In just a few short months, I will be turning 40. To say that I don’t like it, might be an understatement. But it’s not something I can escape. The numbers, alas, don’t lie. My oldest son will be turning 14 in November; I was 25 years old when he was born. One of my OB/GYN’s at the time (yes, plural; I was being watched over by a team of them, such is the protocol of a high-risk pregnancy) tut-tutted more than once that I was but “a baby” myself. In a world where more and more women are actively choosing to start their families at age 40 and beyond, his comment had traction. In the year between 29 and 30, I had been married for 6 years and finally broke out of the Temp Trap after I got a permanent job with a large federal government department.
My early to mid-thirties were spent on the run. My daughter and youngest son were born in December of 2002. They were due in mid-January of 2003. The pregnancy and post-birth time with them was nothing if not a long, strange trip. Once again, I was a medical conundrum for my doctors. As with my son 5 years previously, cholestasis of pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure (high BP being something I struggled with before and after, with both pregnancies) hit early, and hit hard. Despite being micro-managed and hospitalized on bed-rest more than once, it has always struck me as ironic, even strange, that modern medicine’s finest technology could accurately detect that my daughter’s amniotic sac was completely drained of fluid, but never caught her twin brother’s deformed heart and lungs. On December 20, 2002, 15 days after the twins’ hastily-arranged c-section delivery, my youngest (and last) baby’s birth defects had a name: DiGeorge Syndrome.The prognosis, at least from the perspective of the NICU Team at the Children’s Hospital, was grim. Surgery to correct the worst of the physical damage to his heart and lungs was offered, and accepted. It involved long distances; in 2003 alone, my son and I spent more time in Toronto than I ever had in previous years. My marriage crumbled, and by the spring of 2004, we were done. At the age of 33, I was married and divorced with sole custody of 3 high-needs children. Young by some standards, not so by others.
My only real preoccupation with age, the passing of time, was directed at my youngest son. Hospitalized from birth, he weighed a mere 12 pounds at 12 months of age (the magical year; we had been told if he made it to his first birthday, he would surpass all reasonable medical expectations and then some…) and didn’t weigh much more than that when he was finally discharged and sent home in June of 2004 after a g-tube was inserted; he had lost the ability to swallow, again an unfortunate casualty of advances in modern medicine, this time the ventilator that did his breathing for him while he was in a medically-induced coma for much of his infancy, his arms tied down to his crib at the wrists by strips of flannel fabric to keep him from self-extubating. The baby’s frequent bouts of diaper rash, initially thought to be a severe form of lactose intolerance, turned out to be an allergy to penicillin after we left the generalists and the residents behind and had him tested by a specialist. A simple “scratch test.” A bee sting hurts more. So does the micro-thin needle used for insulin injections, as I was to discover following my toddler-age daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1/Juvenile Diabetes in January of 2005. (Ever accidentally poke yourself with one of those? I’m prone to the shivers thinking about it myself.)
Time passes, life throws its curves. Each of my 3 kids are doing well, or as well as can be expected. Some days I feel too young to have a teenage son, that God must have been chain-smoking Pixy Stix when he trusted me with so much responsibility. To say that I should be the star of my own show, “The Real Desperate Housewives,” would be an understatement. I still don’t cook all that well, or that often; but my partner says I am improving. (Is this a case of “flattery beats starvation”?) My house has a few too many dustbunnies, and I have a decorative sign that has yet to be hung which reads: “Warning…. House Infested With Dog Hair – Enter At Your Own Risk!” Compared to other Gen Xers, I am less travelled, but no less world-weary. I am not as established in my career as I would like to be, but my accomplishments are notable. Although I have been writing stories and poetry since I was roughly the twins’ age, I still long to write the book that will make my name. I’m the one my kids want at the end of the day: like the hero in Elvis Costello’s epochal “Alison,” I constantly strive to prove to them – hell, to everyone – that my heart is true.
Something that I struggle with as a writer is finding the perfect ending. Turning 40 should by no means be the end to anything; after all, as the magazines tell us, it’s the new 20! But I’m not 20 anymore. The numbers don’t lie. I need to get past this mental rut I’ve found myself in, to stop comparing myself to other women my age, some of whom have built entire lives around the ability to marshal boardrooms filled with MBA’s and travel to beautiful faraway places on a whim.
This is my world, and it is no less beautiful.