Surprised at 42
by Joy McDonald Coltvet
After 18 years of marriage, my husband and I found ourselves pregnant for the first time. To describe this as shocking is an understatement. It took us a month to tell anyone beyond health professionals. When they asked, “Is this good news?” I said, “Well… it’s definitely surprising.”
I had long since given up this idea; we had pursued adoption and were happy as adoptive parents of two children, 12 and 8. I had formed an identity around being an adoptive mom, never pregnant, and being the person who helped with storytelling about different kinds of families and how valid every kind of family is. So just imagine my surprise at this major change and shift in my sense of myself. At the same time, it was an entry into the confusing world of being of “advanced maternal age,” or what they used to call a “geriatric pregnancy.”
I’ve sometimes joked that life in the church is like a fountain of youth. No matter how old I get, many of the people I serve will still see me as quite young. Plus, I color my hair fairly religiously, so I’m often told I look like a teenager (not true!) by people of various ages, or I’m at least assumed to be a decade younger than I am. It’s not always an advantage to be perceived as young, as a woman in ministry, but usually people are happily surprised as they hear the story of where I’ve been and realize the length of years of experience. Their initially low expectations sometimes serve me quite well, as it’s easier to exceed those expectations.
Now, I’ve been moving through a different season, a season when health professionals have been mixed in their analysis about whether this can be considered a normal pregnancy (or not) because I’m 42—well over the age of 34 when mothers who will deliver a child for the first time may be considered by some to be “old.” My spouse and I have laughed about the probable reactions to our Facebook announcement—pretty sure that we caused any couples our age who haven’t already had a family planning conversation to do so. (Maybe they assumed, like we did, that they were far beyond all this). I’ve had to navigate a few disparaging comments from parents of kids our kids’ same age about how they’re so beyond that baby staff. . . way, way beyond that. And of course, along the way, there have been a few allusions to the biblical stories about old, barren women giving birth. Sarah? I’m not 100 years old yet!
But all in all, this part of the journey has been good. The timing was not our own. That’s been another reason for wry laughter, when someone says, “Due around Christmastime? Well that’s good timing!” We shake our heads and say to each other, “Our sense of timing has nothing to do with this. If this was according to our plan, our timing, we’re not even in the right decade.”
But then, I remember my summer on a hospital floor as an intern chaplain in labor and delivery. I remember the woman who talked with such grace about delivering her first baby at 40. I remember the wise words other 40-somethings shared with me when I was 20, and the grace-filled words that have come my way in this season, often from strangers. My doctor’s wise words were these. “Sometimes, our paths don’t go the way we expect, and we just have to go with the flow. Life unfolds. You’ll make it work. You’re going to be much better at this now than you would have been at 20.” And maybe she’s exactly right.
1. When have you been truly surprised by news that changed your life?
2. What in your identity had to shift?
3. What were the new challenges and opportunities?
Re-forming God, go with us through all the twists and turns in life’s path. Thank you for gifts that come through the body of Christ and give us courage as we navigate change and find ourselves recreated. Help us to notice you in the voices of loved ones and strangers–past, present, future–who speak surprising grace to us. Amen.
Joy McDonald Coltvet is pastor at Christ on Capitol Hill in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has also served in congregations and other settings in Chicago and the Milwaukee area. Joy has a Doctor of Ministry in Practical Theology: Spirituality (Spiritual Formation), and is filled with wonder frequently.