“There’s nothing worse than an old mum!”/ The Enormous Do-over

Many years ago now, when I was in graduate school the first time (not for social work, but for creative writing), I watched an episode of the British version of The Office in which a pregnant co-worker says to un-pregnant Dawn that she’d better start planning to have a baby because: “There’s nothin’ worse than an old mum!”

It struck a silent chord with me, even then. I laughed heartily at all of the other outrageously offensive stuff on that show, but I did not laugh at that.

Sort of like when I was reading The Onion website and laughing at this and that until I stumbled across a photo of a middle-aged woman eating a sad frozen dinner. The tag line said she was eating a microwave meal-for-one, made especially for lonely, childless women like her whose eggs were shriveling and dying inside their ovaries.


That silly line about the dreaded state of being an “old mum” has crept up and tapped me on the shoulder with increasing persistence lately. Because here’s the thing: I’m tired.

Not always, not every second of the day, but…A LOT. Even when I sleep 8 hours a night. Even when I eat perfectly healthy meals. Even when I manage to go to yoga. Tired. I’m tired right now.

My job is exhausting, and I work in a windowless office—that doesn’t help. But even on the weekends, I wake up with soreness in various parts of my body, and I hear myself sighing a lot. And when I feel unrested, I do not enjoy things, people, experiences; I feel pain, annoyance, and exasperation that cannot be cured by anything else but sleep.

I am concerned that after all of this effort to have a child and create a family, when I am finally able to, I won’t be able to enjoy it!

I tell myself that the joy of being a mother will bring out hidden energies. Am I deceiving myself? I tell myself that the mindless repetition of caring for a baby, and playing with young children, will be overpowered by the moments of beauty and hilarity. I tell myself that I don’t need to be in early 30s for all of this magic to happen.

But then I look down at my chest. I am beginning to get wrinkles between and under my breasts. There is a lovely fan of long lines creeping up from my cleavage to the part of my chest that is exposed by flirty tank tops and sundresses—which kinda takes the flirty-ness right the hell out of them. I picture holding a baby up to these breasts to breastfeed and seeing those lines.

And my face is changing. I know this might sound crazy, but I am worried about what my face is going to look like in pictures of our wedding day, which we’re planning for June. For the past couple of years, I have been highly selective about when and how I am photographed, because, well—I was often going through serious trauma, and that doesn’t look pretty. I am worried that the trauma shows in my face. DH assures me by saying, “You are a gorgeous woman,” but I wonder if he sees it, too.

I am looking online at wedding dresses and bathing suits for Culebra, and these tender, self-conscious thoughts keep bubbling to the surface. I have gotten married once before, and I’m having thoughts about what it was like for me to prepare then, in my early 30s, compared to what it is like now, at almost-40. Just a span of a few years, but so much about me has changed, slowed down, settled, lost elasticity, become pouffier and pouchier. And I’m not giddy with excitement—I’m too tired for that, and I’ve been through too much loss in recent times for giddiness. (But I am serenely happy that I’m marrying my man.)

Remember when we were kids and we cried out “do-over!” when someone made an error during a game? I have this sense of conducting The Enormous Do-over, when it comes to baby-making, wedding, honeymoon…

My first husband and I did not go on a honeymoon, but we did go to Culebra together. I have not yet asked DH how he feels about going to a tiny island that I went to with my ex-husband, because so far it has simply seemed convenient for both of us that I know so much about how to get there, what we will need, what it will be like, how to get around. Again–we are busy, we are tired, we are spending 30K on making a baby, and Culebra is not only beautiful, but inexpensive and easy.  DH did mention how great it would be if we could go to Hawaii or Thailand, and I had to bring him back down to earth. Just as I had to bring him back down to earth about having a wedding with friends & family, instead of eloping just the two of us. Ease and inexpensiveness win when it comes to both honeymoon and getting married.

Sometimes my mind does this terribly unhelpful thing. It imagines DH with someone younger and fertile. Because they are not exhausted, financially depleted, and recently traumatized, they are able to have the wedding DH wants, with friends and family, toasts and dancing. Then they are able to go to Hawaii or Thailand for a week, where they conceive a beautiful baby together simply by making love under the palm trees.

But I know that if I were to share this with DH, he would laugh. I know that he wants me, wrinkled chest, tired face, achey, sighing, healing body and all. I know that he would, no matter what his options, choose being my co-star in The Enormous Do-over. Because really it’s not a do-over. I need to change my thinking about that and meet him in the newness and the our-ness of our life right now, and our life-to-come.

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