Birthday 41: Walking Toward Midlife

I see her there, playing around corners, her hair sparkling with hints of gray. I watch her, lithe and supple, vibrant and alive, in the center of her womanhood, in the center of her life. I hear her whispering to me in poetry, the language of soul, inviting me to cross the bridge between body and spirit, earth and beyond, and live, at last, in the center of my calling. I witness her dance without apology and live without regret.

She is me at midlife. I’m not there yet; I’m here, the day before I turn forty-one. I’m here at the starting gates of a stage we call midlife, and it’s only recently that I’ve recognized that I am, yet again, at the beginning of another transition. Like all births, it appears as contractions and expansions: contractions of energy as I withdraw into myself and notice the quiet, sometimes lifeless, spaces inside, and expansion as I emerge into spaciousness and fullness once again.

What am I birthing? From what I understand about midlife, I’m birthing the truest, most unapologetic version of myself. I’m birthing me at the center of my being, living my life with unbridled aliveness. Since I’m only dipping my toes into the pools of midlife, I cannot yet speak from personal experience what this new stage will birth. But I intuitively know that the tired places, the spaces inside that no longer make sense for my life and leave me hollow, will be shed and left behind. I imagine that the excess words will fall away and my speech will cut directly to the essence. I imagine that I’ll no longer make excuses for why I don’t have time to attend deeply to the needs of my body – whether yoga, hiking or dance – but that, with my kids a bit older, time will float to the surface and I’ll own it as mine.

But I’m not there yet; I’m here, the day before I turn forty-one. And in this pre-dawn stage that precedes a transition, I feel the familiar swells of grief rise up in me like the rhythms of the sea. I grieve that, while I’m still fertile, I’m leaving my childbearing and birthing years behind. I have two beautiful sons for whom I’m unspeakably grateful, but I still grieve that a third child will never make a nest in my womb, will never make the descent down the birth canal of my body, will never take nourishment from my breasts, my arms, my chest. It’s a choice that arises from a deep knowing that I need to stop at two, but it’s a choice that brings grief nonetheless. The full-bodied aliveness of being pregnant (as difficult as it was for me) will never be again. The newness of the newborn stage is over. I’ve spent the last eight years bearing, birthing, nursing, and attending closely to the needs of my children as I’ve poured my nourishment into them, and now, with my youngest 3 1/2, my attention is starting to return to me.

What needs to be nourished? I’m curving back around to aspects of the pre-mother me that connected so deeply to the earth and my femininity. I stand at our creek while my boys play on the rocks and raise my arms to the wide, blue Colorado sky (bluer and wider here than I’ve ever seen). I squish my feet into the mossy banks and realize that I’m positioned directly between two curved trees, as if two fairy-women have come to watch over me and breathe their life-source into the souls of my feet. Something new is planting seeds inside me. It’s not a baby. It’s not about my work in the world. I sense that it may take several years to gestate as I slowly contract and expand toward the center of my life. I can be patient. I will stand between these two mother-trees, I will sit at their feet and drink in their wisdom, I will allow the creek to teach me her ways and the moss to whisper her secrets.

Something new will be born. In the liminal stage, I know nothing. I allow the grief to swell and release. I welcome the clarity and joy that appear like a window flung open on a spring day. I watch the unfolding of my life, the woman who plays around the corner, and trust that I’m exactly where I need to be.

14 comments to Birthday 41: Walking Toward Midlife

  • Marisa

    I so hope to someday get to the place you seem to be. I know it was not an effortless journey for you, but you seem to be in your life and in the moments of each day so fluidly and readily. Do you think that some are more tuned in than others to find that place in their lives that has peacefulness and acceptance? I sometimes wonder if I will get there at all! Your reflections do bring me hope and provide me with opportunities to reflect, so thank you for some stolen moments. Happy birthday!

    • Thank you, Marisa. Honestly, I don’t think it’s effortless for anyone – and certainly not for me! I have down days just like everyone else. I think a crucial piece is how you approach life: as a learning journey or as a destination. For me, it’s always been an opportunity to learn about myself, so even in the challenges I’m searching for ways to understand or be with the hard stuff.

  • Westonomy

    Wow. Wow. Wow. Your writing touches me deeply. Thank you.

  • Andrea

    Dear Sheryl,

    Thank you again for your honesty and openess in your posts. Your life has really been a gift to all of us who have stumbled across this site. I wish for you a very happy and peaceful birthday and years of beauty ahead of you! Be well!

  • Thank you, all, for your kind comments and birthday wishes. They sink into sweet places in my heart : ).

  • Stephanie

    Happy birthday!!

  • Tanya

    Happy birthday sheryl! May the year ahead be extra special. Thanks for the gift of your words and wisdom.

  • sarah

    this is beautiful, and i can so much relate to the patient waiting of growing into the next person, or the full person, we’re meant to be. i love how you emphasize the importance of embracing a quiet curiosity versus the tight grip of control and fear. i hope you have a lovely birthday! 🙂

  • RPeli

    Happy Birthday Sheryl, thank you for all you do for us. Beautiful post again

  • amore

    Happy, happy Birthday. I wish you nothing but a beautiful, healthy year ahead. You are a “gift” to so many of us! Thank you!

  • Carolyn

    Thank you Sheryl. Its lovely to read this, its like a beautiful poem, I’m going to print it off and put it on my fridge. I turn 41 next week and I feel so many similar feelings, almost like a child again branching out into a new life, something wonderful brewing inside me although I don’t know what, those blessed few grey hairs and this joyful peaceful warm feeling of being at home again in my own skin, having shed so of the old layers now that didn’t fit, tried them on for size and then tossed them away, or had them worn or torn off by life itself, the great mother. Where is she taking me now? I don’t know, but I have come to trust her ways and I’m no longer afraid. Still there is a little touch of sadness for things that are past, but just a little tear now, nothing like before, the howling and the waling at life! Clinging desperately to the supposedly safe shore as the rocks crumbled away in my hands, refusing to let go and be swept up in the current of the life. Ah, it does feels different now, its good to be here, sailing along on the seas, confidently navigating life’s oceans and currents, more sure footed in the ways of the world and delighted again by the surprises brought by the winds and the seas. No more the terror of the oceans!

    Happy Birthday Sheryl, I hope you have a beautiful day and a wonderful year ahead.I look forward to reading about your adventures and unfolding over the coming years. I came to your work relatively recently through your Mother who has taught me so many things. Thank you both for your insights which have helped me greatly and which are a joy to read. Much love and blessings from Carolyn in Melbourne, Australia.

  • Amanda Frank

    This is such a fantastic post! I feel like sometimes as we age, we lose that natural confidence we had when we were younger, and even though we are much, much wiser now sometimes we long to be young again. I know it’s cliche but as I’ve aged, sometimes I read self help books. I actually just finished reading a great one called “Borderless Broads, New Adventures for the Midlife Woman” by Morgana Morgaine. You can check her out and get the book right from her website, It’s a great read for women, especially those like me who are middle aged. It was pretty interesting and instead of telling me “it’s all going to be ok”, it gave me a sense of inner peace and confidence in myself again. I’d love to go back and give my 20 something self a bit of advice, because the truth is that we are amazing at every age. Thanks again for sharing this great post!

  • Hi, I stumbled across your website from Huffington post.

    I’m a recent college graduate, and my senior project was about life changes. I sort of have an opinion, but I wasn’t really sure if my opinion was was correct or not. But, I went ahead and made my senior project to reflect my opinion. Many of my professors didn’t ‘feel’ my project, in fact going to far as to say I’d failed in portraying it accurately. I was rather discouraged because I felt like they were saying the premise was wrong.

    So, then here I find your blog, in which here you’re talking about seeing that next person you are becoming…and I sort of feel vindicated. 🙂

    If you’re interested in seeing my senior project, here’s the link. 🙂

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