M.A.M.A (motherhood at advanced maternal age)

by Serena Schourup Carlsen '82

At 38 and an equity partner in one of the country’s top 20 law firms, I had more than achieved the career goals that I’d set for myself when I left Toll Hall in May of 1982. Personal goals had been more elusive in a world where 60-hour workweeks were the status quo. I still plan on making my fortune writing a novel about the string of men I dated who were in their 40s and had never married. However, on blind date number “uh, I can’t remember,” I met my 45-year-old, never married, and soon-to-be husband. We promptly remodeled our northwest suburban home surrounded by Microsofties and settled in to start a family.

The naivete we had about this from our current vantage point is, well, extraordinary. I went to my ob/gyn who said I was a healthy 39-year-old and “have fun.”

I approached motherhood like a legal problem. I bought the top 20 books on the Amazon fertility list, learned everything about how one gets pregnant, and started temping/charting while drinking red clover tea. Twelve months later when nothing had happened, one of my law partners gave me the name of an infertility doctor. Even now, it is hard for me to say “infertility.” I always referred to him as my “fertility” doctor.

That the consultation room had a table with not one but two Kleenex boxes should have been my first clue. Within ten nunutes, I was shown a drawing of a fertility bell curve, and I was on the dot on the far right side. At Scripps, it would have meant that I had a 4.0 GPA. Here it meant that I had a .05 chance of conceiving a child.

I obviously knew that I was not in my early 20s (when my mother had borne my sister and me), but nothing had prepared me for this news. When the doctor said something about “choosing” to delay starting a family, I cut him off: “Listen, I didn’t ‘choose’ this. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 38, I married at 39, and, perhaps stupidly, I believed I would just get pregnant. I won’t tell you that I’m sorry I didn’t marry the jerk I was dating at the height of my fertility so I could have 2.3 children and be a dlivorced single mom without a decent career.”

He sighed, looked down and said, “Sorry, about my choice of words, but I want to be honest with you, and the odds are against you.”

We then did what thousands of older couples do. We went through all the tests. We ordered another 20 books from Amazon. We started talking about what our life would be like if we didn’t have children. I joined an infertility bulletin board. It was the most difficult period in my life. In the end, Rick and I were luckier than many couples, as our infertility was simply age related, and with minimal (and fairly inexpensive) help we had a decent chance of having a baby. He suggested a six-month series of timed inseminations. After the egg was “ripe,” all we had to do was a single intramuscular shot, wait 36 hours, and then go in to be inseminated. In a world where dozens of shots and thousands of dollars can be necessary, this was the medical equivalent of a cakewalk. However, it had all of the romance of a cold shower.

Suffice it to say that my husband and I tried to laugh about the daily ultrasound appointments, the orange he used to practice injections, the tubes of HAM solution in the frig, and the mornings he would go upstairs then return with the “specimen.” Thc TWW (two week wait) was thc worst part. I distinctly remember a visit from “Aunt Flo” while I was covering a trial in South Carolina. After calling to schedule our next treatment, I cried the entire drive from Columbia to Savannah.

The morning after we’d done our fifth shot, I got a call that changed my life. A client knew of a baby that was due in a couple of weeks. The mother was a 19-year-old freshman at an East Coast College. She had just told her family that she was pregnant; and they were looking to place the baby in an adoptive home. Were we interested? We immediately hired a lawyer and went through the process to be approved as an adoptive family. That same weekend we finished our fifth fertility treatment.

In the course of two weeks we went from childlessness to having one child with another on the way. To say this created challenges is an understatement. Having a newborn, being in first trimester of pregnancy, and working at 41 was a struggle. I had little time to coordinate my law practice before going on parental leave and took many a conference call while feeding my son. But my clients, by and large, were great. Ned attended several meetings from his bassinet. It was amusing to watch corporate execs fight over who got to hold him.

Ray arrived this past November, and our sons are eight months apart. Yes, our house is a mad house of diapers, bottles, and dual highchairs. I now know why sleep deprivation is considered a torture.

My career? Well, there have been compromises. I’m working reduced hours. I gave up my equity partnership and am “of counsel” with my firm. But, having an established career gave me the opportunity to call the shots I needed to make our family life work. We hired the equivalent of Mary Poppins as a nanny, and when I’m at work, I’m secure in the knowledge that the children are happy and well cared for.

I could not have the life I have now if I’d done this at 28. Was starting a family in our 40s easy? No. Was the struggle and the wait worth it to have the life we have? Ahhhh, yes.