Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 • 4 Comments on Me, at 47
I put on my sneakers last week for the first time in over a year and started moving again. I haven’t really felt like my healthy self since I had gallbladder surgery in March 2013. Ironically, in the couple of months leading up to surgery, I was thinner than I’ve been since before I had kids. Not that I weigh myself or care about being skinny (I’m not, and never will be). But I felt good, in between gallbladder attacks, that is. I don’t know why I didn’t bounce back to that feeling good place after I recovered from surgery, but I didn’t. And now I’m tired of feeling… well, tired. Tired of my clothes not fitting properly, of feeling less-than-healthy. So the sneakers are out of the closet and I’m working on it. Slowly, but still… taking that first step, followed by a thousand more.
On the eve of my forty-seventh birthday, I’m not taking stock of my life so much as I’m considering how full my life in my forties has been– and how physically and emotionally challenging. Before my fortieth birthday in 2007, Jay asked me how I wanted to spend it and I’d said I wanted to wake up in London. And so that’s what we did. I spent my 40th in my favorite city– and I haven’t been back since. Life has been… busy.
I didn’t know what my forties would bring, but it’s been a whirlwind. From that trip to London to less than three months later, when I learned of my estranged mother’s death, I feel as if I’ve been in constant motion– with constantly changing emotions. I could spend days talking about my relationship with my mother and our lack of contact in the last decade of her life, but I won’t. Her absence from my life was necessary for my emotional health, but her absence from this world is something I am still coming to terms with. People who are gone from our lives still cast a shadow, that much I’ve learned. Some things take a long, long time to get over. And some things… well, there are some things I’ll never get over.
At the end of 2007, five months after my mother’s death, I threw out my birth control pills and decided to try to have a baby. I was forty years old and it felt like “now or never.” Or, more likely “never, but I have to at least try.” After two miscarriages (at 23 and 30), it was a long shot, but in July 2008, on a mid-deployment rendezvous in Florida, I got pregnant. Quick, easy. And less than 8 weeks later, I miscarried. Slowly, painfully. I was told by a Navy ob/gyn that, because of my age (41 at the time) and numerous fibroids, I had a 3-5% chance of carrying a pregnancy to term. The odds were not in my favor, I knew that. I also knew that I wouldn’t quit until I ran out of time. And we tried again.
I got pregnant in March 2009 and promptly found a civilian ob/gyn who would see me immediately and who prescribed progesterone as a precaution. Around that same time, I pitched some anthology ideas to Cleis Press, a publisher I was familiar with because I’d sold numerous stories to other anthologies they’d published. In the spring of 2009, I threw myself into writing, into pitching new ideas and challenging myself to do new things. The reason is obvious: I was waiting for another miscarriage to happen and needed distractions in place to combat the inevitable sadness and grief.
I contracted for my first Cleis Press anthology, Fairy Tale Lust, in May 2009– and I was still pregnant. I wrote my call for submissions, kept writing my own stories, stayed busy with friends, kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe did drop, but it wasn’t a miscarriage– it was Jay having to deploy in October 2009 to Dubai for eight months. I was panicked, depressed, scared to death. I was going to be alone through some of the most challenging months of my entire life– me, who had never so much as changed a diaper– and I didn’t know what to do except prepare as best I could. I kept writing, editing, pitching. I was far enough along in my pregnancy to believe everything would be okay, but I’d been through too much at that point. It seemed too good to be true and I wouldn’t believe it was real until I held a baby in my arms.
In December 2009, I gave birth to a healthy 8 lb. 10 oz. baby boy via Cesarean section and Jay got to be there for the birth of his son and for two weeks after. I was entirely alone with the baby for two months after that, then I hired a friend to babysit part-time so I could keep writing and maintain my sanity. In May 2010, right after my 43rd birthday and my first Mother’s Day, Jay came home from his last deployment. A few weeks later, Fairy Tale Lust was released. After a year of riding an emotional roller coaster, it seemed as if I’d found my balance. Jay was home, I had a babysitter, I was signing more contracts with Cleis Press, I was writing for other editors and publications, I had people I loved and who were there for me. Life was good.
Life was so good, in fact, that even in the midst of post-partum recovery, I’d considered having another baby. The odds were still not in my favor, but I’d done it once. Just eight short weeks after my baby was born, while my husband was still deployed, I told my ob/gyn that I was thinking about doing it again. He hugged me, for the first and only time. He said he’d been worried about me, but that if I could consider having another baby after all I was going through, then he knew I’d be okay. He also said it might not happen– those damned odds, after all.
I went back and forth over whether I wanted to try again– and when. We hadn’t given away any of the baby stuff, so clearly my heart was in it, I just didn’t know when I’d be ready. Mother Nature has a way of making things happen whether I’m ready or not, and in December 2010, exactly one week after Patrick turned one (and the very first time we weren’t careful), I got pregnant again. To be honest, I panicked when I did the math. Two babies under the age of two? Nooooo! And, of course, there was fear. The odds weren’t in my favor. One healthy pregnancy up against three miscarriages. I couldn’t let myself get too hopeful. I kept busy with the baby who was growing into a toddler, I threw myself into writing and pitching more anthology ideas, I saw the release of a couple of new books, I worked on my relationships and I held my breath. Would it work out this time, too?
In September 2011, I gave birth via C-section once again to a healthy 10 lb. 15 oz. baby boy. Jay was home, our babysitter was in place, I had friends I trusted to offer support. It was not a physically easy pregnancy, but it was emotionally peaceful. Where the first pregnancy and birth had felt almost apocalyptic, the second one felt like a celebration. We welcomed our second son into the world and life was good. So good.
And life continues to be good, so good I’ve even toyed with the idea of a third baby, though I’ve (mostly) decided that two is (probably) enough. And at my age, the odds are nil. But still, amidst all the goodness it has been an emotional roller coaster these past few years, going from a forty-something woman without children to a forty-something woman with two very young children. There was the gallbladder surgery in March 2013, making three surgeries on my poor body in four years. There is the ongoing quest to find and maintain the balance of family, writing, self. There was the brief panic in 2012 when we lost the only babysitter our boys had known and had to find a new one (who has been awesome and who is now getting ready to leave us… sigh). There was the loss of someone I considered family and thought would always be there, but turned out to be someone I could not trust and didn’t want in my life. There have been friends who have fallen off the grid (though, to be fair, they might feel as if I was the one who disappeared), there have been the friends who have been there in ways I never imagined needing anyone. There has been a shift in interests and priorities, a growing sense of richness and texture to life I didn’t have just a few years ago. There have been discoveries about who I can really count on– and the list is shorter than I once believed, but I’ve made my peace with the fact that some people will simply never be what I need them to be and those who are… well, I treasure them. I’ve been slapped in the face with reality more times than I can count, yet I’m still here, still believing in impossible things, still dreaming, still writing, still looking for balance. And I find it in Jay, who still remains my rock of unflagging support through everything. Twenty-four years and counting. The writing and the marriage– they keep me balanced, sane, brave.
My forties started with a trip to London, but I’ve traveled so much further than that. I’ve learned through grief and loss to appreciate the moments of pure joy. I’ve learned through betrayal to be careful where I place my loyalties– and my time. From being alone with a newborn, I learned I can do anything I have to do. I also learned I have the love and support I need so that I don’t have to do it all by myself, I just have to ask for help. I’ve learned that I can miss a dog as much as I miss a person– and that’s a lot more than I thought my heart could take. I’ve learned that getting a new dog “for the kids” won’t keep me from falling in love with that dog, too. I’ve learned that my patience may not be endless, but it runs deeper than I thought. I’ve learned to be at peace with myself and my life. I’ve learned that true love lasts and endures. I’ve learned to cherish my alone time and to appreciate the noisy times almost as much as the quiet moments. I’ve learned that being a forty-something wife and mother has done nothing to dampen or discourage my big, big dreams. Except now I dream big not only for myself, but for my children. I want to show them– need to show them– that the odds don’t have to be in their favor for life to turn out beautifully. A 3-5% chance means there’s still a chance. And as long as there’s a chance, there’s hope.
And now here I am, on the last day of being 46, looking forward. The rest of my forties beckon with promises of good things to come and things to learn, because I’m a long way from having it all figured out (though I’m a lot closer than I was at 40). There are decisions to be made: whether we’ll get a new babysitter, or I’ll stay home with the boys, or we’ll try Montessori school. After that, there’s the decision of whether we’ll home school, as I’ve been considering for the past year. There’s Jay’s impending retirement from the Navy in 2015, which means no more deployments ever, but leaves a big question mark as to what we’ll do post-military retirement. We talk about moving, but I don’t know if we will. We’re rooted here in Virginia, this is where my babies were born, where I discovered a new, and hopefully better, version of myself, where we’ve made a life that started with two and is now four. I have always been a nurturer, a caregiver, a protector. And now I’ve come into my own and discovered a wealth of inspiration in the experience of motherhood (as well as frustration and exhaustion, but let’s focus on the inspiration).
Then there are the books and stories that need to be written, the anthologies that need to be edited, the comfort zone that I need to keep pushing. I have an amazing publisher and while I basically fell into this editing gig by accident, it’s been a pleasure and a challenge to curate several anthologies a year. Cleis Press is moving into new territory with the Tempted romance imprint and I’m excited to be a part of something new. I’m also ready for new challenges and adventures in writing and I’m seeking a connection with other writers like I never have before. Balance, balance, it’s always about balance. There are so many words in me that need to come out– but first, there are flowers to pick and pictures to draw and moments to savor.
I won’t wake up in London on my 47th birthday, but I’ll be some place wonderful. I’ll be happy. A friend once told me that the hardest part about exercising is putting on your sneakers. I get it now. It’s all mental, an attitude of wanting it bad enough– whether it’s exercise or writing or relationships or finding the balance in my life. The hardest part about being happy is believing I can be, believing that it doesn’t have to be a short trip to someplace I might never return, that it can simply be my life. So I’ve put on my sneakers and I’m ready for a beautiful, adventurous, happy year. Goodbye, 46.