On episode 57, we have Barb sharing her pregnancy journey at 57. She lives in New England, and she’s been there almost all her life. She was a scholarship runner at BU in the eighties and ran for Nike for several years. She has been a competitive runner, teacher, coach, mom, and now she’s a CrossFit athlete. She is also a survivor of some pretty tragic things: losing two children in very different circumstances. Barb has four children, two live in heaven, and two are here with her. Barb never planned to have children. She had a pretty rough childhood, so, she wanted to end the cycle of abuse in her family. She didn’t need to be a mother, instead she would be the cool auntie.
Shortly after she was with her husband, she found out she was pregnant. She was on the pill, so she wasn’t expecting to get pregnant. Baby Gordy had a very bad heart defect and only lived for 25 weeks in her belly. Since she didn’t know she was pregnant until 14 weeks, she really only knew him for nine weeks. What came from this tragedy, was she loved being pregnant and knew she wanted to be a mother.
Afterwards, she and her husband refocused and decided to get healthy. A year later, in August of 2000, she was pregnant with Gracie, who was born April 2001. Two years later, Molly was born in April of 2003, and Barb turned 40 in July. She had her husband, her house, her white picket fence and two beautiful girls; She thought she had everything she needed. Her husband has three children from his first marriage that were about 10 years older than Gracie and Molly. When Molly was 13 and Barb was 52, Molly had a very brief two or three months of really bad headaches and throwing up. They took her to the hospital over and over again, only to be sent back home. They were sent home with pamphlets on meditation. The doctor told her she needed to gain weight and drink more water. She could kick herself now for not being more assertive with questions. On May 1, 2016, Molly was vomiting over and over with a headache. They called 911 and sat in the ER for sixteen hours. Molly was unconscious most of the time. They gave her medication for pain, but she never woke up. She just kept slipping deeper and deeper away. Barb kept insisting that they do a CAT scan, but they wouldn’t. They told her they don’t do those on kids. Barb was an athletic coach, and they do CAT scans on kids all the time. Molly was transferred to the pediatric wing, and the nurse knew right away that something was wrong. The nurse ordered a scan and while they were preparing for the scan, a tumor ruptured in her head and killed her. She watched her daughter’s skin turn funny colors and her body lose movement. They didn’t know at the time that she had died in those moments. They got her heart beating again and did an MRI and rushed her to a larger hospital. They removed the tumor, but really, she had died right there at the hospital after being there all day. The next week Molly was on life support and is actually one of the best weeks of Barb’s life in that setting. For that week in the hospital while Molly was on life support, everyone she knew and loved was able to come and say goodbye to her. She knows many parents who lose children do not have that opportunity. People asked why Barb was letting all these people come. She told them that she had the rest of her life to be by herself with this. Barb wanted to talk about Molly. She wanted people to say goodbye and have closure. It was an incredible week, but then she came home and the incredible stopped.
It wasn’t long after that Barb started having dreams that she should have a baby. She’s had dreams that Molly had come to visit her, but these were different. It was one of those dreams where she didn’t know if she was awake or asleep. She thought she was grieving and thought this was the way she was dealing with everything. All that summer, she got up every day and tried her best to be alive and take care of her daughter Gracie and her husband, Kenny. The dream was persistent. She went to her OB and told her about the dream and she wanted to have a baby. The doctor bit her head off like she was insane, and Barb just sat there a bit dumbfounded. She just had doctors yelling at her that nothing was wrong with Molly and she should stop asking for CAT scans. She left the OB’s office really upset. She called another OB that had worked at her OB when Molly was born and told him her dreams. He told her that the hospital aged out at 49, but wanted to start with bloodwork and go from there. He said her safest bet was to go through IVF because at her age, it’s the only way she will be approved if she could find a clinic that takes women over 50. She was still having cycles before she lost her daughter Molly, so she hadn’t gone through menopause. After Molly died, her cycles stopped. The doctor told her she was in trauma induced menopause. Her bloodwork didn’t show she was super menopausal, but she hadn’t had a period. Molly, Gracie and Barb were all on their cycles the week Molly was on life support. Barb’s friend connected her with an OB in Boston who referred her to a clinic that accepted women over 50.
The inside of your body doesn’t match your age, so I have no worries about this.
At the end 2016, she went to the clinic who was immediately on board with helping her get pregnant. There were lot of prep before she was approved to go to the next step: she had to see a therapist, get an EKG, a hysteroscopy, a mammogram, colonoscopy and a few others. The doctor reviewed the results of the tests and told her the inside of her body didn’t match her age. She had no worries about this. This was in January 2017, only six months after Molly’s death, and they were in the middle of a lawsuit with the hospital. She wasn’t prepared for the cost and said no thank you for now. The dreams changed and stopped. All of 2017 and 2018 she was consumed with the lawsuit which she calls a full-time nightmare. It gave Barb a chance to channel her grief and energy, but the lawsuit was settled in June 2018. Two weeks later the baby dream were back. She had been drinking heavily and was on many prescription drugs. She has a nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia which is treated with anti-seizure medication, so she was on three of those. She was also on Xanax, Lamictal, Lorazepam, alprazolam, and ones to help her sleep and others to help her wake up. In 2018, Barb was 55, The doctor told her she had to get off all of the medication and run a few more tests for a second time.
Barb and Dr. Laura sat down with a calendar and a big list of her 13 drugs. The doctor charted out a plan where she would wean off some, cut down on others and leave some the same, then cut those down. It took them an hour to put the plan together. She now has such a profound respect for addicts that come clean because coming off all of those drugs was as hard as dealing with the loss of Molly. From August 15 to December 1, she felt like she heard the ocean in her head, her hands and feet were asleep most of the time. When she spoke, she felt like it would echo. Her body was trying so hard to come back to normal. She desperately wanted to come out of the black hole she had been living in. She hired a spiritual mentor at this time and joined the spiritual mentoring group. Her CrossFit gym had one of those pay $500 if you lose 30 pounds in eight weeks, you get your money back. She did it! A lot of her weight was the medication. She had stopped eating anything healthy for a long time. She got through that process in December, and what she noticed was her face was in agonizing pain. Barb describes the trigeminal nerve is right behind your ear and your brain and the nerve becomes irritated. Trauma can sometimes trigger the nerve center but the nerve center fires and never stops. It constantly feels like you have pain. For Barb, it felt like a toothache. She had three teeth pulled because they hurt so much, but there was nothing wrong with those teeth. When she went off the medication, her face pain was unmanageable, and she knew she couldn’t handle it for ninth months. She wasn’t going to be approved to have a baby.
At first Barb was going to have a baby by herself. She and her husband had been struggling in their marriage, so she didn’t say anything to anyone. When she met Dr. Cardone and knew pregnancy was a possibility, he asked if she had a partner to do this with. The doctor suggested it would be a better experience to do it with a partner. Barb talked to her husband about the dreams she was having. Her husband jumped on board. Barb and her husband were in a horrible place after the loss of their child together. Barb stopped talking about a baby when they went through the lawsuit. One morning after the baby dreams came back, she had coffee while she waited for him to come down stairs. She asked him if he could guess what dream she had last night. He grinned and guessed a baby dream. He was all in.
Another friend of hers recommended Barb to a doctor in New York, Dr. Eskandar, from Turkey. The nurse couldn’t believe the doctor said yes because they weren’t taking new patients. She got the MRI the doctor required and they found three brain tumors in her head which had nothing to do with her face pain. Her husband, Kenny was on kidney dialysis and needed a kidney transplant. He was extremely sick and just getting sicker. This was all happening during Gracie’s senior year of high school. The one healthy person in her daughter’s life was Barb, but she had brain tumors. The tumors had to come out. One of them was sitting in the intersection of her eye and ear, but her carotid artery was being compressed. Dr. Eskandar’s concern was that she would have a stroke because the artery was being compressed. She thought maybe this is why she was supposed to have the baby. It was to save her life and now she can stop trying. She felt like she was just a passenger on a speeding train. She had one tumor removed and the other two radiated. From January to April, she had two craniotomies and radiation to take care of the brain tumors in her face. In the meantime, her husband Kenny was getting sicker and sicker.
Barb had her head cut open April 10th and April 24th the family went to Disney. When Kenny had dialysis, he and Barb would just stay home and everyone else would go to the park. Kenny was lying on a lawn chair trying not to throw up. Barb was bald and her head was hurting. She was miserable. She saw online that a friend of Molly’s and Gracie’s from dance was on life support at the same hospital Molly had been at. She messaged the mom and her daughter, Rachel who was 20 at the time. Rachel had gone to a restaurant where she ate peanut paste in an egg roll that wasn’t on the menu. She went into anaphylaxis. A whole series of missteps and she ended up being on life support but not surviving. When she got home from Florida, she jumped into action for this family. Rachel’s family had helped them with Molly. Rachel even danced at Molly’s memorial service. Barb had a big show for Molly’s memorial service. It was at a theater, and Rachel was in the opening number. In the process of removing Rachel from life support, her mother asked if Barb had donated Molly’s organs. Barb couldn’t because she didn’t know if Molly’s tumor was cancerous. It frustrates her now, knowing they weren’t cancerous. Kenny could have had Molly’s kidney. Rachel’s mom was surprised her husband needed a kidney and asked her what his blood type was. A few weeks later Rachel’s mom called Barb to offer Rachel’s Kidney to her Kenny. Barb loves to know the kidney that survives in Molly’s dad danced in Molly’s funeral.
That doesn’t have anything to do with Barb’s baby journey, but everything was a part of her getting healthy. That summer Barb was approved for IVF. She had an IVF transfer in August of 2019. The nurse called and asked if she was pregnant. She’s peed on a stick every day: there was no line, no line, no line. She wasn’t surprised by the news. She was 56 and thought her journey was over because their cutoff was 55. She asked the nurse what to do now. The nurse said to keep taking the estrogen and to keep the appointment with her doctor. She suspected the doctor might have a plan. Now that Kenny had a new kidney, they wanted to get a new sperm sample from him. Because of her age and a couple of different things she tried, she’s not open if she used an egg donor for the second transfer. The first transfer, she used donor eggs. Her doctor said it wasn’t her fault and she asked if she could try again. They tried a handful of things on Barb that she doesn’t think have been tested before. The doctor said she could share as much as she could but be as vague as possible. If Barb were to do this again, she would adopt an embryo.
She was scheduled to have her second transfer in March of 2020, but it was canceled. She continued the medication. Barb loved having her period. For her, it was proof of the possibility. It’s proof of the fact that she can grow a baby. Her friends couldn’t understand. July of 2020 was her final shots in the rear and patches. On July 26, 2020, she had her second transfer and only 3 days later had her 57th birthday. August 5th was the day she got the positive test and the day she conceived Gracie all those years ago. She didn’t tell anyone. She was wicked excited she says. She didn’t know it yet, but this was her best pregnancy. She again peed on a stick every day. When she took the blood tests, she knew she was pregnant. She was hoping for twins. She wanted twins because the baby’s other siblings are in their late thirties. She was a little disappointed there was just one baby. She didn’t say anything for the first 12 weeks. She had become really fit. At that time, she weighed just under 140 at the time. She was working out every day. She continued the hormones the first 12 weeks and then stopped. She thought she would wean off the hormones. She had this utter panic that the pregnancy would just end there. When she felt the life in her, it became all about the baby. She stayed healthy and continued working out right up until the week her baby was born. She got to the 13th week and wanted to finally tell people. The doctor insisted she not tell anyone until she was 22 weeks. She just looked at him in horror. He put her through every test there was because the judgment that she is going to receive when people found out she’s pregnant was going to be huge. She was irritated by this at first because she excited and wanted everyone to know. She told her CrossFit coaches because she was working out, and they needed to know why her belly was growing. Little by little, people knew. Every insurance claim that her OB submitted was rejected because ‘diagnosis inconsistent with age of patient.’ She had to call, but the insurance company couldn’t prevent the kickback letters. Because of her age, a lot of the paperwork had to be entered manually because the age didn’t go that high in the software she shares, through a laugh.
After Baby Gordy, she wanted zero surprises. She also knew that gender was going to play a big role in how she coped with what this baby would be like. A part of her hoped for a girl just because all she knew was girls. The baby boy she had, she never got to know. She also didn’t want it to feel like she was replacing Molly. When she went to her 22 week appointment and saw she was having a boy, it made her anxious. She wasn’t sure what do to. As the pregnancy went on she felt better and better about it. He does replace some sadness but he can’t replace Molly. He has nothing to do with Molly, but everything to do with Molly. She believes if it was a girl, it might have been a little harder on Gracie, too. A little brother is perfect for Gracie.
She had to have ultrasounds all the time and blood work and urine tests once a week. Everything was fine. The final test was a fetal echocardiogram and that brought her right back to Baby Gordy, at the same hospital that she was at 21 years prior. She was anxious about the place that brought her so much heartbreak. She told the tech about Gordy, the heart defect and how triggered the experience was for her. The cardiologist came in, but she just wanted to hear that everything was fine. She did tell her everything was fine, but she had some questions. She asked about Baby Gordy and what was the heart defect. Barb told the cardiologist what it was and the cardiologist got quiet. The cardiologist told her she was involved with the autopsy of Baby Gordy. She had retired from NICU work because she couldn’t do sick babies anymore. The only reason she was there was because they were short staffed and nobody was around to cover. She was going to say no, but saw her age and assumed it was a mistake. The cardiologist went on to tell her that it was so helpful to see the little heart, and it helped get ahead of this and learn to repair the heart so more babies can be born. It turned out to be an amazing experience. Barb and her husband didn’t talk the whole way home.
Her daughter Gracie was not happy about the pregnancy. It really threw her for a loop. Barb explained that if they hadn’t been trying to have a baby, they wouldn’t have found the brain tumors. Gracie’s response was, “Good, now you don’t have to have a baby. Mom, I’m still here. You don’t have to replace me with another baby.” It was all about her. She’s a teenager that lost her sister and tried to make some sense of this life. When they began the IVF process, Barb chose not to tell her daughter anything about it. Barb didn’t think it would work. When she found out she was pregnant, she thought….we’ll wait until after she’s sure she’s not going to lose it and then she’ll tell her. Then her daughter overheard her on the phone and asked her why she was talking to a baby doctor? She told her she needed one and her daughter was furious. When she told her about her thought process as to why, her daughter could step out of her anger and understood it. She was still angry. Barb gave her the freedom to hate her as much as she needed. She couldn’t tell her how to feel. The pregnancy wasn’t easy for her. They rallied around and had a rule where they have to hit the pause button. They can be angry, but when they sit down to eat or say goodnight or when someone is leaving, they say ‘pause button’ and they hug and kiss and say ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye.’ The family started that after Molly died, because it was easy for them to get lost in the devastation.
I just got put into a body that does well in the baby department.
Her pregnancy continued on just fine. Now she was starting to show and had permission to tell people. She started telling others, but no one knew what to say. She continued working out and as her belly got bigger and bigger. They prepared at home for baby’s arrival. She had all easy pregnancies before and easy deliveries—all eight hours start to finish. Her most difficult delivery was baby Gordy at fifteen hours. At 34 weeks her legs swelled up huge, she had preeclampsia. All her other babies were born in April, and she got really hung up this baby should be born in April, too. Her due date was April 13th , but it was only St. Patrick’s Day. Her doctor was going on vacation, which she was disappointed he was going to miss it. She fought and fought, but he gave her a steroid injection, magnesium and sent her home. She went back the next day which was Friday, March 19th. Her blood pressure was 195/105. Apparently, that’s not good even though she felt fine. They didn’t want her to go back home, but she promised she’d be back in an half hour. On the way home, she called her friend to come over and take some belly pictures. Barb packed her daughter up and sent her to Rachels parents’ house. She also did an interview for the local newspaper. Her husband begged her to stop running. She went back and checked herself in the hospital. Her daughter didn’t want any part of the delivery. The doctor’s wanted to induce Barb. They gave her magnesium and stripped her membranes. While the doctor was examining her, she joked that she felt like Offred, from the Handmaid’s Tale, and all the young LNA’s and nursing assistants start laughing. The obstetrician laughed, but said she felt like the bad guy. She liked it was an all-women team helping her. The only males were her husband and the baby. The next morning, Barb woke up, ordered breakfast, drank coffee and put the news on. Her belly felt warm, but not bad. The OB came in and asked how she was feeling. Barb was confused, but wasn’t confident she was having a baby that day. The OB told her she went into labor all by herself at 2 am. She didn’t feel a thing. That was the heat in her belly. She called Kenny to tell him she was going to have the baby today. They broke her water and that’s when she felt it. Contractions were two minutes apart. She called her husband again to come as quickly as he could to the hospital. At about 11:30 am she was in a lot of pain and really felt the contractions. She began pushing even thought she didn’t feel ready. She made a half-hearted push, and the baby’s head was crowning. The next contraction, she pushed again and out he came. Her son, Jack was born at 12:30 pm with one hour of labor. And then her lunch came.
She didn’t have the rush of milk that she had with Gracie and Molly. She had to drink a lot more water and supplemented with breast milk donated from Human Milk for Human Babies. Jackie was the first one she met. (Her name isn’t lost on her) Jackie was moving and had 200 bags of breast milk. Barb stashed them in her freezer and all of her neighbors’ freezers. The nurses wanted her to use supplemented formula because he was so little. She breastfed both of her girls and wanted to do the same with Jack. She always had someone to supply her with human milk. Another friend had a baby a few months after Jack was born. She would come over with a cooler full of milk. Her other children would decorate the bags. Jack gained weight very slowing the first two weeks. He didn’t like formula and would throw it up. Once she started supplementing with the breast milk, he couldn’t get enough. When the boob was insufficient, he drank fine from the bottle.
Barb had a bit of postpartum depression with Jack. She got a little panic stricken. She wanted to spend time alone. She didn’t want company at the house. For about eight weeks, she was pretty much a basket case. She was very fortunate to have a supportive family. She didn’t need medication but reached out to friends that also struggled a little bit with it. Physically, she was fine. Once the preeclampsia weight went away, she was back to within 10 pounds of her starting weight almost immediately. She didn’t work out for all of April and May. Jack was born March 20th, and she was back to the gym in June. She did a two-day CrossFit competition that August. She had to climb a rope, walk on her hands and several other physically challenging things. She had a great recovery.
After his birth, Barb received lots of press coverage. After her friend covered her story before and after the birth, she got several more local networks interested. She was also on a commercial. On their way home from Disney they drove through New York to see herself on a 32-story building. She says it was so surreal. When they finally arrived to 8th avenue where the building was, a cop told them she couldn’t park there. She pointed to the building but he didn’t get it. Then she point to herself and Jack, and then he got it. He said his wife loved her and took a few selfies together. It was all a huge honor for her.
I want my birth to be permission for women to put their foot down and say: just because my age is this number, doesn’t mean I don’t get chance to try this. It’s my body, my life and I want to try this.
Jack is two and half, and Barb is still nursing. When he’s ready to stop, she’ll stop. Barb says life is relatively normal, but she does get overwhelmed when she thinks about when Jack is ten, she’ll be 67. Then she remembers some of her girlfriends are raising their grandchildren, and she doesn’t feel alone. She’s looking forward to the kindergarten drop-off, mostly because she can stand with all of the grammies. She feels incredibly lucky and knows she’s not the norm at all. Her doctor is begging her to have another baby. She feels like a grandmother sometimes because she just gets to enjoy it.
Barb’s Podcast: A Thousand Tiny Steps
Barb’s Book: Motherland