This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
Michelle da Silva is an audience growth editor for Report on Business at The Globe and Mail.
How old were you when you became a mother? When I give birth to my first child next month, I’ll be 38 – a couple months shy of my 39th birthday.
It’s an age I’m fully aware isn’t “young.” I’m nearly seven years older than the average first-time mom in Canada. My own mother had me, her eldest, at 31. Doctors in North America even used to refer to pregnancies after the age of 35 as “geriatric”! Thankfully, that term has been replaced by the less prickly “advanced maternal age.”
Whatever you want to call it, I am old – or at least older than most first-time moms.
You see, I wasn’t really planning on having kids. Don’t get me wrong: I very much like them. I’ve always been happy to hold a friend’s baby and fête a pregnant coworker. As a teen, I worked at a swim camp and held dozens of wriggly toddlers as they attempted to float. I’ve been told I’m pretty good at talking to kids of all ages, and my refrigerator doors are covered in photos of my niblings.
Perhaps I always thought of myself as a cool, quirky aunt – someone who drops off souvenirs from her latest excursions, takes you on outings around the city and can sing along to Disney movies as long as they were made pre-Pixar. I was satisfied with this role and the freedom being child-free gave me.
Luckily, my husband felt the same way. We’re both committed to our careers. Before the pandemic, we dined out several nights a week. We love to travel, go to concerts and collect bottles of wine. We value sleeping in on weekends and sipping coffee in bed as we leisurely scroll on our phones. Plus, we already have a cat.
Up until this point, we were proud DINKs – an acronym for dual income no kids – a status that at least 25 per cent of Canadian households share, according to census data. Recent studies have touted the “happiness” benefits of ditching parenthood, especially for women. In today’s economy, environment and political climate, it’s no surprise that more people are having fewer kids – and that some are choosing to go child-free altogether.
So why am I now waddling to ultrasound appointments and spending my free time deciphering which stroller is best?
A major health event last year put mortality into sharp focus for my family. Suddenly, I started wondering more intently about the next 38 years of my life, particularly whether I “should” or “shouldn’t” have kids, and what that might mean for me and my husband.
I listed pros and cons, surveyed friends on when they knew and, more importantly, how they knew they wanted to become a parent, and talked to my doctor about my diminishing fertility – I was 38, after all. Unsurprisingly, the majority of parents I spoke to couldn’t imagine a life without kids. A friend told me over FaceTime, with her baby in one arm as she moved half-full cups of cold coffee into the kitchen sink with her spare hand, that having her daughter was the best thing to happen to her.
But even when I received positive results on two separate pregnancy tests last fall, I approached the early days with contained, cautious optimism. I found myself clinging to the edge of the proverbial fence as I calculated how to reconcile becoming a mom with my job, my interests and my bank account. Was this the right choice?
In a “Dear Sugar” advice column in The Rumpus, author Cheryl Strayed replied to a reader seeking guidance on whether or not to have a baby. Every person has a life, said Strayed, but also a “sister life” they’ll never know.
“In spite of my fears, I didn’t regret having a baby,” she writes. “If I could go back in time I’d make the same choice in a snap. And yet, there remains my sister life. All the other things I could have done instead. I wouldn’t know what I couldn’t know until I became a mom, and so I’m certain there are things I don’t know because I can’t know because I did.”
Strayed equates this alternate, unknown path to a ghost ship – an equally important and beautiful life that wasn’t ours, but sails alongside our reality. I watched my ghost ship sail away when a scare early in my pregnancy had me fearing a loss. I realized at that moment that I wanted and loved this baby more than whatever was waiting for me in my sister life.
Now I’m a month away from sailing into motherhood. My husband and I have spent weekends painting the nursery and weeknights taking virtual birthing classes. I won’t ever know what was aboard my ghost ship, but my feet are firmly planted on the shores of impending parenthood. And as I write this, I can feel the kicks of tiny feet inside my swollen 38-year-young belly.
What else we’re thinking about:
How do you make new friends as an adult? When I first discovered I was pregnant, I confided in a handful of close friends and family members, and then felt like I was sitting on the world’s biggest secret for several months. Like any hyper-online millennial, I sought out a digital community and found myself creating a profile on an app called Peanut. In a nutshell (pun intended), it’s basically a friend-dating app for moms and moms-to-be. You can share photos, interests and the neighbourhood you live in, ask questions on a message board and, perhaps, best of all, swipe to connect with other moms. I’ve matched with several Toronto-based first-time parents, and found real offline friendships. Now I’ve got a solid “mom crew” for maternity leave and hopefully, years to come.
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