The warnings began shortly after having my first child, Mara. I was 34 years old, one year younger than being clinically classified as a "geriatric mother" – the age at which the risk of pregnancy complications begins to multiply.
The term, at the time, seemed almost comically archaic and did not reflect the fact that women over 40 are more likely to give birth than those of their teenage children. The figures published only last week show that more than one in 25 new mothers is now in their forties.
I felt young and healthy. I look young (so I thought!). Not geriatric anywhere. But people had started making comments like, "You'd better go again, unless you want Mara to become an only child."
I know how annoying it is to talk about fertility.
Complete joy: Tessa at home with Elena
My answer? An overview and an inner recapitulation of all the reasons why it was not the right time for a second child: the loss of the job, a bad blow in my marriage, the death of my father. Also, if I were fertile in my early years, a delay of a few years would not make much difference, would you? How wrong I was.
Three months ago – aged 44 – I finally had a baby. I can not believe Elena is here. I'm so excited that I do not even feel tired. But the last five years of my life have been lost in a horrible roller coaster of desperate desire, dashed hopes, abortion, fertility drugs and pain – both physical and emotional.
As pregnancy rates in all other age groups decrease, the number of women who conceive, like me, around 40, has jumped in the last 30 years, from about 12,000 in 1990 to almost 29,000 a year. And I will go down as another statistic that makes a 40-year-old son seem relatively simple.
But these figures hide the fact that older women are no more fertile than they have ever been. I soon discovered that late motherhood often has a painful backstory. In my case what I had taken for granted a few years earlier had become practically impossible.
That's why my message to younger women is: please do not wait. Do not go through what I did.
There is never a perfect moment. We have repaired our marriage, my career has continued, I have 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 started to try for a second child. Nothing happened. Six months passed and then a year. Still nothing.
As any woman who hopes to get pregnant will know, a year of trying is long. And the panic grew. Did I leave too late?
And so, I found myself in one of Britain's largest assisted design units at the Guy & # 39; s Hospital in London. Where the nature of Mother Nature could not get there, modern science would have intervened, surely?
Many women have had the same thought, given that one-third of Guy's ACU patients are over 40 years old. But despite the success rates of in vitro fertilization have increased, the gynecological consultant Tarek El-Toukhy explained: "It is not related to the age of fertility problems that overall we are improving in treatment. the eggs are getting old, there's a lot less we can do. & # 39;
The statistics confirm this. Just over 33% of women under 35 end up with a child after an IVF round. But for women over the age of 42, the "live birth rate" falls to less than ten percent. This falls below two percent for women over 44, as egg quality decreases with age, making implantation less likely in the womb. There is no wonder if I returned home from the clinic on that first day in tears.
I was almost 41 years old when I started my first in vitro fertilization cycle. I knew the odds were drastically stacked against me, but I had not considered only the unpredictability of our reproductive systems.
Elena with her older sister Mara
After a year of fertility treatment, I had been pregnant three times, but I did not have a baby yet.
There was the hiss of adrenaline when a test came back positive and the delightful sense of anticipation that accompanied swollen breasts and hormones rising.
Then the accident arrived. Crying, bleeding, cramps and a pain that I had never felt before, an annoying pain for a vital presence that was not there anymore.
At any age, the loss of pregnancy may seem devastating, but it is particularly cruel when you're sub-fertile – or "above the hill", as a relative says. Unfortunately he was right: my extrauterine pregnancy, when the embryo stretches outside the womb, and an 11-week miscarriage were almost certainly due to my old age. The midwife Roger Smith, an IVF expert at the King & # 39; s College Hospital in London, is a fact. "For a 40-year-old woman, spontaneous abortion in the first trimester occurs in about 38% of cases and rises to 70% in a 45-year-old.
"It becomes more difficult to reach an established pregnancy within 12 weeks because the poor quality of the egg often causes chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo".
I was not alone I saw women of my age waiting for sad visions for IVF consultations they could not afford, or doubled in the hospital corridors, silently sobbing at another loss. A friend had seven abortions before giving birth to her second 45-year-old son.
Mr. Smith says that many women over 40 who reach a live birth do so with the eggs of a much younger donor – even if they do not admit it. "There's a tendency for people, especially if they're high-profile, not to be completely honest about how they got pregnant."
Surprisingly, after two in vitro fertilization cycles, I became pregnant and stayed there over 12 weeks. I was tall like a kite, invincible, very happy.
But then I took listeriosis, a bacterial infection from food.
In my second term, two months before my 42nd birthday, I had a miscarriage late. My little son was dead inside me. Now I know where the expression comes from & climb the walls.
I threw myself around, groping, calling, crying for my boyfriend. Even my IVF gynecologist, who has to deal with pain on a regular basis, was crying, no doubt noticing the impossibility that I would resume again.
Most women agree that the only way to really overcome such a loss is to have another child. So I kept trying.
If you know the joy a child brings, perhaps you will be able to imagine the pain of not being able to have one.
Like many women in my situation, I experienced emotions that I had not known existed within me: fear, isolation, despair, envy.
I avoided mothers with strollers, I avoided the brother groups at the school gate and I fought every day a regurgitation of hatred for myself that came with the growing awareness that my situation could be so easily avoided only a few years before. How I cried for what I had lost: the ability to create and nurture new life. I was a woman apparently in the flower of her life, but I could not have a baby. I was not able to give my husband a second child, or give my daughter a brother.
I never imagined that I would be that woman, making my way through numerous IVF cycles looking for a perfect egg. But, at the ripe age of 43, despite the diminutions and limited funds, it was me.
Infertility cost me friendships, work and a lot of money: seven in vitro fertilization rounds, for a total of 32,000 pounds. Holidays are a thing of the past and we no longer have a car. But in the end I hit the gold. I had stopped the treatment, but I had a frozen embryo left over from my sixth cycle – and that embryo became little Elena.
You can take from my story that today everything is possible. If you are 40 and where I was two years ago, this is probably the message you need to hear, and I wish you all the luck in the world.
But if you have a younger decade, keep in mind that Elena has not arrived, this article would have been too painful to write.
Rather than pink congratulations, there would be silent mutterings: "How could he be so stupid? Spend all that money when he already has a child.
Yet now nobody looks at Elena and tells me it was not worth it.
We tend to speak only of miraculous births. The winners like the company; failure and loss are much more difficult to share. Unfortunately, the result is a distorted impression of what is possible.
When Elena finally became an established pregnancy at 12 weeks, I was terrified and exhausted for the remaining six months.
I became pregnant exactly ten years after the conception and birth of my first daughter, but the two experiences were incomparable.
Fully aware of the increased possibility of birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities in older women, I have never slept the night before a neonatal scan.
With much lower energy levels, work proved to be an uphill struggle.
Mr Smith confirms that the risk for older mothers is greater during pregnancy, and this includes the possibility of maternal death. "We see that age-related problems such as heart disease appear in 45-year-olds that we would not do in a younger woman," he says.
I've been lucky. My pregnancy with Elena proved to be uneventful, but when my team confirmed that I had a low placenta, I was quick to accept a caesarean section.
It is an important operation that often leaves the mother unable to move freely for weeks, sometimes months, and yet proportionally older women are more likely to opt for one.
With my first child, I had a home birth without pain relief. So, I was so blasé, I even made a film about the experience.
After a five-year fight, Elena's birth would always be a joyous occasion, and so she showed. But having a child later in life is a very different experience.
My father is dead, my mother has a poor sight; Elena's cousins are much older, as are most of my friends' children; so Elena's care options and access to the extended family are reduced.
Of course, I pinch myself every day – I won the lottery of life. But it did not have to be that hard.