Things don't always go as we plan.
I learned this adage early, at about age 13, when my parents divorced and my world fell apart. Their divorce, and the ensuing chaos, significantly impacted my ability trust in marriage and family. I swore I'd never marry. I swore I'd never have children. I imagined instead a life of international travel and humanitarian work, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead I got married on a cold January day in 1991.
Because we were in our 30s, my husband and I decided to start trying to have a family right away. He wanted a large family, and although I hadn't previously allowed myself to dream, I too began to yearn for a baby, or two.
Several of my friends were also trying to get pregnant. It was fun. We drank coffee together and chatted endlessly about our future babies -- they'd play together, they'd attend school together, they'd grow up together.
And just like that, my trust in marriage and family was restored.
One by one my friends got pregnant, while month after month I did not. Although I never received a definitive diagnoses, there was talk of low progesterone, or perhaps just a lazy ovary or two. Regardless of what the actual problem was, it was clear something was wrong because I couldn't get pregnant.
I began my journey into the world of infertility treatments with hope and excitement, believing we just needed a little extra help. I was certain I'd be pregnant in a few months. I was naïve. The first year of infertility treatments turned my body into a stranger. My life consisted of injecting myself with hormones, tracking my ovulation cycle and having highly scheduled sex.
A Gallup Health and Well-Being Index revealed that women approaching midlife had the highest levels of stress among all age groups and genders. What's worse, according to the study, they were far more stressed out than previous generations of women, and there didn't seem to be any relief in sight. Today's women are raising children, working, caring for aging parents, and tending to their partners (or trying to), while doing their best to remain fresh and youthful. And as a result, they often feel too stretched, too overwhelmed, too exhausted, too unappreciated, and way too weary.
The study also highlighted the fact that among a range of emotions experiences by these over-worked and under-appreciated women, the most pronounced was guilt. No matter how much they worked, no matter how thinly they were spread, no matter how caring, giving, and sacrificing (and no matter how damned good they looked while engaging in all of their service-related activities) it never felt like they were doing enough -- there was always more they believed they could/should/needed to do. And at the core of these women's souls lurked a fear that they were failing themselves, their employers, their partners, and their children. According to the study, this type of perfectionism is eating away at the mental and physical health of today's women, particularly those who are parents.
As I prepare once again for the departure of my son for college, I find myself reflecting on the gut-wrenching experience of taking him to college the first time about a year ago. The close relationship I have with my son was one reason why empty nesting was such a devastating experience for me. I honestly did not know who I was without him in my daily life, and I wasn't very eager to find out. Even though I always worked, empty-nesting after spending nearly two decades immersed in raising my son filled me with dread and terror.
I did everything I could to prepare for his eventual departure, including going to counseling as a pre-emptive measure against feeling so much pain. One day when I was sitting in my counselor's office, she asked me to describe my feelings about him leaving. "Post-apocalyptic," I said without pause. "It feels like darkness. Gloominess. Like Russia-in-winter gloominess." She told me that it would take about one year to adjust. "I don't have that kind of time," I responded." And then I asked for a list of things I could do to speed up the process.
When I drove my son to college last year, I was in a daze. I remember very little about that trip except some intermittent tears (mine) and a whole lot of excitement (his). The college drop-off went by in a whir -- dorm set-up, a quick dinner and that was it. While I remember little of that day, I do remember the drive home with excruciating clarity. The drive was very long, made even longer by the fact that I had to drive through Nebraska (sorry, Nebraska folks, but your state is stupefyingly giant). I was emotional and couldn't stop the rush of tears or the voices in my head that reminded me of how my tiny family of two had just shrunk to one. It was official, I was completely alone. My son was going to skip off into his future, and I'd be lucky if he even remembered my name. I was downright pathetic.
Welcome to my Blog!
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.