Navigating a Safe Pregnancy in Your 40s

I’m so touched by all the emails I get from women trying to conceive in their 40s and from people interested in pregnancy at a later age. One person I loved hearing from through this blog is reporter Kristine Crane, who writes about women and health for US News & World Report‘s Wellness section. Her latest piece is “Navigating a Safe Pregnancy in Your 40s,” and it starts with our story, then goes on to look at those of other women, couples, and doctors involved in later-life pregnancies and the quest to conceive in your 40s:

At age 45, Tracy Slater, an American expat writer living in Osaka, Japan, resigned herself to the fact that she might never be a mother. After a few years of failed fertility treatments and two miscarriages, she and her husband continued trying to have a baby – but shifted their focus to Slater’s husband’s dying father.

So when Slater developed what they assumed was a stomach bug, they figured she had picked it up at the hospital while visiting him. But it turned out she was seven weeks pregnant. “They already saw a heartbeat,” Slater says. “And I’d been drinking one or two glasses of wine a night, and a cup of coffee everyday.” In addition to drinking alcohol and caffeine – not advised for women trying to conceive – Slater was also overwhelmingly stressed over the prospect of losing her beloved father-in-law.

In other words, she was not in ideal fertile conditions – and yet, she had become pregnant with her daughter. “I still have dreams they made a mistake. I still can’t believe I carried to term this healthy child,” says Slater, author of “The Good Shufu.”

While Slater’s outcome is certainly not the norm, and one she attributes to good luck, it’s increasingly common to see women in their 40s have successful pregnancies – through IVF, egg freezing, donor eggs or more rarely, as in Slater’s case, natural conception.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnancies among women in their 40s has increased by about 2 percent per year since 2000. In 2014, there were 10.6 pregnancies per 1,000 women in this age group.

Read the full article here at US News & World Report

 

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take on How I Got Pregnant Naturally at 45,  Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45, and On Delivering my First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Post online and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used. In any case, I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts. Finally, if you’re *still* interested in my story [bless you for your patience if so!], the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu.)

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An Honest Take on Getting Pregnant Naturally at 45

If you’ve landed on this page after a random web-search, you aren’t alone.  The topics of “natural pregnancy at 45” and “getting pregnant at 45” draw more visitors than any other to this blog, although I initially started it because of my book — about my marriage, not about infertility or TTC per-se. I only have  few other posts on this whole blog solely devoted to trying to conceive in my 40s, and together they get almost ten thousand views every month (which is a lot for this blog!) and have encouraged over 500 women to reach out directly over email to share their stories, or sometimes just their fears and frustrations. (You can do so here.)

So I’m compiling most of the information from them and adding a little more here to make it easier for readers to find all in one place. And if you’ve landed here because you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and especially helps banish any guilt you may be feeling about what you are or are not doing to have a baby. Please know that although I (probably) don’t know you personally, I’m keeping you in my thoughts.

The Basic Story

I got pregnant naturally at 45 and a half, and I delivered a healthy baby girl four months after I turned 46. She is my first and only child. I conceived her after more than four years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, where we live and where my husband is from. During this 4 years, I’d had 2 miscarriages and a whole slew of diagnoses for my infertility.

“How did you get pregnant naturally at 45?” people often want to know. Here’s how, I’m assuming: We got really lucky.

My husband and I both longed for a child, but we didn’t consider using donor eggs or surrogates, because they are not approved in Japan, and because we desperately wanted a child that came from both of us biologically (a feeling I wrestled with and felt very conflicted over, but that was true, and that I wrote about for the New York Times). I’d been diagnosed with high FSH, a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. As well, of course, as being old. I tried acupuncture, herbs, fertility yoga, and multiple fertility diets and dietary restrictions to try to make my maternal age “younger.”

When I turned 45, we decided I’d stop all medical treatment, because the statistics on pregnancy at or past 45 with a woman’s own eggs were so dire. (My husband is 5 years younger and was in good procreative health, according to our doctors, so the issue was me, I felt sure.) I stopped all the fertility diets and acupuncture, too, as well as the special fertility yoga, although I continued to do regular yoga. I started drinking wine again and coffee whenever I wanted. I felt freer in some ways, but also very sad.

I had a deep, gnawing yearning to meet our baby, and I felt sure that our baby existed somewhere, but I was trying hard, after my 45th birthday, to adjust to the fact that I was probably never going to meet our baby or hold our baby, because of my age and all of the factors my doctors had said would prevent me from getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby.

Still, my husband and I continued to try to monitor my body’s cycles and to try to conceive a child naturally, mostly because my husband is an optimist and he convinced me there was no reason not to keep trying, and I couldn’t find a reason to disagree with him exactly.

When I was 45, my father in law got very ill. I loved him deeply, and I spent every day at the hospital in Osaka with him. My husband and I were both stressed and sad and very, very tired, so when I thought I might be ovulating, we tried to conceive but were so exhausted and overwhelmed we only managed to try once or twice a month for a while.

But one of those months I got pregnant. And now our daughter is 2, and she is perfectly healthy.

How My Pregnancy Contradicted Some of the Myths or Rules You May Be Struggling With

I’d be lying if I told you now that I know how I got pregnant naturally and delivered a healthy baby girl after I turned 46. And, no offense to anyone, but I’d guess that most people are lying–or at least are wrong–when they say they know the key to getting pregnant at an advanced age.

I tried really hard to be a good fertility patient–to eat the right foods and to avoid all the wrong ones, to stay healthy, to do the right things and not any of the wrong ones, etc.–and I always felt every month like I was failing. I was never 100% perfect with my diet, and of course I was never pregnant, or pregnant for long.

I can’t say for sure that none of the acupuncture or fertility exercise or diets I followed had no impact, because I did end up getting pregnant with a healthy baby eventually. But I wasn’t following any of this for at least six months before I ended up conceiving, so I certainly won’t say that any of these myths or rules proved true for me, either, at least not for the month I got pregnant and the half-year or so leading up to it:

  • If you’ve never had a child or carried a pregnancy to term, you can’t get pregnant naturally and deliver a healthy baby after you turn 45.
  • Drinking coffee will stop you from getting pregnant.
  • Drinking wine and/or beer will stop you from getting pregnant. I’ve never been a heavy drinker and I hardly ever have hard alcohol, but I drank a glass or two of wine or beer almost every night from my 45th birthday on, up until I was about six weeks pregnant–until the moment we learned I was pregnant, or actually about a week before that, when I started to feel nauseous (which at the time we attributed to a stomach bug I assumed I’d picked up visiting my father-in-law in the hospital).
  • Being stressed out will stop you from getting pregnant. As I write above, I got pregnant during one of the most stressful times of my life. And seriously, who isn’t stressed out when trying to conceive after, about, the first month or two of trying.
  • Thinking negative thoughts will stop you from getting pregnant. Let’s just say I’m not an optimist. I had negative thoughts all the time while I was trying to conceive and I always felt irked by the advice to think positively (more about this below). Struggling with infertility sucks and is incredibly hard, so go ahead and forgive yourself a negative thought or two–or two thousand.
  • You will get pregnant once you stop trying. As I write, we were still trying every month, just not with medical intervention anymore.

Resources & Ideas to Support You if You’re Trying to Conceive

Although I don’t know exactly how or why I got pregnant at 45, I do know what helped me get through my years of infertility and losses, and get through it with my marriage enough intact that my husband and I were still happy to keep trying naturally after my 45th birthday. In the hopes that some of these things may help or at least give solace to some of you, here they are:

  1. Accepting both the sadness and the freedom that corresponds with realizing I didn’t have much control at all over my own body: The number one thing that helped the most was actually something my dear friend Jenna said, which was roughly something like, “The most important thing to remember is that you have basically no control. Your body is just going to do its thing, and there is not much you can do to affect that one way or the other.” When she first said it, it sounded harsh and maybe even a little hopeless, but then when I thought about it, I realized both how true and also how freeing it was to accept that, for the most part, there was very little I could do to control–and thus very little I could do to ruin my chances of–getting pregnant. This may not be true for people who have structural impediments to conceiving or carrying a baby, but for many of us, whether or not our body produces a healthy egg and releases it at the right time and nurtures it the right way is something we cannot master. As I’ve mentioned, my doctors had so many reasons why I couldn’t produce or release or implant an egg normally without shots, pills, weeks of medical preparation, or another woman’s eggs, but in the end, my daughter’s first little cells formed, released, and took hold all by themselves. I didn’t even know about it until she was 7 weeks past conception.
  2. Accepting some negative or sad thinking while balancing that with an effort to take good care of myself as much as possible. Plus a podcast: I could never deal with the “positive thinking” movement–something else I write about a bit in my memoir.  First of all, unbridled optimism just isn’t my thing. But even more than that, it felt crushing to me to force myself to think happy thoughts about how an embryo was implanting or how I’d be pushing my baby in a carriage soon, and then every month to not get pregnant again.But I was able to find a resource that helped me combat negative thinking, which in turn helped keep me grounded in a space that balanced honesty with the tough odds I was facing, with solace and assurance that I was doing everything I could to stay healthy–and that I could feel good about that. I used podcasts by Belleruth Naparstek (especially the ones on fertility, anxiety, and general well-being). I liked these because they didn’t force false hope down my throat but enabled me to focus on staying healthy, but I think you could use anything meditative and it would help.
  3. Keeping up with my yoga as much as possible: Related to this, I did yoga almost daily, sometimes fertility-centered yoga but mostly just whatever kind of yoga routine I felt like I needed to feel best at the moment. I’m not saying that helped me get pregnant physically–or emotionally, for that matter. Plenty of people do yoga and still don’t get pregnant, and arguments about doing certain kinds of exercise (or diets, or thinking regimens) in order to get pregnant are specious at best, I believe, and dishonest at worst. But the yoga helped keep me strong and as relaxed as possible (which of course wasn’t very relaxed at all, especially not during treatment).Perhaps most of all, when I turned 45 and started to try to accept that my odds of getting pregnant with my own eggs had statistically dwindled to zero, the yoga really helped provide solace while I mourned. It also left me feeling like I hadn’t completely lost 4+ years of my life to infertility, because one thing the experience had given me was the ability to do so many more yoga moves than I’d even been able to do before. That, of course, wasn’t nearly equal to the pain of thinking we’d never be able to meet our baby, but it was something I was still grateful for, and finding anything I could be grateful for, at that point, helped.
  4. Keeping my focus on the love in my marriage, and on how lucky I was to have found my husband–child or no–also really helped me. Even after my husband and I gave up trying medically, remembering my love for my husband enabled me to know that we would be OK, that I would be OK, even if we never got to meet our baby. This was hugely helpful especially as I started to mourn the idea of having a child, when I turned 45 and we stopped all medical treatments and I thought my chances were basically nil. And if I hadn’t been able to get through all this with our partnership intact, then essentially I would never have been able to have my baby girl, because we wouldn’t have still been trying naturally.

I tell the story of how long we waited for our daughter, and all the ups and downs this waiting entailed, in my book (The Good Shufu). But I post this now in the hope that it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads these words and is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether you are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive. And I wish the same incredible good luck for you too.

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45 and On Delivering My First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility, although some of the content from these is reproduced in this post. And if you’re looking for more hope (although I remember ‘hope’ feeling a bit like a double-edged sword when I was trying to get pregnant), here’s a recent piece I compiled about how and why the stats on giving birth past 45 are really not so dire after all.

I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Post online and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used.

Finally, if you’re *still* interested in my story [bless you for your patience if so!], the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband a bit late in life and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu. If you read it, please get in touch and let me know how you like it!)

Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45

I started this blog because of my book, a memoir about marrying someone from another world, but I’ve noticed that the #1 search that leads people here involves pregnancy at or past 45. The last chapter of the memoir narrates the time in my life when I managed to get lucky enough to get knocked up naturally at 45, after 4+ years of infertility treatments (in a language I barely speak) and 2 pregnancy losses. But I wanted to write something quick and easy to access for all of you who come here searching right now for more information on the topic.

I remember sharply the sadness and disorientation of not being able to get (or stay) pregnant, the incredible endless-seeming limbo of it. So although of course I don’t know most of you personally, I’m keeping you all in my thoughts, and I hope you know how brave you must be to be wading through the pain of being not-pregnant.

I’ve written before about some of the myths of getting pregnant that my own pregnancy seemed to contradict. I’d be lying if I told you now that I know how I got pregnant naturally and delivered a healthy baby girl after I turned 46. And, no offense to anyone, but I’d guess that most people are lying–or at least are wrong–when they say they know the key to getting pregnant at an advanced age.

But I do know what helped me get through my years of infertility and losses, and get through it with my marriage enough intact that my husband and I were still happy to keep trying naturally after my 45th birthday. In the hopes that some of these things may help or at least give solace to some of you, here they are:

  1. The number one thing that helped the most was actually something my dear friend Jenna said, which was roughly something like, “The most important thing to remember is that you have basically no control. Your body is just going to do its thing, and there is not much you can do to affect that one way or the other.” When she first said it, it sounded harsh and maybe even a little hopeless, but then when I thought about it, I realized both how true and also how freeing it was to accept that, for the most part, there was very little I could do to control–and thus very little I could do to ruin my chances of–getting pregnant. This may not be true for people who have structural impediments to conceiving or carrying a baby, but for many of us, whether or not our body produces a healthy egg and releases it at the right time and nurtures it the right way is something we cannot master. As I’ve mentioned, my doctors had so many reasons why I couldn’t produce or release or implant an egg normally without shots, pills, weeks of medical preparation, or another woman’s eggs, but in the end, my daughter’s first little cells formed, released, and took hold all by themselves. I didn’t even know about it until she was 7 weeks past conception.
  2. I could never deal with the “positive thinking” movement–something else I write about a bit in my memoir.  First of all, unbridled optimism just isn’t my thing. But even more than that, it felt crushing to me to force myself to think happy thoughts about how an embryo was implanting or how I’d be pushing my baby in a carriage soon, and then every month to not get pregnant again. But I was able to find a resource that helped me combat negative thinking, which in turn helped keep me grounded in a space that balanced honesty with the tough odds I was facing, with solace and assurance that I was doing everything I could to stay healthy–and that I could feel good about that. I used podcasts by Belleruth Naparstek (especially the ones on fertility, anxiety, and general well-being). I liked these because they didn’t force false hope down my throat but enabled me to focus on staying healthy, but I think you could use anything meditative and it would help.
  3. Related to this, I did yoga almost daily. I’m not saying that helped me get pregnant physically–or emotionally, for that matter. Plenty of people do yoga and still don’t get pregnant, and arguments about doing certain kinds of exercise (or diets, or thinking regimens) in order to get pregnant are specious at best, I believe, and dishonest at worst. But the yoga helped keep me strong and as relaxed as possible (which of course wasn’t very relaxed at all, especially not during treatment), and when I turned 45 and started to try to accept that my odds of getting pregnant with my own eggs had statistically dwindled to zero, the yoga really helped provide solace while I mourned. It also left me feeling like I hadn’t completely lost 4+ years of my life to infertility, because one thing the experience had given me was the ability to do so many more yoga moves than I’d even been able to do before. That, of course, wasn’t nearly equal to the pain of thinking we’d never be able to meet our baby, but it was something I was still grateful for, and finding anything I could be grateful for, at that point, helped.
  4. Keeping my focus on the love in my marriage, and on how lucky I was to have found my husband–child or no–also really helped me. I’ve written about this in the past too, for the New York Times online, but even after I wrote that article, and even after my husband and I gave up trying medically, remembering my love for my husband enabled me to know that we would be OK, that I would be OK, even if we never got to meet our baby. This was hugely helpful especially as I started to mourn the idea of having a child, when I turned 45 and we stopped all medical treatments and I thought my chances were basically nil. And if I hadn’t been able to get through all this with our partnership intact, then essentially I would never have been able to have my baby girl, because we wouldn’t have still been trying naturally.

If I think of other things that helped me get through infertility, I’ll post them. In the meantime, I am wishing each and every person who reads this post the same good luck that somehow the universe delivered to me when I delivered my healthy baby girl at 4 months past my 46th birthday.

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take on How I Got Pregnant Naturally at 45 and On Delivering my First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility, although some of the content from these is reproduced in this post. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Post online and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used. In any case, I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts.)

On Delivering My 1st Child at 46

If you’ve landed on this page after a random web-search, you aren’t alone.  The topics of “natural pregnancy at 45” and “getting pregnant at 45” draw more visitors than any other to this blog, although I initially started it because of a book I wrote about my marriage, not about infertility or TTC per-se. I only have 2 other posts on this whole blog solely devoted to trying to conceive in my 40s, and together they get thousands of views each month (which is a lot, for me!) and have encouraged over 500 women to reach out directly over email to share their stories, or sometimes just their fears and frustrations. (You can do so here.)

 And if you’ve landed here because you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and especially helps banish any guilt you may be feeling about what you are or are not doing to have a baby. And please know that although I (probably) don’t know you personally, I’m keeping you in my thoughts:

After more than 4 years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, a country where I barely speak the language, I turned 45, and my Japanese doctors turned down the corners of their mouths when I asked about continuing to try to get pregnant.

They pointed not just to my age but my high FSH as a procreative non-starter, as well as a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. I tried natural approaches to fertility enhancement, cutting out coffee, wine, milk, soy milk, meat from non-organic farms, even water without ice-cubes and exercise at certain times of the month (to, I was urged, “nourish my blood”–whatever that means). I tried acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. I subscribed to podcasts about “positive thinking.” I felt guilty that nothing I did was working because I must not have been doing any of it well or strict enough.

On my 45th birthday, my chances of getting pregnant, according to the popular statistics, reached zero. I cried, and my husband assured me we could keep trying naturally. I said “ok,” but I thought he was being foolishly optimistic.  We stopped all medical treatments, and I gave up all the alternative approaches to boosting fertility I’d been using too, like acupuncture and herbs.

There Go All the Theories about What To Do and What Not to Do

Six months later, just after mother’s day and just after I wrote this post, we learned I was almost seven weeks pregnant. At the time, my beloved father-in-law was dying, and I’d been spending 4-6 hours a day in a Japanese hospital with him, where once again, I couldn’t understand any of the nurses or doctors. So there goes the theory that we just have to relax or not be stressed and we’ll get pregnant.

My husband and I were still trying naturally every month, although sometimes we were so tired from his father’s illness that we could barely make it past 9pm. But still, we were still trying, so there goes the theory that we just have to stop trying to get pregnant.

After my 45th birthday, I’d started drinking wine and coffee again. I ate what I wanted to eat and worked out when and how I wanted to. I tried to monitor my body with OPKS and other physical signs of ovulation, but that’s it. So there go the theories that we have to monitor what we eat or how we exercise to get pregnant.

My husband and I had also decided not to adopt if we couldn’t conceive (as I’d written about here, in the New York Times online). So there goes the theory that you’ll get pregnant if you just adopt and start to love a child–which I found the most insulting of all theories, actually.

In February of 2014, I was 4 months past my 46th birthday when I gave birth to a healthy, perfect little girl. She is lying beside me now as I write this.

I tell the story of how we waited for our daughter, and all the ups and downs this waiting entailed, in my book (The Good Shufu). But I post this now in the hope that it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads these words and is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether you are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive. And I wish the same incredible good luck for you too.

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take on How I Got Pregnant Naturally at 45 and  Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility, although some of the content from these is reproduced in this post. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Post online and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used.  Finally, if you’re *still* interested in my story [bless you for your patience if so!], the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu. In any case, I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts.)

OK, So I May Have Omitted Some Crucial Details

And What Do You Think of Ending a Memoir Mid-Story?

In my last post, about the very generous bloggers who nominated me for the Liebster award, I wrote that I haven’t been a very good blog-poster because I have been so busy working to meet my publisher’s deadline for the memoir. And that’s true. Sort of.

There is also a little detail I left out about the other reason I haven’t been a very good blogger: I unexpectedly got pregnant last May. Totally naturally. At the age of 45 and 1/2. After 4+ years of failed IVF treatments and 2 pregnancy losses. In the middle of my beloved father-in-law’s last months of his life, when we had just learned he had been diagnosed with acute pancreatic cancer. When I was spending 4-6 hours a day in the hospital with him to try to keep him company and as comfortable as possible. (Actually, we didn’t know I was even pregnant until I was 7 weeks, because we assumed I had either caught a stomach bug at the hospital or was sick from the sadness and stress of Otōsan’s* illness. So, on a side note, there goes the theory that women should just relax and avoid stress and then they will get pregnant.)

We had wanted Otōsan to name the baby, but sadly he passed away before he could tell us the names he had chosen. We miss him very much. And we are in awe that his little grandchild-to-be finally showed up (at least in the belly) and we got to tell him before he died.

Because of my past difficulty getting and staying pregnant and all years of medical treatments I went though in Japan (a part of the story covered in the last part of the memoir), because I was already 45, and because I was simultaneously morning the loss of my father-in law, I didn’t want to write or even talk much about my pregnancy at first. I was also so sick with morning sickness that I could barely get out of bed until I passed the 16-week mark; I even stopped working on the memoir for over 2 months.

Now the sickness is waning, I’ll be 20 weeks this Thursday, and my doctor expects me to deliver a healthy little one at the end of January.

So, the Memoir Was Supposed to End with Me, at 45, Coming to Terms with Not Having a Child…

When I sold the memoir to Putnam last winter based on the proposal and first 4 chapters, the story was supposed to end with me childless at 45, since my sweetie and I had decided against adoption (as I wrote about in the New York Times online). Well now, obviously, the pregnancy complicates things. In a great way, of course, but still. So I spoke to my editor last week about how to end the memoir now. Do I end it before I get pregnant? I can’t end it after I deliver, because the manuscript is due almost a month before my due date. It looks like the story will now come to a close with me mid-pregnancy, mourning my father-in-law while celebrating this incredible surprise of  the promise of a new life.

Sometimes I love this idea, because I’m not big on memoirs that tie up every loose end; life just isn’t like that. But sometimes the idea seems weird to me, to end so much in the middle of the action. Then again, if we are lucky enough that the baby is in fact born healthy, as is now expected, I guess that could be the makings of the second book: raising a child in a country where I still don’t speak the language (!), and where I’m a first-time mother at the crazy age of 46…

——-

*Otōsan is the Japanese word for “respected father,” what a daughter or daughter-in-law calls her father or father-in-law.

9 Years Ago Today, I Met the Shogun

Nine years ago today, I met the Shogun. I kept trying to stand near him, and he kept moving away from me, afraid, he’d tell me later, that I was going to try to make him speak English.

Two weeks later, he said, “Lub you,” to which I responded “What?” He had to repeat it a few more times before I realized his “ub” was “ove.”

As I’ve written before, seven months ago, the Shogun and I gave up expecting I’d ever be able to sustain a pregnancy, after almost five years of trying: my body somehow too full of slip for those tiny sparks of life to take hold for long. “But you know,” he told me, as our deadline to stop trying neared, “if we can have baby, that would be like miracle. But it will still only be like dessert, because you will always be main course.”

So today, with nine years of days together and Mother’s Day approaching with the promise of a holiday we’ll both ignore, I won’t forget how lucky I am that, although he kept moving away from me that first day we met, I kept moving towards him, and eventually we both stood still, together.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing: On my forthcoming memoir, The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West (Putnam Press)

Tracy in MiajimaBeing a gaijin wife in Osaka, I can be pretty out of it. I’d never heard of “The Next Big Thing,” or even knew what a “blog meme” was, until the lovely Jocelyn Eikenburg set me straight.  She’s the author of the forthcoming book Red All Over, a memoir of finding love and home in China; about, as she has written, “what happens when you let go of every expectation you had about life, love and even your own wedding, and just learn to listen to your heart and say ‘I do’ to the people, places and possibilities that really matter.” Jocelyn has been one of the most enthusiastic and supportive friends and fellow writers I’ve met online since my unexpected book deal landed in my lap!

She’s also a smart and funny and a beautiful writer, and if you don’t know about her and her blog Speaking of China, then you are missing out.

As for this “Next Big Thing,” it involves answering a few questions and then sharing the love by tagging another writer you admire, which I do below:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, the basic idea came from my falling madly in love with the least likely person in the world: a Japanese salaryman who could barely speak English (and I spoke no Japanese).

The book is about what happens when you are a Boston-based, skeptical, plan-obsessed, feminist literary academic who meets the love of your life, but being together means you must give up every plan or goal you’ve ever had and essentially forfeit your own world for his.

Ultimately, though, it’s the story of finding love and meaning in a foreign language, as well as hope and happiness amidst the boatload of loss and confusion that we call real life. (Here’s the full overview.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Really??? I need to finish writing the book first before I can even start to think about this one. Now, if you’re asking what I’d want to wear on the red carpet, that’s another story. But don’t get me started, or I may just stop writing and click over to some online shopping sites, just to see what they….

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Good Shufu a true story about finding love, meaning, hope, and self in the least likely places in the world: the places we always swore we’d never go.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Good Shufu is forthcoming from Penguin’s Putnam imprint in 2015. It’s represented by the very, very wonderful Rachel Sussman of Chalberg & Sussuman.

And I’m still in shock and awe over all of this!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oooh, check back in, let’s say, 7 months? The full draft is due to my editor at Putnam, the incredible Sara Minnich, in January 2014.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I started writing the book at the tail end of 4+ brutal years of fertility treatments and 2 pretty heart-rending pregnancy losses, all undergone in Japan (and I still speak virtually no Japanese). I hadn’t written anything—I mean anything—in a few years because of the stress of this medical issue. And then one day, just off the cuff, I sent a pitch to the editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog about the difference between the desire to have a biological child and the desire to be a parent.

She published the piece (although with a much different title than the one I had chosen), and a few days later, an editor at Putnam emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in submitting a memoir proposal. I was shocked! And delighted! And still totally infertile! So while all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and hide from the world and my twice-daily-in-the-stomach-blood-thinner shots that my clinic in Osaka thought I needed to have any chance of sustaining a pregnancy, I signed up for a course on nonfiction proposal writing through MediaBistro, wrote a proposal and four sample chapters, submitted it to Putnam, and they offered me a deal!

I was shocked! And delighted! And still totally infertile!

But working on this book has been one kind of godsend, because it has helped me cope with coming to terms with turning 45 and abandoning our medical quest to try to have a child—an issue I write about towards the end of the memoir.

As my husband says, “If we can have baby, that will be like miracle. But it will still only be like dessert, because you’ll always be the main course.”

So, despite some of the sadness of the past few years, how can I not feel like the luckiest girl in the world?

Now, I’m excited to introduce Kaitlin Solimine, another recent friend and fellow writer whom I’m honored to follow and know! She’s an award-winning writer about China, a former U.S. Department of State Fulbright Creative Arts Fellow, and the 2010 Donald E. Axinn Scholar in Fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Most recently, she was the March 2012 guest editor for the magazine Cha: An Asian Literary Journal , and I got to hear her give an incredible reading from her forthcoming novel at the Four Stories Boston 2013 opening night, an MP3 of which is posted here. Rumor has it, she attracted some publishing interest at this event, which doesn’t surprise me one bit!

“Strangely, my new role as ‘traditional Japanese housewife,’ didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism”

And my 1st official reading from the book-in-progress

I’ll be reading a brief excerpt from The Good Shufu on Thursday, March 7, at The Fairbank Center at Harvard in celebration of the March 2013 issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

Here’s a sneak peek from the middle of the piece I’ll be reading:

A few months after our marriage, I sat one night on the floor of my father-in-law’s living room, the worn but tidy rug rough under my limbs. I’d begun to call my father-in-law Otōsan, “respected father,” bowing low when he came for dinner three times a week, serving tea to him and Toru on the nights we ate at his house, just down the road from ours. Strangely, my new role as shufu, or “traditional Japanese housewife,” didn’t bother me, despite my history of feminism. This is not my culture, I thought. This is something I just do out of respect to Otōsan, when we’re with him. I surprised even myself by how easily I could play the part, as long as it was only for a few hours a week, in a country and language I knew I’d never call my own.

That night, while the men sipped the tea I’d served, I flipped through old albums of Toru as a baby. I saw him as a newborn in his mother’s arms, her face shining above his perfectly rounded cheeks, the red bow of his baby mouth. She stared at him with a love and pride so fierce it looked like hunger, a hunger I had never felt or wanted. Until then.

Suddenly, that hunger began to tempt me, my heart melting a bit until I could taste a new yearning on my tongue.

****

I was 41 when I first got pregnant. “Contratulation, Mrs. Tracy!” the doctor at the fertility clinic in Osaka said, dropping the “s” and confusing my first name for my last, as everyone in Japan did. She pronounced my name “To-ray-shee,” and she had doubted my ability to get pregnant at all, given my age.

The clinic nurses were giddy. They spoke no English, but I knew what their delight said: 41! Getting pregnant on your very first try of IVF! With your own eggs! They smiled happily and bowed enthusiastically when I came in for my weekly ultrasounds. “Iee, ne,” they would say—“It’s great, isn’t it!”—and their eyes would sparkle as they clasped their hands against the bright pink of their polyester uniforms.

Red the full piece in the March issue of Cha, or please come see me read on 3/7/13 if you’re in the Boston area! More info about the event is here!

Busting the Myth of the Writer Who Never Stops Writing

And the Motherlode Pitch that Started the Essay that Started It All

In the comments to my post here, about how I actually got my book deal, Philomela asked how I ended up getting in touch with the Motherlode editor at the New York Times, KJ Dell’Antonia (who’s great). Here’s the story (with a rather long intro, which I explain at the end)!

Honestly, I hadn’t written anything for almost a year, given the rigorous treatments I was undergoing, the stress of the 2 miscarriages, not being able to travel back home to the US b/c of it all, the month after month of being crushed, etc., etc. I felt like I had no energy to do anything but just get up, go to the clinic almost daily (in Japan, most clinics don’t allow women to give themselves the hormone shots, so I had to go in for my daily shots), keep writing for my regular part-time freelance job (I write content and overviews about faculty research for US universities) and function, at least externally, like a relatively normal person. I felt awful about it, like I was going to go through me early 40s with nothing to show for it but a bunch of failures and heartbreaks, and no career or writing advancement at all. But one night, on one of the infertility forums I used, I saw a post mentioning a previous Motherlode column (which I mention in my pitch below), and it gave me an idea for a pitch. So I sat down and tried to start a brief pitch, and the whole thing just came rolling out of, and I sent it that night, and KJ kindly responded right away saying she really liked the idea and wanted to post my piece. And the process (the piece being posted on the NYT site, the Putnam editor reading it and getting in touch, etc.) just rolled on from there, taking me totally by surprise. Once I had some sense that at least a few people might be interested in what I had to say, it became much easier to write (although it was still hard while I was going through treatments, but at least it was now manageable). It was just too much, though, to write into the vacuum of not-knowing-if-anyone-would-read-it, while I was dealing with the alienation of 4 years of trying, and failing, to get pregnant.

Anyway, I belabor this point a bit because as a writer I’ve heard a lot of people say that what makes a writer a real writer is that they just write, no matter what–they just keep going. And that just hasn’t always worked for me. Maybe I’m not a real writer; maybe I’m just someone with something to say who managed to interest an editor at Putnam and hopefully will interest a few more readers. But either way, I’d like to reassure people that sometimes (or at least this time), it’s not only the people who manage to write faithfully every day who get a book deal. Sometimes (or at least this time), it’s the people (or person) who fails miserably at that but who still has moments where they (or she) pulls through and it ends up working. For me, they key was to never give up completely, but to recognize that sometimes, with writing, things move or succeed when you least expect them to, and go nowhere when you most feel like they should be moving.

OK, now for the copy of the Motherlode pitch, in case it’s interesting or helpful to anyone:

Subject line: Motherlode pitch – Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?

Dear Ms. Dell’Antonia:

I know from reading your Motherlode posts that adoption is an issue close to your heart and that you are interested in blended families. Ours is culturally blended—in more ways than one: liberal American Jewish writer (me), and traditional Japanese salary-man (my husband).

We’ve also been blended, to some degree, on the issue of adoption, and I’d love to write a post for Motherlode about this topic, “Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?”

I was originally open to adoption and my husband, in whose culture adoption is extremely rare, never has been.  Now, as we near the end of 4 years IVF and other fertility treatments (all done in Japan, where we live, and where I don’t speak the language…stories for another time) and my 44th year, we are preparing to move on and live childless.

I’ve accepted, without even too much of a fight, my husband’s feelings that adoption just isn’t for him.  But my willingness to accept this—to prioritize my marriage and being a wife over the possibility of being a mother, to admit that I also to a great degree feel a much stronger urge to have our biological child than to have a child at all—makes me call into question a whole range of issues.  Chief among them is: Am I less entitled to mourn not having a child if I am not willing to do anything it takes to become a parent?  Is it some sort of moral failure to long for a biological child but not an adopted one?

Been thinking about this issue for years, ever since my first IVF round ended in a lost heartbeat at 9 weeks. But I’ve been thinking about writing about this issue for a while, too, ever since I read the blog’s “A Roadmap for Life Without Children” by Shelagh Little, or more accurately, since I read the passionate responses Little’s article engendered, especially her statement, “After not being able to have children for so long, I am ambivalent about adoption and parenthood in general. I admire people who have adopted children, but it is not for me.”

At 444 comments, her piece—and this statement in particular—was one of the most hotly-debated posts on the blog.

Would you be interested in a post written by me that explores this issue more fully?

More about me, and links to clips of mine, are @ http://www.fourstories.org/about_tracy_slater.html

Many thanks for considering this, and warm regards,

Tracy Slater

Biology & Longing: The New York Times Piece that Started It All

In an earlier post, I explained that this piece, which appeared in the New York Times Motherlode blog, was the catalyst for my book deal:

Biology & Longing

I’ve always respected rationality, mistrusted pure instinct. But when I fell in love with my husband, it was visceral: a deep, other-worldly kind of burn. It was also illogical.

We had spoken just a few, broken words.  I knew none of his native Japanese. While he could read English well enough to earn his Executive MBA in Boston, he was far from fluent. My mother, whose own logical plan for me included a nice Jewish doctor, helpfully pointed out the irrationality of our relationship.  My life was centered on writing and literature—in English. I was left of liberal. How could I possibly marry a traditional Japanese salary-man who barely spoke my language—and who would surely return to Asia, post-MBA?

Almost eight years later, I’m still absurdly in love with him, we still share neither linguistic fluency nor political leanings, and I still cannot logically explain our bond.

A year into our marriage, after numerous tests certifying his reproductive perfection at 36 and my dismal potential at 41, other dissimilarities emerged. I had always been uncertain about kids, but my love for my husband transformed my doubts into a longing for our child—a different kind of other-worldly burn. I had also always believed genetics were irrelevant, that to become related by choice was one of the loveliest human acts. In fact, one of my own parents never bonded with one of my siblings, who found home with a foster family. I knew first-hand that DNA doesn’t equal love.

My husband also deeply wanted a baby—with our genes. When he told me this, it made sense: adoption is very rare in contemporary Japan, where bloodlines are usually held sacred. (When Japanese children are orphaned, they are almost always taken in by extended family. Even donor eggs are banned here.)

My reaction to my husband’s feelings surprised me, though: relief. Once he articulated them, I realized that I too had faith I could love a child if it came from inside him and me, but not necessarily through other means.  My beliefs about genetics, apparently, did not hold up when facing the terrifying leap into parenthood.

Now, after over three heartbreaking years of trying to conceive, two miscarriages, and countless injections to compensate for my poor procreative profile—all endured in Japan, where I barely speak the language—my feelings have not changed, despite frequent prodding by well-meaning loved ones that “perhaps we should just adopt.”

At times, I’m slightly horrified by myself. What kind of person, I wonder, goes to such lengths over DNA? In my harshest moments I think, doesn’t the obsession with genetics underlie some of our worst human catastrophes? If I love my husband—surely no biological relative—so deeply, couldn’t I love an adopted child just as much?

I’ve found comfort from women in my “Over 40 and Trying” online groups who face similar struggles, including much confusion from others over why they “don’t just adopt.” But occasionally, it feels like in these forums, too, there’s an unspoken hierarchy of who’s willing to go the furthest to be a mother. Who’s open to donor eggs, sperm, or embryos? Who will pursue adoption after one failed IUI?

One friend found something similar in the adoption community: are you willing to adopt an older child? Another ethnicity? A special-needs kid? What does it say about you if you’re not?

Another friend explains, it’s just “instinct.” Some people have the instinct simply to parent, with or without a partner; some to birth a baby; some to have a child genetically theirs and their beloved’s.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to meet our baby.  I have an inexplicable but strong, clear sense that our baby exists, that this is what it has asked us to go through in the effort to meet it, and that this makes it all worth it—even, strangely, if our baby never actually arrives. Perhaps my sense is just the remnants of a heartbeat lost at nine weeks, or of embryos that never grew past the brief first sparks of life. Perhaps it’s just my imagination.

Maybe, in nine months, when I reach the age at which my husband and I have vowed to stop trying, I’ll feel differently. Maybe I just can’t conceive of trying to adopt while trying so hard to conceive. But I don’t think that’s it. My longing, so fierce that sometimes I can barely move, is not necessarily to be a parent in the abstract, but to love and parent our biological child. Irrational? Perhaps. Shame-worthy? Sometimes I think so. But still deeply, instinctually true.

—-

PS. In case readers are interested, I just posted the pitch that preceded this essay here.