If life had gone a different way, I would have a teenager by now, instead of the 3-year-old who is currently on the couch next to me, wrapped up a teddy bear blanket and claiming he needs a nap. For now, I will resist the urge to tell him, “So nap already” and instead appreciate where I am and where I could have been.
My first marriage ended 15 years ago, but if it hadn’t ended, I’m fairly certain we would have had a baby soon. Back then, I figured that not only was it the next logical stage in our relationship but also that it could, somehow, repair the marriage that had grown as stale as the freezer-burned wedding cake we had only recently eaten on our first anniversary.
That would have been a very different parenting situation, I know. Without going into detail about his issues, my first husband was definitely not suited to be a supportive partner during pregnancy and childbirth or, for that matter, a reliable dad.
In all likelihood, I would have found myself coping with a new set of troubles: how to care for a baby, and then a child, while still dealing with a host of marital issues. If it had kept the marriage alive, I would never have learned all the things that being independent of that relationship taught me about myself. If the marriage had still ended, I would have remained tied to my first husband; obligated to keep him in my life to some degree, for the sake of the child.
When I think of that bleak parallel universe, I give praise that my life took me in another direction. I would much rather be an older mom, raising a child with the help of a supportive husband and father, than a single mom still tied to her child’s troubled dad.
There was a time, however, when I wondered if I would ever reach this stage. I’d gotten married at age 26, just like my mom before me. Taking her as a role model, I figured I could have two — or even three — children before age 35, the time when fertility is known to drop and obstetricians begin recommending additional prenatal tests to assess the health of the baby.
But it was not to be. My destiny lay elsewhere, and my carefully laid plans went awry. I often joke with my husband that I wish I’d met him 20 years ago, but who knows if things would have worked out with us then? At that time, I was still leaning towards the wrong kind of guy. While I probably would have been attracted to him, I would have put him in the “friend” category. After all, he was too stable, kind and responsible for me to see him as a boyfriend until I got some self-esteem issues worked out.
Sometimes I want to have a serious talk with Past Me. Not just to ask her “What were you thinking?” but to assure her that, really, if she just believed in herself and kept trying, Things Would Work Out.
I needed to hear that message at 26, just to gain some assurance that Husband No. 1 wasn’t my only shot at a family. That I didn’t need to even worry that the invitations had already been sent out; I could follow my instincts and cut things short. While I don’t regret the lessons I learned then, I wish I hadn’t needed to learn them.
I needed to hear that message at 31, when a long-distance relationship ended and I worried that now I was officially too old to start all over again and hope to be a mommy.
I needed to hear that message at 34, when I was dating my second husband and spending Christmas Day with my family. My brother made an innocent comment about what sort of children we might have, and I broke down in tears, fearing that somehow, my dreams might not happen. What if, after all this waiting, we wouldn’t even conceive when we did finally try?
I needed to hear that message at 37, when I married my second husband and wanted to start a family right away, only to get the rude news, barely out of our honeymoon, that he’d been laid off from his long-time office job. With no medical insurance, we had to wait another year for him to find another position before beginning to try.
I needed to hear that message at 39, pregnant with the son I now know came out perfectly healthy, when we faced a very scary prenatal test result. An ultrasound showed he had more than the desired amount of fluid desired on the back of his neck, which could indicate either retardation or heart troubles. For several weeks, over Thanksgiving, we had no idea what to expect, as we waited for the results of a follow-up procedure which would give us information from a genetic level.
Both that and a heart exam showed our boy — for yes, this confirmed he was a boy — was developing normally. Until that point, I’d been convinced I was having a girl. So much for the predictive power of dreams!
I’d also dreamed our child would have my husband’s dark hair and my blue-gray eyes (which my son believes are green). Naturally, this predestined he would have dark blonde hair and his daddy’s large, warm, honey-brown eyes. I find this to be a delightful irony, since it was those eyes that first made me fall for him.
Despite the fact that both of my grandmothers were 40 when they had my parents, it’s still not unusual for my age to inspire questions amongst both friends and strangers. Rather than going through the whole long saga, I usually sum it up by saying that I was married once before but didn’t see him as a possible father, so I waited until the time felt right.
The time is right now. Much better than any previous time could have been, in my life so far. I don’t doubt it. I just need to remember to celebrate it.