Before that fateful night, I’d been perennially single. I was 45 years old, an only child, a solo traveler, an entrepreneur, a favorite auntie. I’d dated on and off and found myself in a couple of relationships that lasted a while, but nothing ever “stuck”—and I was OK with that. I’d been told my entire adult life, by a battery of soft spoken doctors, that—should I decide to become a mother—I would not be able to conceive naturally. And maybe it was the knowledge that I couldn’t bear children that kept me veering toward liaisons that were full of passion but lacked longevity.

By the time I showed up to meet J in the dark corner of a dive bar, I had done enough online dating to know that I should be prepared for the inevitable let down (while also retaining some quiet reserve of hope so that I didn’t come across as totally surly). 

Related: 5 lies I believed about being pregnant after 40 

I took a deep breath before I went inside, stood up straight, sauntered in and surveyed the room. He had texted to say that he was in the back near the jukebox. Because of the way the place was arranged, I could see him when I entered, but he couldn’t see me. My heart sped up when I spotted him. He was handsome. 

J told me right from the get-go he didn’t want to have kids, so we were a match in that regard at least. He was a performing circus artist, an aerial acrobat. After our date, I went home and searched for videos of him flying through the air, suspended in diaphanous silk. I forwarded them to my friends with wink emojis. I knew he wasn’t my soul mate, but he was novel and I was having fun being novel by association. The novelty stretched out into a winter fling that had us spending a few nights a week together. 

When I started having sore breasts and feeling emotional shortly after my 46th birthday, I figured “The Change” had finally come. Until that point, my cycles had been like clockwork, so when I missed a period, it affirmed that hormonal upheaval was afoot. But my breasts got more and more sore, the emotions got more intense, and that missed cycle got even longer. I started to wonder. Well, at the time I thought of it as wondering, but looking back now, I think I knew.

Related: The new mama’s guide to pregnancy symptoms

I took a pregnancy test in the bathroom at Whole Foods. I remember sitting there staring at the little white stick as two distinct, solid, undoubtable lines appeared. I texted my best friend: not an exclamation of joy or a call of distress. It was a text of disbelief. And a dash of uh oh at the discovery of my unexpected pregnancy.

I took two more pregnancy tests—both also positive. I consulted Dr. Google who told me it was possible I had a cyst in my ovary that was releasing HCG (the pregnancy hormone). I became convinced this was the reason for those positive results. Hadn’t all those doctors said I was infertile

The truth is that I was afraid to believe it. I was afraid to get my hopes up only to be let down. So I went on denying the inevitability of my unexpected pregnancy until I laid in an exam room, watching my son’s teeny tiny heart pound like a piston during my first ultrasound. He was so strong. So determined. It was clear that he wanted to be here as much as I wanted him to be. 

Related: You were a surprise baby, and I’m so glad you’re here 

After I’d fully absorbed the truth of what was happening inside my body and of its bittersweet implications—I’d be a mother after all, but an older one—came the terrifying task of telling J about the unexpected pregnancy. I knew I wanted to be a mom, but I was anguished by how much my decision would change his life. It was the first time that the two of us felt like an “us” to me. Together, we were parents to that same little pounding heart.

It’s the miracle of my story, and the unlikelihood of my family, that stands out: I got pregnant naturally at 46 after a lifetime of infertility.

What followed was a time that was both miraculous and fraught, as we went to therapy together and I went to my medical appointments alone. Though I was initially referred to a high risk clinic because of my age, my pregnancy and the baby were both perfectly healthy. Being pregnant at 46, I’ve never felt such shock and awe about my own body doing something everyone had said was impossible. And I’ve never felt so beautiful.

J was angry with me at first for choosing to keep our child, but I think we would both say, looking back, that he was scared too. He was scared of becoming a father as the result of an unexpected pregnancy, of loving and being loved, of losing his sense of agency. But when our little boy emerged into the world and into his arms, J did what fathers have done throughout history, even when they don’t necessarily plan for it: He fell in love. And since then, the feet of the aerialist have been firmly planted beside me—beside us.

Related: What people get wrong about being a mom in your 40s 

To casual observers, it’s the miracle of my story, and the unlikelihood of my family, that stands out: I got pregnant naturally at 46 after a lifetime of infertility. With that unexpected pregnancy came an unexpected family. And it’s true—being pregnant at 46 and becoming a mom is a miracle. Our son is our own private miracle and we are grateful for him every day. 

But the journey of the midlife mother is rarely so black-and-white. Whether we conceive with assistance or without, whether we foster, adopt or marry into motherhood, we have to reconcile the woman we’ve spent half a lifetime becoming, with the mother we’ll spend the rest of our lives being. Motherhood is an identity shift that is different for older moms than for moms who have their children younger. It’s also part of what makes motherhood in this season of life so unique and so special: No matter the route we’ve traveled to get here, we don’t take where we’ve ended up for granted.

My road from meeting J at that dive bar to having a baby with him, and eventually becoming a family together, has been a winding one—but we’re a family none-the-less. We rallied to bring our child into an environment of love, laughter, kindness and mutual respect. We are still growing and fumbling and learning every day, but we are among the most devoted parents you’ll ever meet. And our little guy has been our guide with every step—leading us, assuring us, loving us with the beat of that fiercely irrepressible heart.

Motherly Stories are first person, 500-1000 word stories, reflecting on the insights you’ve experienced in motherhood—and the wisdom you’ve gained along the way. They also help other women realize they’re not alone. Motherly Stories don’t judge. Instead, they inspire other mamas with stories of meaning, hope and a realization that “you’ve got this.” If you have a story, please submit it here: