When a ONE-NIGHT STAND results in a SURPRISE PREGNANCY at 42, a Dublin woman is faced with starting all over again – and explaining the situation to her horrified TEENAGE CHILDREN …
My 40th birthday party was everything I had hoped it would be. Unlike many of my friends, I had embraced the prospect of meeting this milestone. I truly felt as though I had something to celebrate. I had loyal friends, a successful business and three children I was incredibly proud of. My early 20s had been great, but an unplanned pregnancy at 25 had resulted in a marriage we had rushed into and two more children in quick succession. The marriage had limped along but when we called it a day after ten years, nobody was truly surprised. My ex-husband and I had remained on relatively good terms but at the end of the day, I was a single parent and as a result, my 30s had been fraught with so many of the issues that single parents face. With a fledgling business and three children, I had felt like I was constantly chasing my tail.
Turning 40 was like a new beginning for me. My business was ticking along nicely and I was finally reaping the rewards of my efforts. My youngest son was turning twelve and due to begin secondary school in the autumn, a milestone that was welcomed by all of us. No more school runs and packed lunches for me, I had decided, as I reserved his place on the school bus with his two older sisters. After many ups and downs, our life had settled into a groove that we were all happy with – finally. And so, on a sunny July evening I celebrated with 50 of my nearest and dearest in a rooftop restaurant overlooking Dublin city. It was perfect. Mojitos on tap and scorching weather added to the already heady atmosphere, and when the club downstairs opened at eleven o’clock, we were all on top of the world. It had been a perfect evening, one I was sure I would never forget. Two years later as I sat on my bed watching a pregnancy test turn blue, I remembered the evening wistfully and felt all my excitement for the future ebb away – I had just turned 42 and was pregnant as a result of a one-night stand.
Ironically enough, I had met him in the same club where I had celebrated my 40th birthday. It wasn’t often that I ventured from the suburbs into town for a night out, so when I did, I usually ended up at the same spot. It was one of the few places in Dublin where you could listen to some music, enjoy a few cocktails and not feel like the oldest swinger in town. He was recently divorced, handsome, successful and interesting. A combination that was almost unheard of among the 40-something set. I was immediately drawn, it had been a long time. I had never considered myself lonely but that night I allowed myself to ponder the what ifs. Stifling a laugh at my silly fantasies, I decided to just relax and enjoy whatever happened. We were both adults after all.
Now, six weeks later as I watched the blue line appear, I wondered how on earth I had been so foolish. My predicament smacked of teenage irresponsibility but I had just turned 42. My eldest daughter was 17 and I couldn’t bear to think how she would take the news that her mother was pregnant. An abortion was out of the question, it just wasn’t an option for me, but was having a baby in these circumstances? After walking around in a daze for some weeks, I finally summoned up the nerve to call the father and arranged to meet for coffee. His reaction was as expected. He had children already in their 20s and he had no interest in starting again. I understood, but was resentful at the same time. He gently reminded me that I had options which he was more than happy to finance and he seemed baffled by my insistence that a trip to London to take care of the problem wasn’t for me. I couldn’t explain why. We parted somewhat awkwardly, with no promises to keep in touch.
It was another month before I had the conversation I had been most dreading, with my children. Their attitudes were slightly more extreme and ran the gamut from disbelief to complete mortification. As anticipated, it all revolved around what their friends would think. That people would know their mother had sex was unimaginable for them and I completely understood. I was overcome with shame myself and knew instinctively that my own reaction would have been the same at their age. Telling my ex-husband was another conversation stopper, although it was really none of his business. When he burst out laughing it took all my resolve not to slap him across his smirking face. As my pregnancy became more obvious, the children’s embarrassment grew. I didn’t even have a boyfriend which was the worst part of all – or so they said. I tried to explain to them that as an adult, I didn’t need a boyfriend but it felt half hearted, even to me. How could I preach about precautions to my daughter when I had so flagrantly broken my own rules? I endured weeks of the silent treatment from them, but as with all of life’s idiosyncrasies, the worst of it passed and we all eventually came to terms with the situation.
Nearly 15 years after my last pregnancy, this time was different. My body fought me every step of the way. I was constantly exhausted and had persistent back pain. I felt old. Every time I saw an expectant mother it made me conscious of my age. They all looked so young. As my due date approached, I was fraught with anxiety and fear. I had bounced back after my other children were born but I knew this couldn’t be the same. I felt no joy at the impending arrival, just dread. I questioned my decision to keep the baby only to immediately be filled with disgust at myself for having such thoughts. The nine months were a rollercoaster of emotion and by the time the baby’s arrival was due, I felt wrung out and completely unprepared. Luckily enough I had good friends and family who never once questioned my choices. My parents had passed away some years previously and in a way I was glad they weren’t around to witness my predicament. I was ashamed.
On a biting cold day in late February, we finally welcomed Harvey into the world. At nearly 8lbs he wasn’t small, but he was perfectly formed. I had been convinced that once he arrived, all my newborn knowledge would come rushing back but that wasn’t to be the case. It was like learning to walk again. I had forgotten everything and a lot had changed. Looking at all the other new mums in the hospital, I was again struck by how young they were, but this time I also noticed a few older women like myself. Maybe I wasn’t that unusual after all, I pondered. Forty-two isn’t THAT old I told myself, it was just that I had been so young when I had the others. I had done everything the right way first time around I realised and that had still resulted in my being alone. Maybe this time wouldn’t be much different, although I worried that my newborn son had no father in his life, unlike the others.
When Harvey’s big brother and sisters arrived to meet him, I felt the relief was over me. They were smitten. I knew it wasn’t going to be all plain sailing but we were off to a good start. As expected, once we arrived home our nice quiet life was replaced with utter chaos. Reverting back to bottles and nappies was a challenge and bringing a baby everywhere was not something I relished. Life as we knew it was over. Financial stability meant I didn’t have to worry about money and I quickly realised I was going to need some help. I just couldn’t cope and I would eventually have to get back to work. I still had a business to run. Two weeks later, I was lucky enough to hire a wonderful nanny but as my return to work date approached, I began to panic. I had been in a bubble but now it was time to get back to reality. Before Harvey’s arrival I had, for the best part avoided questions about my pregnancy but I knew that luxury was about to end. I was convinced clients and people in general were speculating about my single status and Harvey’s parentage and I dreaded the thought of explaining myself. So I didn’t. Luckily, most people were kind enough to discuss the situation behind my back, only very few actually asked me invasive questions outright which I managed to deflect gracefully. They soon moved on to more interesting topics, and Harvey and I became yesterday’s news.
A few weeks after I returned to work, I summoned up the courage to get in touch with Harvey’s dad. I expected no reply and I wasn’t disappointed, although some small part of me is astounded that he could have no interest in meeting his son. Maybe that will change one day, maybe not. I considered the idea of contacting him for child support, but dismissed it immediately. I don’t need his money and I feel I should respect his decision not to be involved – after all, it was a choice I gave him. How I will explain this to Harvey in the future, I’m not quite sure.
Nearly twelve hectic months later, and finally some sort of normality has returned. Harvey will celebrate his first birthday in a few weeks and we will no doubt all struggle to remember a time when he wasn’t part of our family. His elder siblings dote on him. It was a big year for my eldest daughter too, as she turned 18. Another adult in the house. Finally. She has a boyfriend and is madly in love, as only an 18-year-old can be. I tried to have “the talk”’ with her once it became apparent they were exclusive, but her reaction was fierce. “Mum, relax, I don’t want to end up like you”. It may not have been the response I was looking for but if it does the job … In conversation with Charlotte Gunne.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Saturday, March 4.
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