Caring for babies is no state of wonder

October 05, 2011|Susan Reimer

In Ann Patchett's new best-seller "State of Wonder," a woman scientist travels from Minnesota to the Amazon to find a missing colleague and to determine the status of a miracle substance that appears to allow native women to bear children into their 60s and 70s. The pharmaceutical company for whom she works is betting millions on this new drug, which would allow women to extend, or postpone, motherhood for decades.

It is a terrific book, but a really bad idea.

I am just back from a week with a 9-month-old grandchild, where I was able to catalog all the reasons why women shouldn't have babies past 40, and my knees are just one of them.

Dear, sweet, angelic Mikey had me on the ropes. And this is a child who sleeps 12 hours a night without interruption, takes a couple of well-timed and cooperative naps, has a delightful nature and eats anything you put in front of him.

But by the time we got him into bed at night, all his grandfather and I were able to do is slump on the couch and stare dumbly at ESPN's SportsCenter. And I don't watch SportsCenter. We didn't even have the energy to fetch takeout for dinner.

When dawn rolled in and Mikey woke — happily talking to himself — I felt like I was pulling myself up from the bottom of a well. And when his parents arrived home later that morning, my plan for a 10 a.m. glass of wine and a nap was greeted with alarm.

Clearly, I am out of game shape. And if I were Mikey's regular caretaker, I imagine I would work myself into the proper physical condition for caring for a baby who moves with the strength and speed of Patchett's Amazon snake when he doesn't want his diaper changed.

It took two of us to accomplish that task and Mikey was actually standing upright when we did it, laughing at his grandparents as they shouted orders at each other.

Mikey also suffered a bump on his cheek during my watch and I felt worse than if I had wrecked somebody else's new car. I sobbed out my confession when his parents returned home while my husband proclaimed unnecessarily loudly that he had been in the shower when it happened.

If People magazine were a medical journal, we might begin to believe that Patchett's mysterious fertility drug has been made secretly available to the rich and famous. There are all sorts of miracle babies being born to 40-year-old divas who have suddenly found love or heard the powerful call to motherhood. Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez had twins, a dead give-away for the handiwork of fertility doctors.

The good news for these women is that they can afford lots of help with their babies. The bad news for me was that I was the help.

At the conclusion of Patchett's novel (spoiler alert), the reality of a 70-year-old woman carrying a child is a disastrous one, and it has nothing to do with her knees.

Like the lady in the commercial once said, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Or, as it turns out, to fool with Mother Nature.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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