To look at her, you might never guess that Heidi Thierling, who is eight months pregnant in the pictures with this column, is 41 years old. Colin Rankin, the man she chose to marry, didn’t come along until she was in her mid-30s. It was his first marriage, too. They knew they wanted children, but decided it was important not to rush into it.
“I definitely wanted to be married for a little bit,” says Heidi, who lives in South Portland with her husband. “Marriage is not easy. You have to figure the person out and understand your relationship before you bring a child into it, if you have the chance. We had a great four years.”
(UPDATE: Thierling gave birth Friday, Jan. 11, to a boy, who weighed 6 pounds 11 ounces. His name is Miller Eielson Rankin.)
Heidi was well aware that when you’re over 35, delaying pregnancy could increase some risks for the baby and the mother. Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Coastal Women’s Healthcare in Scarborough, says, “Although there are some small increased risks associated with pregnancy after 35, this can be a very positive time for women to reflect on their health. I encourage all my patients to eat healthfully and exercise regularly during pregnancy.”
The top over-35 pregnancy risks include chromosome abnormalities, gestational diabetes, pre-term labor and high blood pressure.
About six months before Heidi and Colin started trying to have a baby, she saw her doctor and got a clean bill of health, except for one major issue.
“I was a smoker,” she admits. “I knew I had to quit, which I did a month later, cold turkey.”
Statistically, it’s more difficult to get pregnant when you’re past the age of 35. It took Heidi, a photo stylist, and Colin, a small business owner, only four months. Early on, they were offered genetic screening and opted for something brand new: fetal DNA testing. The mother’s blood is tested for fetal DNA cells that are associated with Down syndrome and other chromosome abnormalities.
The couple also saw a genetic counselor who helped them determine their risks based on the genetic tests and family and personal history.
Everything was fine and, except for some morning sickness at the beginning, Heidi felt great – until she was seven months along.
“I thought this was so easy,” she says. “And then, as soon as seven months hit, my feet started swelling up and my hips at the end of the day are killing me, and I’m so winded, I can’t even have a conversation without running out of breath.”
She insists that none of it is age-related, just normal things that many pregnant women have to endure.
For all the preparation and research Heidi did before and during her pregnancy, there was one important area that, at five months, she realized she knew absolutely nothing about. Childbirth.
“I was having lunch with a girlfriend when I realized it and I kind of freaked out,” she says.
She turned to the Internet and found everything she needed to know about labor and delivery, and then some.
“There are so many great things out there online that are accessible. It’s really unbelievable. I saw a great interview with a doctor that takes you from beginning to end -– she even described contractions and when you should go to the hospital. ‘When the cookies start to burn,’ she said. When the cookies start to burn, you can’t concentrate on anything else, which means it’s time to go.”
Heidi and her husband also took some classes on breastfeeding, baby basics such as general safety and baby care, and CPR. And Colin attended what was called Daddy Boot Camp, where fathers-to-be learn the ropes from veteran dads.
“I think we’re as prepared as we can be,” she says. “I have no idea what labor is going to feel like, but I feel like I’ve done my point work. I know it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My only expectation is that we have a healthy child.”
Heidi’s due date is Jan. 24.