatric pregnancy.
My son was born when I was thirty-seven years old and my daughter at forty. I had zero health issues with either pregnancy, age related or otherwise. But because of my advanced maternal age, I was allowed many more services through my insurance that younger women are not. I had more sonograms, genetic testing, 3-D ultrasound, and general office visits than younger mothers. The grossly unfair and largely inaccessible US health care system was tipped in my favor because of my age.
Within a few months of my son being born, I could see the benefits of being an older mother. The father and I both had cars, jobs, money, health insurance, and decades of experience of simply being alive. We didn’t have much family support, but we had already been humbled by age so that we were not too proud to ask others for help when we needed it. We built up a community around us.
Last week we went to Chicago as a family. Our daughter had some tummy troubles which turned a six-hour drive turn into a nine-hour drive and our son’s dairy allergy caused us to work a bit harder to find good food which ultimately resulted in me making sandwiches in the car as we drove. But my husband’s prior experience in Chicago allowed us to almost effortlessly find family friendly bathroom stops and suitable food.
We packed just what we needed and check-in to the hotel was seamless. Our kids zoned out on the tablets, that only allowed them to access parent approved kid apps. We flossed our teeth and commented on how hard the water was as I congratulated myself on bringing extra condition for my hair anticipating bad water.
We meditated as a family, like we do every night, and I rested my head on my buckwheat pillow that I brought from home as I drifted off for a peaceful night of rest. The next morning, we all had appropriate clothing for the drastic shift in temperature and proper footwear to deal with the rain.
We found a local diner for breakfast, and I ordered the egg white omelet with dry toast and my husband ordered oatmeal. The kids ordered whatever they wanted and of course didn’t want any of it by the time it arrived. They occupied themselves by drawing all over their bodies with a pen they found in my backpack. I didn’t mind because I knew that in that same backpack, I had alcohol wipes that would easily remove the pen.
We were served homemade jam with our dry toast, and I commented on how delicious it was. Not too sweet, nor too tart, it was just perfect jam. My husband and I discussed the jam while we sipped our hot coffee. By this time both our children were covered in pen drawings, but they were having a blast. Life was good.
Looking at my husband across the table cluttered with carnage from the kid’s meals and our healthy but not so flavorful breakfast where the jam was the highlight, I was overcome with gratitude. I joked about how getting older is no longer about good coffee, but rather “hot” coffee and that jam becomes a topic of conversation. We both laughed, topped off our coffee so it would remain hot and ate another bite of jam covered wholegrain toast.
When we’re young we don’t often think past tomorrow. We make food and lifestyle choices that have consequences, just not right away. It’s not that a person suddenly becomes fat in middle age, but rather a lifetime of eating for flavor, not function, has an accruing effect. As we age, we can think through choices and even past our own lives.
The trials and turbulation of transitioning from youth to old age are not an accumulation of emotions, as the impact of the first time of anything is quickly lost by the second, third, and so on. Rather aging is the natural conclusion of our experiences allowing what was once a struggle to become effortless.
Our children have given both my husband and I something to channel our love and life to – our family. This narrows the focus and quiets the distracts of life. It does not prevent the aging skin and desire for increasingly hot beverages and delicious jam, but it does afford us the opportunity to make our years count. A chance to be impeccable with our lives and hold ourselves to higher standard. Not a higher standard than any other human, but higher than the people we were yesterday.
Today I will embrace my graying hair, affinity for a hot cup of coffee and quest for the perfect jam. I will keep moving and make decisions today for tomorrow and for all the days of my children but keep my feet firmly planted in the present and strive to live a lifetime each day.