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.