Can you fall pregnant at 49?

LILY BRAGGE
Last updated 12:25 15/06/2012
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AM I OR AM I NOT? A 49-year-old waits for the results of a pregnancy test.

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OPINION: Who, any more, has a baby - naturally - at 50? Me? Well, maybe ...

As I write this, I could have a belly full of dividing cells. Or, it might just be that I have a belly full of belly; it has become increasingly difficult to discern. If I am indeed pregnant at 49, by the time I give birth I will have hit 50, and the only thing I'll be rocking will be a cradle. The medical term for the condition in a woman older than 35 is "geriatric pregnancy". So, what would that make me? Greatly geriatricly gravid?

I was 47 years old, and had been married for six months, the first time I played what I've come to know as the insanely torturous Am I or Am I Not? game. Beset with symptoms that included wild hormone swings, nausea, extreme tiredness, strange food cravings and aversion to alcohol, I did the obvious and took a pregnancy test. When that plastic stick blushed negative, I was overwhelmed by a combination of disappointment and relief. The next day my period arrived, three months late.

Despite my being what is charmingly known as "perimenopausal" (one of those bizarre "women's business" words), there is a possibility, albeit a biblical one, that I might still become pregnant. Having only one (adult) child, I have often had a yearning for another, but circumstances have never been conducive - and now that they are (sort of), it's probably too late.

My son has just turned 21 - an age at which it's starting to look a whole lot more appropriate (and not nearly as creepy) for him to be a father than it is for me to become a mother again. And if I were to become a mother again, I could not help but be both thrilled and aghast. Thrilled at what would be an absolute miracle baby, and aghast at what it would mean to have a baby at my age. I mean, I now find it difficult enough just to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. How would I cope with the relentless slog and terminal exhaustion of caring for a newborn?

My husband is 12 years older than me, and is not so keen on the idea of becoming a grandpa-dad. Then there's my weight: I'm "working on it". My health is not bad, but I take various prescription medications for one thing or another. The statistics for healthy older women who have babies with birth defects - let alone those for women who are not so healthy - are horrendous.

The sense of horror, however, is offset by a sense of delight at the thought of being blessed with a miracle baby. Sober medical statistics tell me that it's almost impossible for a woman between the ages of 45 and 60 to become pregnant and, without medical intervention, to carry the baby to full-term. And that's the rub: there remains a one or two per cent chance that I could get pregnant. Those better-than-lottery-winning odds might be low, but they are still odds to be respected.

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After my first "scare", I did not think about the possibility of being a pregnant old lady again, until two months later, and then the month after that, and the month after that ...

My husband and I choose not to use contraception, hence my monthly schizoid state. I have gone from having a reliable monthly menstrual cycle to one that's all over the shop and often late ... very late. And so this game of Am I or Am I Not? goes on. And it likely will until the annoyingly unpredictable "peri" part of perimenopausal has departed from this mad equation. But until The Change has irrevocably changed me, I'll remain "capable".

That post-marriage pregnancy test was the first of many (eight, but who's counting?). Being a highly suggestible person, every time my period is more than three weeks late, I start feeling ever so pregnant, and I take myself off to get a pregnancy test (I've started buying them in packs of five). Without fail, my period turns up within two days of peeing on a stick.

Whenever he spies the discarded wrapper in the bathroom, my husband says that he expects the emotional Godzilla he has been living with will soon be replaced by her sweet and docile doppelgänger, snug and wrapped up with a heat pad and painkillers, in bed with a good book.

Last year, there was a four-month interlude when my cycle went back to its old, reliable ways, and I had a period every 28 days on the knocker; but apart from that, every couple of months I find myself in a fractured state that alternates between being horrified and delighted.

If I'm honest, I would love to be given a second chance to be a mother - in part because I was so, so far from perfect the first time around. And so, until The Change blows in, I will continue to torture myself with the game of Am I or Am I Not?

-Daily Life

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