Updated: 20 hours ago
Two weeks before my fiftieth birthday I took a pregnancy test.
I felt phantom sensations for weeks, and I dismissed them for all sorts of benign things. Until they became more regular, and over the course of a month, went from tiny bubble-like tickles to undeniable thump, thump, thumpity-thumps right in my womb.
It was concerning. I knew this sensation from my three previous pregnancies, but still, it was nearly impossible. After the birth of our third kid, I had my tubes tied, having asked the doctor for the paperwork the moment I heard that my stubbornly breech baby would come by C-Section. Where do I sign, I asked her.
But in those pre-birthday weeks, I felt undeniably pregnant and by my count, I had only two options of what to do about it, and I didn’t like either one at all. I couldn’t imagine terminating, and I also couldn’t imagine bringing a fourth child into the world where the math bears out that I would be approaching 70 at that final high school graduation.
No, thank you.
I mustered the courage to go buy the pregnancy test, along with a box of color for my greying middle-aged hair. With shaking hands, I took the test and then hyperventilated into a pillow while my husband peppered me with affirmations and nervous giggles until it was confirmed negative.
The whole experience left me feeling unquestionably relieved, but also, surprisingly sad. As I crossed over into a new decade, I could hear the audible closing of a door, signaling the end of an era as a woman of childbearing years. I had brushed up against that possibility for the last time, and while I didn’t want another child, I did feel the choice to do so had already slipped through my fingers, never to return.
No matter how I actually felt physically, I was deeply melancholy about no longer being young or even perceived as younger, now considered a woman of “mature age” as noted on my chart at the doctor’s office. Overnight, my life suddenly held a whole new set of implications. I needed glasses for driving, I required a new set of annual tests, and I could hear AARP bumping my name up on their list. There I was on top of the hill, having been told all my life that it was all downhill from here. The best is now behind me.
I honestly expected to begin deteriorating at a rapid rate in the years that followed my 50th birthday, but here’s what I’ll say today, two years into my fifties: it’s not over! It’s not anywhere near over. Not even by a long shot. In fact, I feel today that my fifties are the most youthful, freeing, and vibrant time of my life.
Do you know my secret? I got all the way fed up.
I mean that seriously. A few weeks after the pregnancy test and the birthday celebration, I cracked in a big way. Something about that brush with a baby, a career that no longer fit, and maturing children mixed into a concoction that I couldn’t hold any longer. I couldn’t do what I had always done – just pushing through, getting by, and making it work, even when it didn’t.
I woke up one fine day and said ENOUGH! Enough holding my breath. Enough waiting. Enough of feeling bad and thinking that’s normal. Enough stressing. Enough achieving. Enough of anything and anyone that puts a tax on my life that I no longer want to pay.
I guess you could say that I gave in entirely to the start of a midlife crisis. It felt terrifying and exquisite. It was the first time since my twenties that I felt myself untethering from the reality that gets served up to us on a silver platter from the moment we are born, and maybe even before. It’s a conformity and blind acceptance that is baked into our DNA and I’m not built for it. I believe now that none of us really are, but we’ll get to that some other time.
At that defining moment in time, I felt a big fat invitation to decide what comes next in every way. And in the decision, I had to determine what would be left behind. Did it feel like I was putting the very foundation of our life in jeopardy? Yes, very much so. Did I care? Yes, very much so. But I cared more about what was real and true for me. Not what others wanted to be true, but what I knew was true for me, and this one precious and exquisite life I’ve been gifted.
If it wasn’t real and true for me, I didn’t want it.
That sounds super nifty on the page, but in reality, when you start asking yourself what you really want and don’t want, things can get messy, and fast. There’s a whole lot of people – even those who love me - that didn’t want me to really answer that question. It can be a threatening and powerful thing to witness a woman who discovers what she wants, knows her own mind, and then follows her own heart.
But I wanted to do better than just stand on the mount and proclaim my truth and fed-upness. I didn’t want to rip my life by the seams and leave a sea of casualties behind me. So, I asked myself, what would it be like to have a crisis without the crisis part? What would happen if I found a love for myself so deep and true that I did everything – even boundaries and saying no – with the deepest love I could muster for myself and everyone around me?
Instead of enlisting the silent treatment and withholding my best from a place of punishment, I could find myself in a deep internal quiet that gave rise to a natural set of boundaries that literally changed the air in our home, and cleared the pathway to my future.
The practice of that kind of internal work is painful and deeply uncomfortable. It’s the kind of centered focus that clears rooms and makes it hard to know what to talk about in social settings. I spent a lot of time alone. There were only a few people I could call. My email inbox was empty for days on end because no one needed me, or maybe even remembered I was out there.
I could have wallowed and felt sorry for myself, which I did, but mostly I didn’t want to waste time. I spent long days and nights releasing grief and regret and a tempest of anger around the ways I allowed others to call the shots for too long. Long bouts of regret consumed me as I looked squarely at how I didn’t show up for myself in the most important ways. I wept for the power I gave away, for compromise I let stay for too long, for the ways I gave over my own desires to fulfill others. For all of the ways I allowed myself to be compromised because I thought it would make me more loveable, likable, and worthy of salvation. This version of grief runs so deep that even two years later I am still peeling back the thin layers of disillusion.
And that’s how healing happens - in layers. When we come upon a wound, it’s tempting to look away and hope it just goes away on its own. But that’s not how it works. It’s only in looking squarely at that which is most painful and untrue that we find our release and forward movement into healing and setting ourselves free.
When we acquire some resilience around this process, we get to revisit a new layer of that same wound, from a different angle and the invitation comes again to look, love, and release. This is called growth. This is called maturating on a whole new level, where we stop pointing fingers and laying blame and instead turn inward knowing we are the only ones who can set ourselves free. This is called the way of the heart and purification of the mind. When we realize we’re it – the one we’ve been waiting for this whole time – then we know the power of our own liberation and the nectar of our own truth.
It’s a powerful and exquisite dance we are invited to do with ourselves if we choose it. We don’t have to choose it. The alternative can look just as we expect – dreary, aging, irrelevant, and old. It can be depressing and full of fear for the future. It can look like the very reality we’ve created and also loathe. The jail we have built, not realizing we have the key in our own back pocket.
But I would like to put forth the notion that it doesn’t have to be that way. We get to play this game however we see fit. We get to be the wise, the mature, the seasoned ones. The ones who know and know better. The ones who run only for that which is most important to us. We do not move for just anything any longer, our way is that of the discerning and the sharply focused.
We cut the fat. Tolerate no bullshit. Keep only those who are playing on the same level. It feels like lightning in a bottle. It feels like the possibility of eternal youth and vitality. It feels like the game is about to begin.
A dear friend told me yesterday, the day of my 52nd birthday, that she read an interview with Alice Walker where she was quoted as saying, “In the ancient Cherokee tradition you become an adult at 52.”
I love the idea that I’ve been apprenticing this whole time. That what came before yesterday was just my testing ground for all of the rookie moves and false starts. That I was just learning how to ride with the training wheels, until I had weathered enough miles to ride without their support.
I feel that today. Strong enough to stand on the hard-won wisdom of my 5.2 decades of youth. Visionary enough to know that whole lifetimes still lay before me. Sure enough to know that the best of me is still ahead and that in every way, I’m just now getting started.