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.”

pregantI’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.

Discussion questions

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?

Closing prayer

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.


Carolyn Knutson says:
Nov 27, 2015

Joy, I liked your meditation. Especially the idea that life is not always what we expect or plan. We just have to go with the flow. I, as part of your congregation, know that we all are looking forward to your event and hoping that we may be helpful in some way.

Aunt carol says:
Dec 03, 2015

Joy,Ben,and family,
Enjoy this surprise Blessing. And what a great time of year. Love to all.

Towmeah says:
Dec 03, 2015

So glad you are still surprise but you two are excellent parents. I truly honor you All for just being who you are

Else Thompson says:
Dec 03, 2015

Congratulations! Ben, it’s been awhile since our paths crossed – but I am so happy for you.

Nancy Gruett says:
Dec 03, 2015

This was a joy to read. We are so looking forward to meeting A and D and baby girl Coltvet in January.

Joy Schacht says:
Dec 03, 2015

Joy, not only do we have the same name but you and I were equally surprised and shocked when we learned we were pregnant! I was 40; you are 42. And you know the result of that pregnancy: our wonderful son, David! He was and is a gift from God, and Cal and I are eternally grateful!

Ann says:
Dec 03, 2015

Congratulations, Joy & Ben! What a blessed surprise! Praying for you as your family grows!

Jan McDermott says:
Dec 04, 2015

Joy, thank you for sharing so honestly! This was beautifully written. Praying for you, Ben & baby Colvet.

Jill W says:
Dec 05, 2015

Congratulations on your surprise blessing. I also had a surprise blessing at 42. Although there are days that I feel my age, he keeps me younger than I am. I have also been able to enjoy his life in a different way than I did with his three siblings. A final blessing of his arrival has been watching his siblings care for him. I do wish you all the best and pray for a healthy and safe delivery.

Sue Hinson says:
Dec 05, 2015

As a mother who had 3 children by age of 32 and then 2 more later one at 50 and the last at 52 I can honestly say I feel so blessed. I can’t imagine my life any different . Yes people who haven’t experienced this joy think you are nuts and will make all types of negative comments. I choose to just tell them how blessed I am. It’s not easy, but it’s not easy when you are younger either. I know God blessed me with these babies for a reason . I would not change a thing.

Mary says:
Dec 05, 2015

I, too, had a surprise pregnancy at 40! I was less than excited, and I was very worried because of my age! My other two children were 12 and 9. I was in the throes of menopausal anomalies! My daughter is now 23. She has been a delight and a blessing most of the time. My children’s father then left us when she was 5. My husband now got to help raise her, and he had never had children of his own. Life is constantly a journey. Being flexible helps to pave the way! Probably, the most trying part of being an “old” mom is that the possibility of illness becomes a distinct event. I had breast cancer when she was 14, and that was very difficult for her! May God bless you in this new journey! S/he will keep you young!

Erik Christensen says:
Dec 05, 2015

Joy — what a delight to read about this totally unexpected news. I’ve shared your story here with St. Luke’s, and we’re praying for you and Ben and the kids as you embark on yet another adventure together!

Kristen Larsen-Schmidt says:
Dec 09, 2015

Congratulations Ben and Joy, and prayers for strength and peace for the journey ahead! God is a good God. You are in good hands, and do is your sweet baby.

Kadi Billman says:
Dec 10, 2015

So eloquent–as always! Sharing in the expectation and praying for you and your wonderful family.

Barbara says:
Dec 13, 2015

as a 43 yo due just after Christmas (but with my second “past 40” blessing), it’s like reading the chapter headings for my own story.. the details are different but a lot of the framework is the same.

Happily, my body mostly responds like it’s in its 30’s (except when I get up in the morning feeling 80) so generally I match the younger appearance even in baby-making. But yeah.. gotta love that terminology the docs throw at you. LOL

Hang in there through the holiday prep season since like me, you’re likely now feeling pretty much that any time would do but this time of year is especially full..

Angela Khabeb says:
Dec 31, 2015

What wonderful news! Congratulations!

I remember my medical records called me “elderly multi gravidas” really sexy, huh?

Scott Chalmers says:
Jan 05, 2016

Wonderful news, Joy! Blessings on you and your family!

* Get an image next to your comment by visiting and uploading a profile photo that links to your email address.

Post a Comment

All fields are required, unless noted.