by Nancy London, M.S.W.


Chapter Two
The Clash of the Titans:
Motherhood Meets Menopause

Reprinted with permission from Hot Flashes, Warm Bottles: First-time Mothers Over Forty. Copyright 2001 by Nancy London, M.S.W., Ten Spepd Press, Berkeley, CA.

By the time I hit forty, my friends had put me into the category of someone who could cope with anything. But now I've got night sweats, mood swings, my energy level is dropping, and I'm a single mother with a six-year-old daughter. It took me awhile to admit that I'm in a whole new category.

Bella, forty-six-year-old mother of six-year-old Zoe

Motherhood and menopause are considered two distinct phases of a woman's reproductive life cycle. But what if they happen just years apart? What if the activities and sacrifices appropriate to motherhood-giving selflessly to a child any time of the day or well into the night, postponing short-term pleasures and long-term goals for the good of the family-are at odds with the impulses that rise up inside the midlife woman-the physical call to slow down, the desire to ingather and reflect on the second half of her life, the hunger to put her own needs first? What happens when these two sets of developmentally appropriate needs collide? I call this the "Clash of the Titans," the detonation that sounds inside the older woman who is caught between responding to her own mounting needs and to those of her young child.

A woman who has postponed motherhood until her forties looks forward to showering her child with all the unconditional love that she has been saving up for decades. Unfortunately, she may not have factored the following into her biological timetable: as a woman in her forties, she is more than likely entering perimenopause. This means that, although she is still menstruating, her hormones have probably begun to fluctuate as they did during the wild ride of puberty.

We roll our eyes when we talk about self-centered teenagers. "Hormones," we say, to explain their often unexplainable erratic emotional behavior. They forget to feed the dog. They space out when you talk to them. They spend hours in their room alone or on the phone with a friend. This self-absorption seems to come with the teenage turf.

Midlife presents the older woman with the same hormonally predisposed imperative to turn inward and focus on herself. It's a time to take stock of how she has lived the first half of her life. With whom has she shared her time, her love, her money, and her energy? Has she followed her dreams and passions? Has she contributed to the community? When midlife women look in the mirror and know for sure that youth is fading and aging is inevitable, many of them seize the opportunity to make big changes as they head into the second half of their lives. They go back to school, get married or divorced, start the business they put on hold twenty years ago, sell it all and go traveling, or retreat to a monastery. Many of these women say they feel like they are becoming outrageous, like the lid is coming off and they can't control what they say anymore. All that has been repressed steps forward, right smack into the middle of their personalities. If they were "good girls," the midlife woman from hell is about to step from behind the curtain and yell, "BOO!"

Perimenopausal women make up the group that most often reports fatigue, wild mood swings, and mental instability to their doctors. Unfortunately, many of these doctors overprescribe antidepressants, which can be as great a disservice to the woman poised on the threshold of the second half of her life as it would be to the teenager struggling to find her emotional and mental balance on the brink of adulthood. This same woman will eventually ride out the hormonal storm and find her footing, mentally, physically, and emotionally, but if it will be years before her child is grown, she may find herself wondering if she'll have enough energy left to pursue her own dreams.

This is the essence of the conflict many women bring to my First-Time Moms over Forty support groups. They ask: "How can I reconcile the time I need for myself with the endless responsibilities (and joys) of motherhood?"
Up until now, older first-time mothers have been offered little guidance in resolving this clash of needs and were left feeling guilty, confused, and privately ashamed. This chapter is designed to help you successfully resolve this conflict. There is nothing more reassuring than hearing the voices of other older mothers who, like you, adore their children at the same time they struggle to honor their own midlife imperatives. The suggestions are specifically geared toward helping you claim guilt-free time for yourself by learning to identify and accept your ambivalence, setting healthy limits, scaling back expectations as a way of coping with fatigue, and putting yourself on the list of people you regularly nurture. These suggestions never assume that you have more time for yourself than you really do, nor do they underestimate how daunting the clash of needs can be. Like the emergency instructions on an airplane, you'll be shown how to secure your own oxygen mask first, so that you'll then be able to help those who need your time, attention, patience, and love.

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Accepting Your Ambivalence

Many of the first-time older mothers I work with have a hard time admitting that they have feelings of ambivalence. Ambivalence simply means having mutually conflicting emotions, but in our linear society, it's hard to understand that we can hold two seemingly disparate feelings at the same time. For instance, we love being a mother and miss our children after a two-hour separation, but we also remember our single days with longing. We adore the security and warmth of our family, even as we dream of taking refuge in a Buddhist monastery. Mothers who know that this will most likely be their only child not only feel required to "do it all," but also to be unambivalently enthusiastic while they're doing it. Doris, a forty-nine-year-old teacher who dotes on her nine-year-old daughter, wonders, "Am I the only one who wishes my child would dematerialize, get beamed up and away for the day, and return ready for bed?" Sherry, a forty-seven-year-old woman devoted to her two-year-old son, confides to our support group that she has fantasies of buying a red Harley and disappearing into a "witness protection program for older mothers."

Does this ambivalence mean these women don't love their children? Not at all. It means that after decades of cherished autonomy and independence, first-time older mothers find their previous lifestyle and all its freedoms altered beyond recognition. It means that this surrender of self-rule comes at precisely the time most midlife women with grown children are just beginning to reclaim their lives. To acknowledge the inevitable ambivalence that arises when the demands of putting another person's needs first clash with the midlife call toward selfhood is not an admission of failure. It simply means you are human and are feeling more than one thing at the same time.

Suzanne, a forty-nine-year-old business administrator and mother of eight-year-old Sara, had the support group groaning and laughing as she described what happened the day before she was about to leave on a much-needed two-day weekend retreat by herself.

"Sara wanted to know why she couldn't come with me," she said, "so I had to explain about how I needed to take some time away for myself. But still, I was feeling pretty conflicted about it. So by the time she asked me to take her to the Laundromat to help her wash her giant quilt, I said yes. It had been an intense day at work and I was feeling pretty hormonal. I probably should have known better, but my guilt got the better of me. After two hours of sitting in this smelly Laundromat, watching really bad TV, with the bathroom out of order, she drags the damn quilt through an oil spill on the way to the car. I totally lost it and began haranguing her about how she needed to focus more. So then I got into the car and I proceeded to back up over one of those concrete row dividers they have in parking lots. Men came out of the Laundromat to watch me. Blessedly my daughter didn't say a word on the way home. But while we were eating dinner my husband asked us how the day had gone, and of course she told him everything-how I had given her a 'big old lecture on being focused' while I was backing up over this thing, and how half the town had come out to watch me. So my husband put his fork down and said to her, 'Honey, that's why Mommy needs to go away.'"

Anna told the support group she felt devastated because, after spending thousands of dollars and three years undergoing infertility treatments, she was now feeling increasingly frustrated and impatient with her four-year-old daughter. "I'm forty-seven," she began. "My periods are irregular, and sometimes I feel so hormonally out of balance and so desperate for time alone that I lock myself in the bathroom. Last week I yelled so loud my daughter burst into tears and said, 'I want my real mommy.' How could this possibly be me, the same woman who tried to have a baby for so many years? Sometimes I say I'm going to the store, but really all I do is just sit in the car in the parking lot soaking up the silence, knowing no one can find me and ask me for anything. My husband knows I need time to be alone and encourages me to take it, but I'm torn. I'm not going to have any more children, and if I leave, I might miss something precious. But when I stay, I'm crabby and I want to escape. I guess you could say I'm caught between a rock and a hard place."

These women are incredibly relieved when they understand that this powerful urge to claim time and space for themselves is an inherent component of the midlife passage. Taking this time away allows them to return to their families recharged and rebalanced. But if this impulse is ignored or condemned, they stay caught in unresolved ambivalence, often growing irritable and depressed, and end up alienated from the ones they love the very most.

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Learning to Set Limits

A number of older moms who come to my support groups often tell me that one of their greatest difficulties is learning to say no to their children when their thoughts, feelings, and body cues are telling them that they are too overwhelmed to say yes. Yet significantly the one regret that older parents with grown children consistently express is a wish that they had set more limits with their children early on. So what is it that prevents us from drawing a line in the sand and establishing these much-needed limits with our children?

For many midlife moms, the difficulty arises because they know they are only going to have one child, and they can't bear being too strict. Other women say that they hold themselves to unrealistic expectations of perfect parenting, which includes never having to say no. Those who came of age in an era that encouraged breaking free of limitations now equate limit setting with restricting their child's developing self-esteem. It's also common for older parents of only children to relate to their children as friends because they spend so much time together, but it then becomes that much harder to switch into the role of boundary setter.

Most of us truly enjoy the pleasure of caring for our children, but if we judge ourselves when we attempt to establish boundaries, we may be resurrecting old beliefs about setting limits that have slipped into our unconscious and now influence our behavior. "A loving mother always puts the needs of her child first. If she doesn't, she's selfish" is a common misperception. Or, "I'm no better than my mother was. She was always off somewhere when I needed her." Another thought that can stop us in our tracks is, "If I go off and take time for myself, something horrible will happen to my child." While most mothers logically know that they'll be better parents if they take care of themselves, these beliefs have had decades to solidify and can prevent us from meeting our own needs.

Julie found it particularly difficult to set limits because, after years of waiting to have a baby, she had enormous expectations of herself and a hidden belief that prioritizing her own needs made her a negligent mother. "For all my years of growth and success at becoming a better person, once I had Katie I began to feel like I was unraveling. I couldn't find my center. I had been in recovery for thirteen years before I had her at forty-three. I waited because I wanted to make sure there was enough love inside me to go around. Before I had her, I used to devote a big chunk of my day to yoga and meditation and running. Now I have to squeeze all of that into fifteen minutes. Everyone tells me to put her in day care now that she's three, but I can't do it. This is my only chance to be a mom. But still, I push myself past the point where it's healthy to be with her. Sometimes I've had enough after twenty minutes, and I really want to go take some quiet time, but I continue playing with her for another hour. Then I find myself yelling at her and being a really uptight mom. It makes me feel so bad. I don't know why I wait so long to take time for myself. One time I let her come into my room when I did yoga, but she was too young to understand, and she kept crawling under my legs. I blew it and yelled and then felt so bad that I didn't even try to do yoga again for months. But the thing is, when I do finally take time for myself, I come back filled up and nothing bad has happened to her. I expect myself to be Mother Teresa, patient and wise, but she spends hours a day in prayer and meditation and I don't even give myself twenty minutes to recharge."

This reluctance to set limits and claim time for herself, as well as the ensuing negotiations and constant infringements on the time she has set aside, can be one of the most fundamental causes of an older mother's short fuse.

"Mommy, are you mad at me? Are you okay?" four-year-old Allison asks Rae, her forty-four-year-old mother who has withdrawn behind closed doors for five minutes of recharging. "I don't want her to think I'm angry, so I let her come in, and then we do whatever she wants to do," Rae told me. "I've never said, 'No, you can't come in. I need to be by myself now.' It's getting harder and harder for me to take any time alone now. She can talk me into anything."

Your child will test your limits, and it's developmentally appropriate for them to do so. But we are doing them a great disservice if we give them the impression that they never have to learn how to manage the disappointment of not always getting their wishes granted. While we may be afraid that setting limits jeopardizes the relationship, in fact, kids feel loved and thrive with the security and safety this kind of structure provides. Clear-cut, well-established limits also provide the means by which we can meet our own needs without having to resort to erratic, unpredictable behavior. When the time is right and the emotional waters in the household are calm, sit down with your family and establish the fact that there are going to be times of the day or night when mommy takes time for herself. Instead of a child thinking that she must have done something wrong for mommy to go away behind a closed door, he or she can begin seeing this as normal, predictable behavior. Life begins to feel safe again for a child who may have been frightened by mom's shifting moods. By normalizing the need to take time away, children come to expect that mommy will not always be available and that it's not their fault. One creative mother I know utilized an "Off-Limits, Quiet Time" sign on her door, which she and her eight-year-old daughter made together. It was so appealing to her daughter that she asked if she could have one for her room too.

I encourage older women to create a parenting style that builds in adult time and interests from the beginning, whether that time is made possible by day care, paid help, or trading with other parents, family, or friends. Kids adapt well to clear messages. If the message is that mom loves you a lot, and mom also has a life of her own, beyond work, that needs tending, they'll do fine. A major part of the developmental task for a child is learning to live with a certain amount of distress when they don't always get their own way. And part of the developmental task of loving parents is to discern that this distress is not only not life-threatening, it is essential to the emotional well-being and growth of their child.

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The Body Knows

After several years of parenting, most of us know what to expect when we don't set limits with our children. We lose our patience and yell, we feel resentful and frustrated, and then we're overcome with remorse. Here's a technique I have found that allows your body to tell you when you are about to say yes when you really mean no, when you are about to go over the top of what you genuinely have to give, when you need to stop and set a limit. I have a small muscle in my right shoulder that twitches madly when I am dangerously close to denying my own pressing needs in favor of someone else's. I've come to think of it like Jimminy Cricket desperate to get Pinocchio's attention. It's my own personal warning signal. If I don't set a limit now, I'm heading over the cliff into an emotional danger zone. When I pay attention, I pull back just in the nick of time, and the reward is acting like the loving human being I know I can be. When I establish and respect my limits in an interaction with my daughter, I feel like a virtuous June Cleaver for the rest of the day. When I ignore my internal radar, I end up yelling in order to get my needs met. Afterward, I slink around feeling like Mommy Dearest. Once the mothers in my support groups begin to listen to their body cues, they report telltale twitching eyelids, tight stomachs, and sweaty palms. Learning to interpret these messages from your body will mean you have a choice in the cool of the moment to set a healthy limit and stop short of having to blow a fuse in order to get your own needs met.

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Authority versus Abuse

For some of the older mothers I counsel, a reluctance to set limits is even more pronounced if they were emotionally or sexually abused as children. Their difficulty acknowledging and establishing legitimate limits stems from confusion around the difference between authority and abuse. They vowed that when they became parents, they would make life perfect for their children, free from the suffering they endured. Now they fear that asserting their parental authority is perpetrating a form of abuse. They shrink from setting limits with their children for fear that they will harm them. If you are having difficulty distinguishing between the healthy authority you need to assume as a parent and the abuse from your past, I encourage you to seek out the professional help of a therapist or counselor. Working through this issue will enable you to become a more effective parent as well as a more fulfilled individual.

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Coping with Fatigue by Scaling Back Expectations

While all mothers feel tired, the perimenopausal mother's fatigue is compounded by her post-birth/premenopausal hormone cocktail. This potent mix creates a bone-deep fatigue that is poignantly juxtaposed against the high-energy needs of her young child. These women felt young and vital before they had their babies. Now it's common to hear them say, "I can't believe how tired I am most of the time." One mother lamented, "I'm always too tired to play with my daughter. I can just hear her talking about it in therapy twenty years from now." Another added, "Now I drool thinking about sleep the way I used to thinking about sex."

In group sessions, when I mention the memory lapses, fuzzy thinking, and lack of concentration associated with midlife fatigue, I can count on hilarity in seconds: "I found the missing scissors in the refrigerator. Did I do that? That's it, I thought. I've got a brain tumor." "I couldn't remember my best friend's last name. Hell, I can barely remember my own last name!" "My daughter and I went to a spring equinox ritual. Everyone had to bring a slip of paper with their wishes for themselves and their families written on it. We put them all in a bowl and burned them in a very beautiful ceremony. The next day I found my wish list in my pocket. I must have burned my shopping list."

Not only is there a biochemical component to the fatigue at midlife, there is the additional exponential factor that comes from always being on call. You can't follow the body's imperative to rest if it's time to pick your child up from school or cook dinner. Successfully devising strategies to cope with this level of fatigue may mean scaling back on your expectations of yourself, and often it involves seismic shifts in self-image.

Carmine was a high-powered computer programmer before she had her daughter three years ago. Now at forty-five, she's creating a new lifestyle that includes concessions to a fatigue that she admits "caught me by surprise. I used to be a career woman-panty hose, high heels, the whole scene. After my daughter was born, I switched to part time, and then to running my own consulting business from home. At first, I got dressed up every day like I did when I worked in the city. Then I just admitted to myself that I was pooped and switched to wearing sweats. I had "day sweats" to work in and "night sweats" to sleep in. But one day I came out of my office around lunchtime and my daughter asked me if I was going to work or to bed. Believe me, it was a shock to see how far I'd come from my power suit days."

Laura, a forty-five-year-old client of mine, has been a successful commercial artist for twenty years. She had her first and only child five years ago and has been juggling motherhood, marriage, and career ever since. "I don't have the reserves of energy I used to have," she told me. "I used to pride myself on my gourmet cooking, but now, if I'm involved in a painting, and it's dinnertime, I don't stop to cook. I know I'm fooling myself if I think I'll have the energy to cook and get back to work later. I probably would have been pulled in more directions if I were younger. Now I want time for my family and my art. These matter. We can always order take-out."

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The Luscious Horizontal Position (but Not What You Think)

Feeling too tired and spaced out to play with your child can be a great disappointment not only to your child but also to yourself. Fortunately, children care more about you being with them than they do about whether you're sitting up or lying down, so at the end of the day I recommend scaling back your expectations and playing "lying down" games. You and your child can read together, play cards together, watch movies together. Despite the fact that I always thought I would outlaw videos in favor of more "creative" endeavors and certainly thought I would be more physically active when I became a parent, some of my most treasured memories come from the humor my daughter and I have shared watching cartoons and movies together, all from a luscious horizontal position.

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The Party from Hell

I wish I always followed my own good advice. Last week was my daughter's twelfth birthday, and she wanted a mammoth Romanesque celebration: a trip to the amusement park with four of her best friends; a dinner party for eight with all of her favorite foods; an elaborate birthday cake, ice cream, and helium balloons; and a sleepover in her tree house. Now it may be easy for you to say no way, but I got caught up in my desire to grant her every wish. Against my better judgment, I created this three-ring circus and then paid dearly for it. These preteen girls were so hormonally wound up and so overstimulated that they climbed up and down the tree house ladder giggling, whispering, and needing flashlights, snacks, and comfort well into the night. The next day I looked at my bedraggled self in the mirror and thought about the expectations that had created the Birthday Party from Hell for the introverted older mother that I am. Next year, when that lying, thieving little birthday fairy whispers in my ear, "Go on, you can do it . . . give her everything she wants," I'll have my wits about me and be lying in wait.

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Fighting Fatigue with Better Nutrition

If you are among the many first-time moms over forty who are experiencing the fatigue or mild depression associated with perimenopause, never underestimate the positive effect that increasing your vitamin and mineral intake can have on your energy level and your moods. Go to your local bookstore or library and check out the many good books available that detail the changing nutritional needs of the perimenopausal woman. I have worked with many mothers who thought they were candidates not only for the old folk's farm but for antidepressants as well. Many of these women responded successfully to boosting their vitamin and mineral intake. Some of my clients also report increased energy and a brighter mental outlook from acupuncture and Chinese herbs. And if you don't already do some form of regular exercise as a means of boosting your energy, refer to chapter one for painless, pleasurable guidelines.

If you suspect that part of your fatigue is due to your hormones fluctuating and you want to find out the specifics, I recommend that instead of relying on traditional blood tests, which are not highly sensitive to subtle shifts in hormonal levels, you seek out a health care practitioner who offers the more advanced saliva sample method. See Resources (page 196) for more information on how to find a hormone testing service.

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Putting Yourself on the List

In your quest to maintain a career, a relationship, and a dust-bunny-free home, and to meet your child's needs plus still have time left over for romantic interludes with your partner, the needs you most likely are not tending to are your own. This is all the more poignant because as older first-time moms, we have had years to grow into the individuals we are today and probably can remember lots of ways we used to restore and nurture ourselves B.C.-Before Children. One forty-six-year-old client told me, "The realization hit me on about day seven after my son was born that my life was over as I had known it. My routines, my private time, my time for journaling, thinking, writing, painting, it was all just gone."

To make matters worse, most of the popular books written for midlife women that encourage them to use these years as an opportunity for personal transformation and creative exploration are clearly not written for women with young children. One woman told the group, "My friend sent me this really great book that recommended that women going through menopause spend three days every full moon and three days every new moon retreating by herself to gather power. I put the book down and took stock of my life. I used to do things like that all the time. Now it was three o'clock in the afternoon. I was at home with a kid who was either playing Legos or jumping off the sofa in a Batman costume. I was about to start dinner. Then I'd do the dishes, give him a bath, read a story, and tuck him in. It would be 9:30 before I had a moment to myself again. 'Get real!' I wanted to shout at the book. I'd be lucky to get my teeth brushed, let alone six days a month to myself."

These losses are real. Midlife motherhood has granted us our most heartfelt wish, while it has taken from us cherished parts of our youth and freedom. I fervently believe from my experience working with older first-time moms that by remembering, honoring, and incorporating parts of ourselves that thrived before we became parents, we can stay sane, balanced, and recharged. It's like swimming upstream, back to your place of origin.

I was reminded of this several months ago when I went for a walk and ended up in my neighborhood park, where a primitive but beautiful labyrinth had recently been created out of our indigenous adobe soil. Impulsively, I walked through the archway and began circling my way through the maze. When I got to the center, I sat on the stone bench and for the first time that day appreciated the breathtaking New Mexico morning. High puffy clouds hung in a bright blue sky, red-winged blackbirds called to each other from crab apple trees bursting with bloom. For a moment I was transported back to my years as a single woman when I took delight in traveling alone to foreign countries. I loved going without companions because it left me free to follow the spontaneous call of adventure. Walking through that arch and following my impulse to sit on that stone instantly recalled the woman I had been before my career, my marriage, and my family. Before pets and gardens. Before taxes and PTA meetings. Before I had a clue what havoc midlife hormonal changes could wreak. I knew I didn't want to be her again, I just wished I could visit with her more often.

I (she) had a great fondness for watching a sunrise from a hilltop, but-I'm sure this will come as no surprise-I have only managed that feat once during the last five years. Other pleasures I (she) enjoyed that I indulge in more frequently include going out to breakfast alone, rummaging through flea markets, foraging for wild medicinal herbs, spending luxurious time on the telephone gossiping with my best friend, getting a massage from a woman with strong hands and a kind heart, buying too many platform shoes, and going to a 1:30 matinee. I have a girlfriend who puts on a nostalgic old pair of cowboy boots and goes dancing every time she feels like life has nailed her to the ground.

Sit quietly and remember the life you led before you became a mother. Remember the ways you had of taking care of yourself. Let your mind run wild and imagine how you might incorporate some of this good medicine into your life now, each day or each week. It doesn't matter if you're inclined to gather and drink wild herbs, or meet a friend for a shot of scotch, straight up. Personally I've done both. What matters is that you take the time to care for yourself. And while I believe there is a special hell reserved for those who urge hormonally challenged and physically depleted midlife mothers to "just do it," there are instantaneous and life-affirming benefits to putting yourself on the list of the people you regularly nurture.

Seek out and connect with other older first-time moms like yourself. Put up notices on bulletin boards or in local classifieds. You'll find sample ads and an eight-week curriculum in the appendix (page 183). When appropriate, help each other with childcare and housecleaning so that each of you gets what you need-precious time to be with yourself and with others so that you can return to parenting renewed and inspired.

Individually and collectively we've pushed the envelope and extended the time line for fertility. First-time mothers over forty are a rapidly growing demographic-fast becoming commonplace rather than exceptional. We've proven that we can have healthy beautiful babies well into our forties. Now the challenge is to draw new maps for the next generation of older first-time moms, illuminating the territory where the needs of the midlife mother and her child can meet.

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The Journey Book

Setting Limits

When you have the time, sit quietly with your Journey Book. Think of five situations in which you would like to set clearer limits. Write them down.
Are there any beliefs or judgments you hold that may be preventing you from setting these limits?

Reflect on what happens when you say yes when you really need to say no. Write for five minutes, stream of consciousness, the completion of the following sentence: "I know I've neglected my own needs for too long when I. . . ."

Embracing Your Ambivalence

The following exercise has proven highly effective for the women in my support groups who are grappling with issues of ambivalence. It is designed to help you get comfortable with the fact that there are several voices inside of you that are clamoring for equal airtime. Some of these voices are ones with whom you are familiar. Others may be ones you are repressing because of the pressures and responsibilities of motherhood. All of them need to be heard and accepted if you hope to successfully reconcile your dual identities of individual and mother.

Pick two of the distinct parts of you that are seeking resolution and reconciliation. Wild woman and devoted mother? Solitary world traveler and neighborhood carpooler? Now imagine that each one of these characters has come alive and has invited you into her home. Visit with each one separately. Write a description of each character and note the specifics of each personality. What are they wearing? Is one dressed in lace and a low-cut dress and the other in jeans? Does one plan for the future and one live in the moment? Is one's refrigerator empty except for wine and cheese? What do they do for entertainment? Work? Are they married or single? What kind of music do they listen to, and who are their friends? What would the ideal vacation be for each of them? How do they prefer to spend their time? Give your imagination free rein as you flesh out the various tastes, styles, and, most important, needs that are coexisting inside of you. It is a safe first step toward embracing your ambivalence without judgment or censorship, and restoring those parts of yourself that may have been suppressed, denied, or forbidden. (Thanks to Deena Metzger and her wonderful book Writing for Your Life for the inspiration for this exercise.)

Putting Yourself on the List

There was a you before motherhood. Make a list or create a collage that reflects who you were and what you liked to do before you became a parent. List five creative ways to make contact with this other you at least once a week.

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p. 34
Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause all happened within eight years in my life. Each event has had a huge impact on my body and how I see myself.

Bette, forty-nine-year-old mother of nine-year-old Jonathan

p. 35
My daughter is going through puberty at the same time I'm going through menopause. It's hard to tell which one of us is more hormonally crazed.

Susan, fifty-two-year-old mother of twelve-year-old Eden

p. 36
At forty-two, with a two-year-old, I was overloaded, angry, and losing it. I went to three female doctors who all told me that menopause couldn't be happening because I was still getting my period. Maybe they thought you had to be fifty and you had to have stopped your period. I finally found a
doctor who thought I was perimenopausal. What made me really want to deal with it was not wanting my daughter to grow up thinking I was just a crazy old lady. What kind of role model would that be for her?

Virginia, fifty-five-year-old mother of fifteen-year-old Felicia

p. 37
Diet, exercise, rest, meditation, gardening, dancing, writing, whatever centers you. Self-care is a critical factor for an older mom. It's so easy to put yourself on the back burner. You eat last if at all, you exercise if you can fit it in, you sleep when you can. There has to be a real conscious effort to take care of yourself, because if you don't juice yourself up, your child is going to suffer.

Debra, forty-three-year-old mom of three-year-old Tyler

p. 38
Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age.

Dorothy Parker

p. 39
I felt like huge pieces of my old self were being vacuumed up in being a parent until I arranged my schedule to be home alone once a week. I put fresh flowers on the table, turn off the phone, and take a hot bath. I make a point not to accomplish a single, tangible thing.

Jesse, forty-five-year-old mother of five-year-old Kyle

Every five minutes I spend setting consistent limits with my child saves me fifteen minutes of turmoil.

Ella, forty-four-year-old mother of three-year-old Natasha

p. 42
Feeling selfish when we prioritize ourselves above someone else is a gene defect, and most women have it.

Donna, forty-nine-year-old mother of six-year-old Sam

p. 44
To love without role, without power plays, is revolution.

Rita Mae Brown

p. 45
I was breastfeeding at forty-seven, the same year my periods began getting irregular. When my thinking got a bit fuzzy, I chalked it up to my menopausal lactation brain.

Carla, forty-nine-year-old mother of three-year-old Catherine

p. 47
I used to make elaborate custard pies when I went to a potluck. Now when
I think of the time it will take to buy the ingredients, do the cooking and the clean-up-all precious time when my son is in school-I think I'd rather spend the time taking care of myself and bring pies from the local health food store. Frankly no one really cares what kind of pies I bring, but if they did, I'd say, "What you think of me is none of my business."

Kimberly, forty-five-year-old mother of four-year-old Ben

p. 49
Before I got my hormones tested and knew which supplements to take, my mood swings were very erratic. I felt irritable and fragile, like I was inside an egg about to break. To be hormonally depleted as an older mother of a young child is a real double whammy. Now I feel like I can hold my life together.

Marla, forty-eight-year-old mother of four-year-old Justine


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Reprinted with permission from Hot Flashes, Warm Bottles: Firs-time Mothers Over Forty. Copyright 2001 by Nancy London, M.S.W., Ten Spepd Press, Berkeley, CA.

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