B is for Birthday

by | 23 Nov 2014

Once birthdays were a time for celebration. Now for me and other women of my kind they are just a flashing beacon that time is running out. It’s sad really because there’s nothing prettier than a cake with lots of candles. All things being equal, I’d enjoy blowing them out. But, these days, the symbolism of extinguishment is a little too much to bear.

So was it serendipity that last Monday (on the eve of getting another year older and not feeling great about it), I met a wonderful woman who had her first baby aged 56. And there was no doubt that her son – the gift of a younger egg donor – was better than any birthday present she’d ever been given. We shared a special evening over soft shelled crab and sushi talking about four of my favourite subjects: food, swimming, life and art.

In my book, The Pursuit of Motherhood, I wrote: ‘It’s all about the number 43. If you haven’t had children by then you can basically get on with the rest of your life and stop thinking about it.’ Well, scrap that. This week I’ve learnt that if it’s important enough to you then motherhood is available in all shapes and sizes. So who cares if I was 44 on Friday – there’s still hope that one day there will be cause for cake, candles and celebration.



  1. kiftsgate

    Happy birthday Jessica!! I loved reading this post! Hope you got your cake, every birthday needs a cake! Big birthday hug.xx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Yes, I had cake with my family yesterday. Although my mum – bless her – had written ‘Happy 44th Birthday’ on the top. Mummmmm, don’t rub it in, I said! Jessica x

      • kiftsgate

        ahah yes, guess she could have skipped that.. Happy Birthday would have been enough.. xx

  2. Lou

    Hi Jessica,

    I really understand what you mean, I find every Birthday & Christmas hard, it’s like a reminder that I’m childless & hit really hurts, doesn’t it.

    I turned 40 in July & i found it really really hard, in fact I got very low started to suffer with depression & anxiety.

    Thank you for sharing your posts every week, there is such a lack of support for us.


    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      I think 40 is a really hard one. I will never forget ending mine on the floor in tears in a beautiful hotel in the Adirondacks in America. How are you feeling now? I do believe that whatever happens it will be ok for us all even if it means adjusting what we thought our life would look like. But I also know that the pain never entirely goes away. My thoughts are with you and thank you so much for reading and commenting. Jessica x

  3. Bec

    Yes, I have known that anguish as another year without the child you hope for passes you by. I also agree with you that motherhood comes in all shapes and sizes. I took the leap of faith after a friend offered me her egg and have never looked back. I truly hope your dreams come true in whatever form that takes. Much hope and love. Bec

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Wow Bec, what a friend and what a gift. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. It’s great to read and means a lot. Much love to you too. Jessica x

      • Bec

        Thank you Jessica, I am happy to share my story in more detail if it helps you and other readers. In short, we lost a biological child at 23 weeks gestation due to an incompetent cervix, I had surgery to fix the issue and then tried again to conceive. After no result trying naturally and then a few rounds of ovulation induction drugs, we did 5 rounds of IVF with my own eggs, 3 of those cycles resulted in early miscarriages. We felt my eggs were fried (each subsequent cycle I would get worse numbers and poorer quality) and so then tried an overseas cycle with an anonymous egg donor – this failed. This all took place over a two year period – in a haze of grief and desperation I pushed myself and my husband so hard – back to back IVF cycles and lots more heartache when I miscarried again and again. Our friend had witnessed our devastation at losing our child and was aware that we were trying again (but did not know about the extend to which we had gone too conceive). She came forward and made the offer. She had finished her family and was in her early 30s. I was 37 at the time. It is a beautiful gift and I am forever grateful to her. While she wants no part in the day to day child raising, she is in our life, as a part of our family, and always will be.

        It has be such a journey (with so many dimensions, some which I have not capture here) and one I would not wish on anyone else, but at the same time I have learnt a lot about myself, my husband and how resilient we can both be.

        Again, I wish you all the best in your journey and I thank you for your very insightful posts. I owe the ‘blogosphere’ at lot – I have learnt so much from others who have gone before me and leant on many who have provided me with support. I am more than happy to share my experience if it helps others.

        • thepursuitofmotherhood

          Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and others. It’s such a sad, but life-affirming one. I love the phrase ‘haze of grief and desperation’ as that’s exactly how it feels. You’re right that this is not a journey to wish on anyone but there are definitely things to gain from it. The connections I’ve made since writing my book and this blog have been wonderful, as has all the learning from others (like you) which is a constant reminder that all things are possible. Thank you. Jessica x

  4. Georgie

    Hi Jessica

    Lovely blog as usual. Always thought provoking. This is one of my colleagues in Edinburgh (http://www.fertilityfocus.org.uk/about-us/juliet-le-page) who gave birth to her 2 babies aged 47 and 50 – both by egg donation. There is a gorgeous picture of them all in one of the links on that page so do have a look (if you can bear the Daily Mail!)

    Through my work (fertility reflexology) I see families being created in so many different ways. I’m working with a 43 year old at the moment who is hoping to become a single mum by choice with a sperm donor, as the knight in shining armour hasn’t materialised, but is also now realising she may need an egg donor too. However, the urge to be a mum is stronger than the rational, sensible, constraining ideals from family/friends/society so she has had to rethink her fairytale and is going for it.

    Keep up your own pursuit – the work you do and conversations you get going are very inspiring…

    Love Georgie x

    PS Single mum not by choice (my knight in shining armour buggered off with someone else when I was pregnant with no.2 so my fairytale has turned out very differently than I had envisaged, but all is good…

    PPS 42 next week 😉

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thanks Georgie. Juliet looks amazing, such a lovely story, and, yes, I can and do do the Daily Mail (it’s a regular guilty pleasure!). Thank you for your comments and support. I really hope that the conversation is useful and it’s definitely useful to me hearing other people’s thoughts and experiences. I’m going to explore egg donation a bit more so it’s great to hear other stories and I feel more and more defiant about challenging how society says we should live our lives. Like you say, sometimes that choice is taken away from you and you’ve just got to make another fairytale! Happy birthday for next week. Jessica x

  5. Georgie

    Oh and happy belated birthday!

  6. sproutandco

    Happy Happy Birthday Jessica!! Love this post and that you had the chance to connect with such an inspirational lady!! Egg donation is such a gift. In Australia we recently had a prominent female TV personality announce that she is pregnant by a friend who gifted her an egg at 49!! It was so great to see her talk about this – she said in 5 years time she thinks donor eggs will be as common as IVF is today – it’s truly a gift xx

  7. Joanna Norland

    Happy birthday (and I hope one week on, there is still plenty of life to celebrate). Really looking forward to following along your year ahead. xx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thanks Jo – and looking forward to sharing it with you…and following yours! Jessica x

  8. josephinelloyd81

    Yet again your positivity is inspirational. It’s a bit late but Happy Birthday! I wish you lot of love and luck for the future xx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      If it is any inspiration then it makes everything seem possible. Thank you. Jessica x

  9. Mel

    Hi Jessica, I’m currently up north for my second consecutive weekend. Last week was to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday and all she’s achieved so far in her life and this weekend celebrating my niece’s bat-mitzvah and her life ahead as a young woman. It’s seemed poignant that it was your birthday too. I remember when I turned 40 telling myself I was either going to be sober and pregnant or I was going to drink lots because I wasn’t. I drank…. The consultant told me there was a problem with my progesterone levels. I was indeed very lucky when, by chance, I ended up frinding out I was actually pregnant after months of tests, months of sex that became an unpleasant chore because it became timed and tinged with fear of what if it doesn’t work this month? I’ll never forget my deputy head setting me. performance management target to get pregnant- yes, truly she did! She thought she was being supportive – how little did she know how painful that was. ‘If only it was that easy’ i told her one day. I am one of the lucky ones and my 2 boys are now both at school and happy and healthy. I must remember when one wets his pants or the other refuses to do his homework or share toys that I am damn lucky indeed. It’s sometimes too easy to forget and take for granted. I also feel damn lucky, however, to have met such a great woman as you. You are a real inspiration- a woman who has achieved so much- and however tough things must be for you, promise me you will always have candles on your cake and you will always remember the great things you have achieved and continue to achieve. Much love, Mel xxx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Mel, thank you so much for saying so and sharing. Being able to appreciate one’s luck – whatever that luck is – is a blessing. And as well as being an amazing teacher, I know you are also an amazing mum! Lovely to hear from you and I will do my best to believe your words as well as read them! Thank you. Jessica x