herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

With your child-bearing days, over why not give birth ... to a whole new self?

Life doesn't stop when you can't have children, three women tell Arlene Harris

Meryl Streep, left, and Alec Baldwin can't keep things simple in It's Complicated
Meryl Streep, left, and Alec Baldwin can't keep things simple in It's Complicated

While menstruation is often referred to as a 'curse', many women feel a sense of loss when they hit the menopause and their child-bearing days are over.

But while in the past, it was often implied that middle-aged women were as relevant as their younger counterparts, modern society is far more positive and encouraging about this phase of our lives.

In a new book entitled The Second Part of your Life, author Jill Shaw Ruddock looks at why The Change is not just physical but also cerebral and although women can no longer create life, she can 'give birth' to a new self.

We spoke to some women who have reached 'middle-age' to find out if they have restocked their wardrobes with twinsets and slippers or have in fact totally transformed the next part of their lives.

Mia from Wicklow has four grown-up children. While they were young she defined herself as their mother or as a wife. Now in her 50s, she has reinvented herself - by getting an art degree, establishing a jewellery-making business www.facebook.com/Maria-Parsons-Design-Manifesto and developing a new relationship. She feels she has recovered her identity and is enjoying the second phase of her life.

"There was a moment in my life where I seemed to have lost my identity; I would introduce myself as a mother, wife, daughter or sister but never felt worthy to be Mia, valid as a person in my own right. Now I am proud to say I am Mia - full stop.

I had always wanted to go to art college; but at 17 my education was cut short by becoming pregnant with my first child, a son who I had adopted at the request of my parents. I went on to have two more children out of wedlock and then my final son when I got married.

I was a singer for a while but split from my husband in 2000 and got a job as a furniture sales person. But years later, when the recession came along, I was made redundant so I applied for a ceramics and art course in Bray.

I went on to do a degree course and studied design in the metals department, met the most wonderful like- minded people and based my final year on my love of spectacles.

All of my jewellery was derived from this subject matter and I also did my thesis on the psychology of wearing glasses.

Now I am free, working from home making my designs and planning to launch myself onto the social media world in the next couple of months, I am still singing, loving it more than ever and my voice is better because I am now a confident, grown-up woman.

I am also with the man of my dreams - we don't live together and therefore the romance is flourishing, even after 10 years. My children are doing great and I can safely say this is a wonderful time in my life.

I don't do age so it is strange to think of this as a later part of my life, I just think of it as yet another stage, another exciting adventure and by no means the final one. No doubt I will reinvent again and again as life would feel stale if I didn't."

Miriam is a solicitor from Lucan. She has two teenage children from a previous marriage but having 'come out' very late in life; she married Geraldine Hughes (Geri) in 2013, went to college to study law and is now a practicing solicitor. She says this phase of her life is the happiest yet.

"I came out quite late in life. It's a very long story and was certainly far from an easy transition, but I can say now, that it was without doubt the best thing that happened for everyone involved.

"Some people refuse to accept that, particularly where there are children concerned, but I really believe that to be the case.

"I had been in IT for many years and while overall I enjoyed my work and the people I worked with, it was a job without passion. There were a lot of things going on in my home life at the time and the last thing I thought I needed was to change my career, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

"Then an opportunity came up to go back to college. I always wanted to learn about the law and its impact on our daily lives and thought no more about it than it being three years of enjoyable night study.

"The following year, I had to be seriously convinced by Geri and a friend I met in college, that getting this far without putting the theory into practice, was such a waste of my obvious passion and talent for the law. Now that I have more confidence in myself and my abilities, it seems quite funny that I had to be convinced that I was good enough.

"Changing my career was easier said than done, as I had to figure out how to live (and provide my share of the children's financial support) on an apprentice's wage for three years. I have to say that both Geri and my daughters' dad were amazingly supportive, in all sorts of ways. I could never have done it without them, nor could I have done it without the endless encouragement of my girls.

"I am of a generation of women the majority of who will work outside the home for most, if not all, of our working lives. Not just because we might want to, but because it is financially necessary for both partners to work in order to provide for our families and for ourselves in later life.

"Even if society were to expect women to do less in middle age, and even if we wanted to, for the majority of us, we can't afford to.

"But I think women have greater expectations, for the whole of their lives, not just the so-called "productive" bit. Women work hard in the home and in the workplace, and now expect (as men have done for generations before), that they will have a productive, and enjoyable later life.

"I came to the realisation, a bit later than most perhaps, that it's all about the journey rather than the destination. We will all get there soon enough so why spend, what could be the most bountiful part of our life, waiting for it to end.

"So I would say, just keep looking until you find the thing that makes your heart beat faster, your brain fire on all cylinders or makes you smile. Better still, something that does all three. Then enjoy it for as long as you've got, for as long as that is."

Like author Jill Shaw Ruddock, Dublin-based psycholog ist Sharon Grainger (pictured inset, Sharon@counsellor.ie) says while some women feel that their lives are winding down when they reach menopause, they should instead see this period as a time to develop something for themselves.

"The average age of menopause onset is 51 and while some women sail through the hormonal turbulence that indicates the end of their fertile years, for others symptoms that impair their emotional, physical and psychological well-being can be so dismal as to make life unbearable.

"While hormone replacement therapy may be recommended to help elevate their mood I would suggest that women should also incorporate natural methods of elevating mood such as lowering stress through relaxation strategies like mindfulness or progressive muscle relaxation and increasing recreation and exercise whilst monitoring their diet and sleep.

"Have fun - laughter is the best medicine, don't underestimate it. Furthermore I would ask all women to actively challenge any negative thoughts they have in relation to the menopause as not everybody suffers.

"I would also certainly encourage women to consider a new venture, career or learning and to increase the amount of time doing something that they love. Current research suggests that 76pc of post-menopausal women said their health was better, 75pc said they had more fun and 93pc said they had more independence and more choice in everything from work to leisure pursuits.

"I would say embrace the fact that you,( possibly like my peri-menopausal self), have or are rearing a family, are working and can still take the time to look attractive.

"Don't be afraid to say you are having a 'tropical moment'. If you feel tired, say it. If you feel emotional, say it. If you feel down or depressed at the thought of your years advancing talk to a professional.

Above all else don't suffer in silence. Look for a role model and copy them, even if you are faking it - fake it till you make it. Be open and curious to change. Don't fixate on getting older - as Betty Friedan suggests: Aging is not 'lost youth' but a new stage of opportunity and strength."

 

 

Mirim McColgan

Hughes, lawyer

Sharon Grainger, psychologist

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