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The Wisdom of “Old” Age

Mazal Tov!

Baruch Hashem, only a few weeks ago, my family and I were blessed with a beautiful baby boy, and we were immediately catapulted into a whole new world.

My youngest, who was promoted to big brother status, is already five, so it’s been a while since we’ve had a newborn in our house, and it’s been a fun and frenetic adjustment for the whole gang. 

Our new little man has filled our home with joy, with sweetness, with light, and with sleeplessness. Yehuda (that’s his name) has reintroduced me to things that have been out of my house for a long time – bottle brushes, pacifier clips, receiving blankets, and baby swings – and so he’s already been allotted more space in my closet than my husband.  He still spends more time asleep than awake, but he has made me feel reinvigorated, reenergized, and yes, he has also made me feel very, very old.

Because there’s nothing like having a baby closer to my forties than my twenties to remind me that I’m not the spring chicken I once was.

It started early in my pregnancy, when my doctor coolly announced that I now belong to a special high-risk category due to my “advanced maternal age.”

“Huh?” I asked, wondering if I’d heard correctly. I didn’t feel comfortable with the word “advanced” so close to the word “age.”

“You’re having a geriatric pregnancy,” my doctor explained unhelpfully.

“Do you have my correct age in your chart?” I questioned sweetly, hoping she’d offer a mea culpa when she realized I’m not an octogenarian quite yet.

“You’re over 35,” she answered unapologetically. “That’s geriatric during pregnancy.”

Oh.

Just hearing her say “geriatric” made me feel older. Still, for the duration of my pregnancy, I figured I might as well use my advanced age to my advantage. I napped more often. I went to bed earlier than usual. I wore compression stockings with sneakers and refused to apologize to anyone (even my pre-teen daughter, who insisted on walking on the other side of the street).

It didn’t get better once the baby was born, when I officially lost my geriatric status, but I remained undeniably old. You see, at my son’s shalom zachor, as I sat amid a spread of confections sent by friends and family, a well-meaning neighbor offered this gentle warning: “You know, it’s harder to lose the baby weight in your thirties…..”

Great. I smiled saccharinely. Now I won’t bother trying.  Pass the cake, please.

And then, at the bris, my younger relatives – the ones with their first babies decked out in layette more expensive than my clothes – checked in to make sure I had the appropriate paraphernalia. 

“You have a Doona, right?” they asked with alarm when I rolled in my trusty Snap ‘n Go, fresh out of storage. 

“A Doona?” I laughed. “Doonas hadn’t been invented back when my last child was born!”

“Oh,” they replied nonchalantly, but their body language said it all. Because you’re old.

So, yes, it’s official. I am an “older” mother, even if I’m not yet over the hill. But geriatric parenthood also has one very important perk: I haven’t taken one second of my journey for granted.

I am old enough and wise enough to appreciate that bringing a child into this world involves a sequence of nissim– miracle after miracle after miracle – and from the day I found out I was expecting, I have been keenly aware of Who watches over our babies.

And this heightened awareness has a lot to do with my ripe old age. 

Back when I was expecting my oldest, I was too young and too naïve to think that anything could go wrong. My pregnancy would be normal. My delivery would be normal. I’d take home my baby on time, his bris would be on time, and he’d reach every milestone exactly when he was supposed to. When things didn’t go according to plan, I was gobsmacked: how could this happen to me? I was supposed to get the “normal” package!

These days, I may not be as young as I once was, but I’m certainly not as naïve.

At my advanced maternal age, I have seen more. I have my story: the experiences I have lived and breathed and cried through and ultimately accepted as ratzon Hashem. And I have my friends’ stories, too: their scares, their struggles, their heartbreaks, and their losses.

I know now that there is so much to daven for before every “routine” doctor’s appointment, every “routine” ultrasound, every “routine” anatomy scan, every “routine” delivery, and every “routine” checkup for the baby. 

I no longer think that an uncomplicated pregnancy or a healthy delivery is “expected” or “normal” or “the way it is supposed to be.”

No.

Now I appreciate that every detected heartbeat is a miracle.

Every finger and every toe is a miracle.

Every cry in the delivery room is a miracle.

And the miracles continue once a baby comes home.

A healthy latch is a miracle.

A baby’s good night’s sleep is a miracle.

A baby’s weight gain is a miracle.

(My weight gain? Not so much).

I may be nearing the age of reading glasses, but I have a much clearer perspective this time around. Even though I’m exhausted (it’s hard to get up three times a night when you’re a geriatric!), I’m somehow so much more present. I appreciate each of those tiny baby yawns, those cute baby stretches, even those fussy baby cries. (It helps that I am old enough to know that a colicky newborn can be less emotionally challenging than a daughter who has “nothing to wear.”).  

So I’m happy to be old(ish).

I’m happy to be (a little bit) wiser than I once was. 

Because every wrinkle, every gray hair, every doctor who looks young enough to be my child, reminds me to slow down and be grateful.

These days, when I hold my baby, even as chaos reigns around me, I coo his name and I think of its meaning:

YehudaHapa’am odeh es Hashem. 

I smile (and, yes, I have crow’s feet!), because I know his name could not be any more fitting.

I’m not the young mother anymore, the one who took the blessings in her arms for granted. 

This time let me praise Hashem.

This time I know better.

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