By Rebecca Vidra
Getting pregnant at 40 was not in my plans. Not even in my wildest dreams. I already had two daughters, who I managed to keep alive and mostly happy for 10 and 8 years, respectively. My career was finally recovering from my ill-advised “I can work full-time without daycare” years and I felt like I was finally reclaiming my own identity.
And my marriage? It was about to end. Or so I thought.
It was on a sailing trip in Spain that I found out that I was “embarazada.” My husband and I had taken the trip, our first significant vacation away from the kids, under the auspices of work (as professors, we were checking out potential study abroad programs). I viewed it as our last chance to renew our commitment by choice, not just because of the economic or logistical constraints of marriage.
My husband says he knew that I was pregnant before I did. I was in complete denial that I could be carrying a stowaway.
I remained that way – in shock – for the first several weeks of my pregnancy, asking myself if I really wanted to go through with it. I searched the web for stories by women like me – middle-aged and facing an unplanned and, honestly, unwanted pregnancy. Finally, my husband suggested that we take the “path of joy” and have this baby.
For him, the decision was about the baby. For me, the decision was about us.
As the weeks went by, I started to experience little flickers of excitement, often followed by huge pulses of worry and regret. I started a list of things I was not looking forward to – preschool birthday parties, pumping at work – and started a much smaller list of potential baby names.
Throughout my pregnancy, as I oscillated between excitement and fear, I could not fully admit my dread, that I would not be able to mother this child with unconditional love and attention. How could I do it all over again, this time while coping with 2 soon-to-be-teenage girls? How would we be able to do the work necessary to strengthen our marriage, while having a needy baby to care for?
And there was this, the question that kept me up at night: could I really find it within myself to be in love with my husband all over again, when it seemed so much easier to leave? For months, I felt as if I were bracing for a big wave that I knew was going to knock me over hard.
Véla was born in my bedroom, on a warm spring day. The midwife did not arrive in time, leaving me to birth my baby with the help of my husband and doula. I reached down to deliver her and pulled her to my chest, as if by primal instinct. I felt that intense panic of protectiveness that all new parents experience as I wondered if she could breathe on her own.
Then, her tiny eyelashes – little sticky curled wisps – blinked open. And it was at that moment, watching her arrive into this world, that I knew I could do this all over again.
In the photos taken right after the birth, the baby and I are in focus. You can see streaks of milky vernix and blood on her head and my hands. In the blurred background, my clearly relieved husband is crying as he reaches for us. For me.
Today, my sleep-deprivation is highlighted by crow’s feet around my bleary eyes. I don’t have the same energy for decorating a nursery, or chronicling her every move on a blog, or endlessly searching for the best preschool. I am not worrying about every little thing, though I do worry that I am not worrying enough.
There must be some gray area between obligation and love, a space for the choices we make out of both. Having a baby is hardly a prescription for saving a marriage. I get that. It certainly was not a magic wand or even a soothing balm for ours. I’m realistic about this, yet it also re-oriented me to what love looks like on most days: doing the dishes, shuttling the kids to dance practice, not asking why I didn’t manage to take the garbage out (again).
This “path of joy” is not a forced march or a romantic wandering journey. It doesn’t always feel joyful. It is crowded by our busy schedules and minor arguments. We navigate over bumps of annoyance and around curves of “what-ifs.” I think, though, that I am able to celebrate the small moments of joy more fully now that I am not looking for the exit ramp.
And when I feel the now familiar twinge of regret, I look at Véla’s tiny eyelashes and remind myself to focus on the small steps on this shared and unpredictable path of joy.
Rebecca Vidra lives with her husband and three daughters in the oak-sourwood forest of North Carolina, where Véla (named after the Spanish word for “sail”) just celebrated her first birthday..
Photo Credit: Kallyn Boerner