Pregnancy, Menopause and Learning the Ukulele — Not Necessarily in That Order

At 36, I decided I was ready to get pregnant. I had quit drinking two and a half years earlier, and had just met someone new — an AA-approved boyfriend who was financially stable, mostly trustworthy, and as tired as I was of being a destructive, melodramatic alcoholic. He also had a wonderful Irish accent.

Most of my life I had been late to the game. I took the SATs without preparation, applied to college weeks before the semester was set to begin, schemed my way into a study abroad in Amsterdam at the last minute*, took a job with AOL after the merger with Time-Warner (thus not benefitting from any of that stock-splitting that made nearly everyone in the DC suburbs filthy rich). Having a child in my late 30s would fit my pattern. Besides, it’s what I wanted.

I was 36, but I always looked young. I often joked that all the alcohol I drank in my life pickled me. At that point, my situation was as good as it was going to be. On our first date, I asked my AA-approved boyfriend if he wanted kids. After all, it’s silly to proceed in a relationship with the delusion that I can change another person’s mind about something so life-altering. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort. In that spirit, I also provided him with a partial family history:

Schizophrenia, addiction, depression, federal prison — take my genetics or leave them.

Everything was in order. We tried, and tried, and tried. And kept failing to get pregnant. After seeing a fertility specialist, we learned why. Although I was 36, and even though I looked 30, my ovaries were old souls — the doctor said I had the fertility of 42-year-old, that I was uterus-deep in the phase called perimenopause.

It seems the one thing in life I was early for was “the change.”

Then I made it through that fast-closing door. When I was 39, I had a healthy baby girl.

I spent a lot of time, money and emotional energy trying to sneak through fertility’s fast-closing door. I bought ovulation predictor kits by the caseload, wondered why no one ever invented a testicle thermometer, mastered the post-coital headstand, and attended an infertility support group to let go of the rage I felt when I saw other people’s ultrasound pictures on Facebook.

For most of my life, I believed that my wants and needs were paramount. If I wanted something, I wanted it now. If things didn’t go as I had planned, it had nothing to do with me or my lack of patience. It was surely the result of larger forces. Life, I believed, was cruel and unfair.

Then I made it through that fast-closing door. When I was 39, I had a healthy baby girl. I called her my “miracle,” even though I was a spiritually bankrupt catechism dropout. Shortly after I had her, the door closed for good.

Today, at age 46 — no periods, not now, nor for the past two years. I’m well beyond my right to shop at Urban Outfitters, plus I’m getting a little thick-ish in the middle. And I’m (kind of) ok with it.

I can now focus on things I never had the patience or self-assurance to do: learn to tap dance, get a pilot’s license, fall in love with mathematics, travel to Zanzibar, and loads more.

About three years ago, I began teaching myself ukulele. I originally wanted to learn guitar, but I heard ukulele was a good gateway drug — four strings instead of six, more portable, and “less serious” an instrument. I tried three times to learn to play an instrument in my life — clarinet, flute and piano. Each time, I gave up after a few lessons because I wasn’t immediately a musical genius.  

But this time I stuck with it. I learned to play The Kinks’ “Lola,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” and a handful of sea shanties. I found a proper ukulele teacher, who also gives me singing lessons. I don’t sound like a dying cow, as I had always thought.

My dream of putting together an all-female, early Kinks ukulele cover band is now more than a fancy — it’s part of my plan. And if I play only one gig, I will still be satisfied.

I no longer believe that there are larger forces at work, nor do I think life is cruel and unfair. Today I see my life as a series of challenges. My life certainly didn’t follow the path I had in mind, but I’m delighted with where it has taken me, and where I have yet to go.  

*The program — an in-depth study of criminal justice in the Netherlands — had nothing to do with my major (“undeclared”), but everything to do with the beefy Dutchman I met the previous summer. Priorities, people.

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