In December I turned thirty-five. It’s the age on all the charts where fertility lines plummet. It’s the threshold between possible, and less likely. It’s the fertility clock’s version of the home stretch, the other side of the hump, the last march of the Ents. My period, or rather the obnoxious time of constant spotting that starts three days before the full on flow, showed up on my birthday. It seemed particularly cruel. I watched my last fertile cycle as a thirty-four year old end in a dazzling splatter of red all over a pair of blue panties. It was a Wonder Woman homage in particularly poor taste.
I cried a lot in the bathroom. It wasn’t a surprise. My cycle is not terribly regular, but the signs of impending menstruation are always pretty obvious. I knew it was coming, but still I cried. It was a silly reaction to have. Thirty-five is not a literal end, it’s not an actual bright line between fertile and infertile. It’s symbolic. But I sat on the toilet and cried into wet tissues because symbolism can hurt too.
I cried in the bathroom in part because of seeing the blood, and in part because a bathroom can be a private, comforting place. But honestly, I cried in the bathroom mostly because I was at work, and I didn’t want the whole world to see or hear me.
Currently, two of my co-workers are pregnant. One is across the hall. The other is two doors down from there. I cannot physically get to my office without passing them both. I can hear everything. One of my pregnant coworkers is a particularly loud person. Not for any malicious reason, or even really all that annoying, she is simply loud. She has a loud personality, she’s comfortable singing out loud all the time, she performs in community theater where the dialogue is always too loud. She talks loudly and she laughs loudly. One day, from back in my office I could hear her loudly say “pregnant” fifteen times in one conversation. It was like she was standing next to me shouting into my ear: “I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant!” The biting “and you are not,” did not come out as loud, probably because she didn’t say it. I did. In my head.
It is a not well kept secret at work that I have been trying and have been unable to get pregnant. I am a lawyer. Our office is filled with them. We are not as good at keeping secrets as you’d think. When we first started, no one else was considering it. I didn’t have to think about other people and the ease with which they could conceive. Now things are different. Since we started trying we have seen our co-workers, and our colleagues in the Court conceive, be pregnant, and have babies while we count days of the month and I pee religiously on sticks. I often think its some strange cruel turn of cosmic events that the world around us is deep in spawning while we flounder with infertility. But then I remember that all these people are around our age, or younger, and that this is the time, this is when families get started. Now at 35 I worry I am starting to age out.
I have never cared before about my age. I have always looked considerably younger than I am. I have been carded frequently, and once even asked to move out of the emergency row exit seats while flying back to college (the minimum age requirement is 13). When I turned twenty-one and headed to the nearby liquor store to buy the super mature alcohol choice of peach schnapps I was examined by two different employees and ultimately congratulated for having “the best fake” they had ever seen. It was real. And I’d had it six months already before I’d gotten around to using it. The most common reaction clients have when meeting me, is that they’d like an older, more experienced attorney. I once had a woman I tried to help at bond court declare that I was too young to understand what she was going through and could the other attorney with me help her instead. I was older than both of them, by a lot.
Maybe this is why I have never felt old, nor cared about getting old. I have more often looked forward to aging in a hopes of being taken more seriously, or being able to get away with orthopedic shoes sooner. MJ says I am basically an old person. I like to get up early, eat dinner early, and go to bed early. I like to read and knit. I don’t drink, my bladder and my ovaries don’t work, my dresser is littered with prescription medication bottles. And I wear a lot of cardigan sweaters, cause I get cold easily. Being old has always sounded comforting to me. Until now.
Now I think 35 and all I can see is that chart, and the deep dark dip of the black line. All I can think is that time is running out, and the passage of that time, which never mattered to me before, blares in my head like the tinny clicking of the 60 minutes watch (and yes I’m aware admitting to watching 60 minutes also makes me sound old).
I am older than both of my pregnant co-workers; one by almost ten years. She is, to her credit, one of those naturally older more mature woman, of whom you are always forgetting her age anyway. Or at least I was, until she got pregnant. Now it’s sometimes all I can see when I am talking with her. She will start to say something and a giant red 2 and 5 will obscure her face and then start blinking loudly like the now-being-served number at the DMV. She will have this baby soon, and after that probably many more. Her fertility is intimidating. In her presence, I can feel my one remaining ovary shrivel up inside itself.
Lately, off and on when we run errands or drive to work, MJ and I have been listening to Tina Fey’s memoir. It has been exceptionally entertaining and well-done, and I was enjoying it immensely up until the very end when she began to contemplate whether, at 40, she should have a second child. There is something about the ease with which some people contemplate whether to have children without the concern of “will I be able to have children,” that instinctively strings. MJ suggests I can turn it off, but I don’t. I listen to her debate back and forth, and while she is focused on wanting to work versus wanting to have another child, I am fixated on her age. MJ reports from the passenger seat peering over his phone, that she did end up having a second child.
For a moment, for a small moment, I am filled with hope. I think about Tina Fey. She’s over 40 and she gets pregnant. I think of my own sister in law who neared forty and got pregnant with twins, and then my aunt, who had my cousin at 42. I am buoyed up by these examples that fly in the face of those fertility charts; that scoff at 40, not even 35. I am feeling better until I remember that all of these examples, as far as I know, never suffered from an infertility issues. They had normal, healthy bodies. They tried, they got pregnant, the end. Comparatively, I may have the body of an eighty year old, and no examples of post-35 pregnancies will be applicable. Except for maybe the fertile octogenarian, but that it is not really a thing and is actually just a super dorky reference to a property law hypothetical, which now I am very embarrassed to have written. Darn it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t feel old. I don’t really look any older either. I am not suddenly getting more respect or less hesitation from new clients. I still wear Converse sneakers, and I sent out Hello Kitty thank you cards for my birthday presents. I like to be goofy and watch cartoons. I have a pair of heels that are saddle shoes, and I wear them to court all the time, I’m not kidding. But most of all, I don’t feel any older than when we started this journey back when I was thirty-two.
I do not feel old. I do not want to feel old. I also do not want to accept the effect age is having on my life right now. I do not want to deal with one more reason to support the lowered likelihood of me ever getting pregnant. But if I look at infertility websites, and if I go to my doctor’s office, I will be told repeatedly, that I am just fooling myself. Because the unfortunate reality, that I should be old enough to accept, is that it’s one thing to be young at heart, it’s another to have old eggs.