CAPE ELIZABETH – Jennifer Haines of Cape Elizabeth was two months along when it started to dawn on her that she might be pregnant.
She was “really” tired in the middle of the day and her breasts were sore. The mother of three, Haines remembered those telltale signs of her former pregnancies. But she was 48, and beginning menopause, though barely. How could this possibly be happening to her?
“I was terrified,” says Haines, whose other children are 21, 13, and 11. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve added 20 years to my parenting!’”
It’s safe to say that most women who give birth after a decade-long gap had resigned themselves to the idea that their families were complete. Their new reality can feel like a seismic shift.
“I was totally in disbelief,” said Christina Miller, 42, of Gorham, who had a baby girl in 2012 after a gap of 12 years. “My husband would say, ‘It’s just another baby.’ But I cried every day for a week.”
Miller’s mind went back to how hectic life had been when she was a new mother in her late 20s and early 30s. Her first two children, 13 and 11 now, were so close in age that she felt like she was always changing diapers, always running around, never able to sit back and enjoy the experience.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I have to go through that again,’” she recalls.
Haines, who is due in May, also remembers how she focused on the challenges ahead when she first found out. With her oldest daughter off to college and her youngest daughter entering fifth grade, Haines says she was looking forward to the time when all her children would be “semi-launched” into the world and she and her husband could plan their retirement.
Her age also caused Haines some sleepless nights. People magazine is full of tales of celebrities giving birth after 45. But many of these conceptions are via in-vitro fertilization, a process that uses donated eggs if the mother’s eggs are no longer viable.
According to Dr. Barbara Slager, (who is not Haines’ obstetrician but practices with her doctor in the same office), the chance that a baby conceived by a woman Haines’ age would have some sort of abnormality is 1 in 13.
Haines apparently beat those odds. She was able to take advantage of a new genetic test, aptly named non-invasive prenatal test, which has been available for the last six to 12 months. The simple blood test isolates fetal cells circulating in the mother’s blood, can be performed at 10 weeks, and provides a DNA profile of the developing fetus. According to Slager, the test is now recommended for all women above the age of 35, and has a 99 percent detection rate for chromosomal abnormalities.
Haines’ test showed that she is carrying a healthy male. Frequent ultrasounds confirm that things are going well.
As for Haines, she is being monitored closely by her doctor because the risk of complications increases with age. She has had some back and hip issues, but none of the complications that doctors worry about with older women, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
“This pregnancy I am feeling everything 100 times sooner,” Haines agrees. “I felt sicker sooner. I felt tired sooner, and pressure in my pelvis sooner.”
Haines has started seeing a chiropractor, which she did 11 years ago, and has hired a doula, a non-medical childbirth support person, who suggests exercises and stretches to prepare her for giving birth.
Miller had no problems with her first two pregnancies, but she did develop gestational diabetes with Isabel.
“The pregnancy was harder for me. I was more tired. It just felt harder on my body,” Miller recalls.
While Miller and Haines dealt with the challenges of later-in-life pregnancies, they both say their husbands and children were thrilled from the beginning by the prospect of a new family member. Miller says her 11-year-old daughter Abby (then 10) had always wanted a little sister.
“She was jumping up and down, screaming and so, so excited,” Miller recalls.
Miller says her older children have made the experience of being a new mom “more enjoyable this time around.” Her husband, too, who now has the option of working from home some days, has been a big help with the baby.
As she looks ahead to the future, it gives her pause that she’ll be 59 when Isabel graduates from high school. But then again, by the time Isabel finishes college, she’ll be ready to retire.
“It’s kind of fun to have a toddler in the house again,” Miller says. “Now I feel like, I get to go through it one more time, which I never expected.”
Haines’ family was also excited at the news, though her oldest daughter will be giving up her bedroom and will have to bunk with her sister to make way for the nursery. But Haines expects that her children will take their new brother “under their wings.”
“Already my youngest wants to learn how to cook so that she can help out,” says Haines. “The boy is helping me so I don’t have to lift anything heavy.”
Haines says reactions to the news outside the family have been interesting to observe. Her 11-year-old daughter’s friends think it’s cute, while her 13-year-old son’s friends think it’s a little weird. Her own friends are “over the moon happy” for her, while some also think, “I’ve got to be more careful,” or “Maybe we aren’t done after all.”
With a due date of May 4, Haines has “wrapped her head around” the fact that she’ll be dealing with sleepless nights and diapers even as her older children deal with driving tests, proms and graduations.
She says she is “knitting like a fiend” and trying to stave off sugar cravings. She’s looking forward to nursing, which she did with all of her children. Unlike with her other babies, she is excited that this one will be born in the spring.
“I just can’t wait to get the little guy into my hands,” she says. “My husband says, ‘It will keep us young.’ And that’s true.”