If there’s one thing Suzy Clarkson has learned in life, it’s that things don’t always turn out as you expect. Never would the former Prime news presenter and Getaway host have imagined that she’d be having a baby at 45. Or that she’d have to go through more than three years of emotionally and physically gruelling fertility treatment to get pregnant.
“You just don’t know what life has in store,” says Suzy, who was the face of aerobic fitness in New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s and is now the corporate affairs manager for Coca-Cola Amatil New Zealand.
“I am so happy to be having this baby, but I never thought that it would take three and a half years of pretty much constant despondency to get here,” she says.
Now 34 weeks into her pregnancy, Suzy has a radiant glow. While she can’t relax completely – “I won’t be able to until I’m holding a healthy baby in my arms,” she says – her serene demeanour is a far cry
from the anxiety and despair she’s lived with for so long. While having a baby at the age of 45 was never part of her plan, Suzy says it’s just the way things have worked out.
“Being an older mother is something I do think about. When the baby is five I will be 50, and I wonder how I will feel rocking up to the school gates at that age,” she says. “But being older has its upsides too, like being more financially secure, wiser and with a stronger family focus than I had when I was younger. I know it’s going to be hard work, but I also think age is relative.
“I’ve always been fit and energetic and I can’t see Tim and I becoming sedentary any time soon. At the end of the day, I can’t change my age so I’ll worry about the things I can change.”
Despite her concerns, Suzy thought having a second child would be straightforward because she got pregnant at 39 with her first child, Ben (now 5), as soon as she and husband Tim started trying to conceive. Her pregnancy was trouble-free and so was the delivery, but when Ben was six months old Suzy suffered postnatal depression that knocked her for six. She got through it thanks to counselling.
The postnatal depression didn’t put her off wanting a second child and again, she became pregnant on her first attempt, despite being 41. However, at 11 weeks, she suffered a miscarriage. Suzy was devastated, but she and Tim decided to try again.
However, this time, she did not conceive immediately and after six months of trying they consulted fertility specialists Fertility Associates. Three cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) over the next couple of years were unsuccessful, and Suzy says the process was an emotional rollercoaster for her.
“Each time you start you have a full tank of resilience, but it gets lower and lower till there is nothing left at the end. You pin all your hopes on it working this time and then you get the phone call saying, ‘Sorry, no.’
“It was hard to accept that this was something I had no control over.”
The constant rounds of injections, scans and other treatments all took their toll. Some of the handful of people who knew that Suzy was trying to get pregnant questioned why she was putting herself through such an ordeal.
“I would be in tears and my mum would say, ‘Is this worth it? You have a lovely son – do you really want to go through this?’
“Secondary infertility can be hard to understand but for Tim and I, it was really important to have a sibling for Ben. We grew up in stable, loving families with two siblings each and we wanted Ben to have a brother or sister. “Secondary infertility is especially hard because you know what you are missing. Every cell in your body wants to have a baby again.”
Suzy and Tim decided to try a fourth cycle of IVF, and this time they were stunned and delighted when they learned that Suzy was pregnant. Everything seemed to be progressing well, but sadly she miscarried again.
Utterly distraught, Suzy did contemplate stopping, but there were still five frozen embryos left. Two were transferred to her womb but the result was negative. Then the final three were transferred and Suzy knew that this was their last hope.
To their amazement, the couple got a phone call to say congratulations – the pregnancy test was positive. “I was absolutely elated but there was also a lot of fear that things could go wrong with this baby,” says Suzy.
She had weekly scans for the first 10 weeks – far more than usual – to help deal with her anxiety. Reaching milestones such as 12 and then 30 weeks was a huge relief, and now Suzy is finally able to let down her guard and get excited about this much longed-for little one’s arrival.
Ask Suzy how she’s feeling now and the response is, “battle-hardened”. “I have always been quite strong mentally, but this has tested me. I’m an optimist but I’ve definitely changed. I’m still outgoing and gregarious but not as much as I was.”
Suzy is under no illusions that she is lucky to be expecting a child at 45, and she would like to remind women not to take their fertility for granted.
“My age was the reason for my secondary infertility – after 38 your fertility drops like a stone. When I was younger I wasn’t married or ready and then getting pregnant so easily at 39 made me think it was easy.
“It’s not, and age does matter. If you haven’t found a partner at 30 and you want kids you should think about freezing some eggs. It gives you options and might save a lot of heartache.”