All of my life I knew that I wanted to be a mother.Â I didnâ€™t know when, but I knew.Â I never felt rushed, until I was about 34.Â In high school, I played sports, worked on the school yearbook and hung out with my friends.Â In college, I studied some, traipsed through national parks, traveled by train through Europe and worked for the USDA during the summers.Â In the years after graduation, I volunteered my time in Chicagoâ€™s South Side, tracked the raptor migration along the Mississippi River flyway, drove a school bus, worked with a team of health workers in Chile and applied to graduate school.Â Never did I have a worry about parenting.
My travels were followed by two graduate degrees, some testing of relationship waters and ultimately a plan to move back home to Central Pennsylvania to find a way to grow a family.
The most challenging times for me were the years prior to meeting my husband, Jim.Â Every day I was aware that the doors of my own fertility were inching closed.Â Nothing mattered more to me than the chance to be a mother.Â At the time, I found myself desperate to figure out a relationship in which I was deeply emotionally entwined, yet which did not necessarily promise me the chance at parenthood, for which I so yearned.
It is no wonder then that, finally, after committing to a young partnership and attempting to conceive for nearly a year, I felt nothing less than elation at the unbelievable site of two lines on the white plastic stick in the bathroom.Â In fact, I was so beside myself that I couldnâ€™t stop laughing, for hours.Â I was giddy with disbelief.
I remember my exact words to my family later that evening in the sharing of my news.Â I still see around the picnic table my family with their jaws dropped open, every one of them.Â I remember my fatherâ€™s tears of relief and joy, his leaning his head against my motherâ€™s shoulder and closing his eyes.Â I remember my mom smiling at him, â€œDo you want me to have a baby?â€Â and my fatherâ€™s gentle response, â€œNo, I want Heidi to have a baby.â€
It was my treasure, my secret joy, at every moment of every day.Â About a month later, during a break at work, I slipped outside and lay on the ground under a pine tree.Â There, with a small Doppler in hand, I heard for myself the strong sounds of a beating heart within me, a heartbeat that was not my own, yet that came from deep inside me.Â I knew then that my child was, in all likelihood, well.
Even though I knew the label â€œElderly Primigravidaâ€ headed my medical chart at every visit to the midwife, I aimed to defy any risk that my age assumed.Â I jogged an hour every day.Â I filled my body with nourishing vegetables.Â I declined some of the medical diagnostic tests recommended for women of my advanced age.Â I read.Â We attended childbirth classes, even though I had already attended the labors of some 150 women and served them in the role of midwife myself.
One late January night, after triumphing over the pains of childbirth, I found myself holding a tiny, healthy, newborn daughter.Â Except for my husband sleeping in the corner, we were alone in the dark room.Â I curled around her little body, and said prayers of gratitude for the gift to me of motherhood in the form of this tiny, vulnerable being cuddled next to me. Â I knew that I should have been exhausted after having been in labor for three days.Â Instead, I was filled with the deepest contentment I had ever known.
Three days later, nursing her on our couch at home, I knew that I had fallen completely, head over heels, in love.Â I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I recognized that she had taken complete hold of my heart and was there to stay.
As I look back over our earliest days together, which became months and now years, I remember her triumphs, which have also been mine.Â I saw her smack her lips at her first tasting of oatmeal at my grandmotherâ€™s.Â At nine months I saw her glee at suddenly grasping the meaning of the sign, â€œLight!â€Â I watched her wobble toward her shadow in our front yard, joyfully trying to catch it.Â I watched her embrace the arrival of her brother, born at home in the early morning in late January two years later.Â She was the first one to make him laugh out loud.
Wanting her attachment to me to remain secure, I nursed them both, day and night, for years.Â In the changing of diapers, the cooking of eggs, the reading of stories, the hugs, laughter, frustrations, worries, tears and a lot of kisses, I continued to grow into my identity as â€œMommy.â€Â I have been as proud of my successes as I have been ashamed of my shortcomings.
I do not know how my life would have been different had I parented my children ten or even twenty years earlier.Â I was forty when Katie was born and forty-two when Levi was born.Â Thankfully, I had remained healthy and had pregnancies, births and children that were free of complications.Â Being older, I am well aware of my need to care for my own health perhaps more vigilantly than a younger mother.Â With that in mind, I still exercise, eat well and try to get the most out of every moment with my family.Â I journal and pray and share the stories of the moments in my days with my friends and family.
Now, instead of traveling alone all over the globe, I am looking for opportunities to explore as a family.Â Maybe we will work on an organic farm in Italy or camp our way around the United Statesâ€™ national parks.Â Or maybe we will just stay home, raise our chicks, plant blueberry bushes, catch frogs in our own yard and watch the moon rise.Â Either way, regardless of my age, or maybe because of it, I will be intentional about parenting in a way that is consistent with my values of living healthfully, kindly and close to the land.Â Although there are plenty of times when I worry, on good days, I can trust that the future will continue to unfold just as it should.