For women (and their male or female partners), the journey through midlife can be treacherous. It is comforting to know that there is science – specifically, a biological explanation for many of the “symptoms” experienced by women in perimenopause and menopause. It is also important to recognize that this journey can begin in our early 30s.
The Fire Within
There is a fire within that calls to me.
A primordial fire like the burning bush that blazes but does not consume.
It is the fire of inspiration.
The fire that calls us forth, pushing us on.
Beginning as a spark.
Growing as it is fed.
Dying if not nourishment given.
Possessing a hunger that cannot be quenched.
It hungers for
It yearns for time alone to
Requiring and understanding the cleansing power of tears,
the purgative power of anger,
the replenishing power of mourning.
This fire – the Spirit within us.
Tend her well.
Precious and necessary for survival.
Preserve and tend her well
As she thrives, so shall ye!
Not Crazy Afterall
One of the most comforting things for me, during my own journey through midlife (one which admittedly is still unfolding), was to find out that I was not CRAZY. With the help of Christiane Northrup, M.D. and her book, The Wisdom of Menopause, I learned that I was not nuts, and that in fact, the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing: sorrow, weeping, rage, hatred, resentment, frustration, impatience, restlessness, depression, sadness, despair, was NORMAL. This roller coaster of emotions, I learned, was the natural response to the biological shift in hormones that happens as we transition out of childbearing and into SELF-bearing.
The Shield Falls From Our Eyes
As our children become viable and less dependent on our undying attention to survive, the hormones in our bodies begin to change. No longer focused on the survival of our progeny, we can now begin to pay attention to ourselves. Christiane describes it exquisitely:
As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begin to lift, a woman’s youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.
(Wisdom of Menopause, 2003, pg 11)
In other words, everything that we put on the back burner in favor of our children’s needs and everything we chose to overlook for “the sake of the family” suddenly comes roaring toward us demanding our attention. We are no longer seeing through the obscured lens of our reproductive hormones, but through the clarity of midlife. And sometimes, what we now see, SCARES US TO DEATH.
I have often said that The Wisdom of Menopause is a book that every woman over thirty should read and will scare every man to death. In gory details, Dr. Northrup describes what we can expect out of this journey and recommends supports to help us along the way. The most threatening part of this journey, she observes, is the likely relationship crisis. In order for our relationships to survive this crisis, we need to be present to what is unfolding in us, give heed to our creative drive and long-forgotten desires and our partners MUST BE SUPPORTIVE. Our partners need to be there through our cycling emotions – without judgment or condemnation. They need to take on additional household responsibilities (if they haven’t been) so that our plates can be more clear to tend to our own needs and desires. They need to tend to the children while we tend to ourselves. They need to encourage us in our search and hold us in our frustrations. They need to be loving and accepting of us as we face the physical changes that often accompany midlife. The great news for our partners is that as they are being supportive of us during this period of change, we will be able to hold them in their own change (which usually comes right on the heels of our own). The bad news is that in relationships where partners are not able to be attentive, supportive and loving, the relationship may not survive. Some also discover, while embracing their re-emerging SELF, that the partner they chose in their childbearing years is unable to meets the needs of the SELF in midlife. As Dr. Northrup so boldly shares, her own marriage could not survive the challenges of midlife and in the end, they chose to divorce.
Birthing our Selves
While the midlife can be a wild, chaotic and even treacherous journey, it is more importantly, MIRACULOUS and EXCITING. Like the exhilaration and joy that comes with the birth of our children, the result of the midlife journey for some might be even more exciting because we are BIRTHING our VERY SELF. When we are attentive to the process, feed and nurture our desires and our needs and establish new boundaries for ourselves (and our loved ones) we find the meaning, purpose and fulfillment that will sustain us as we journey through the rest of our life.
For support and inspiration in your own midlife journey, watch for the release of Lauri’s new book, Returning – a woman’s midlife journey to herself.