Video by Jessica Wilkerson CPT, PN1; Keli Kirwin PICD; & Cassandra McCoy MS, ATC, LAT, RYT
In this Conversation, Cassandra McCoy chats with Jessica Wilkerson CPT, PN1 and Keli Kirwin PICD about the journey of finding your identity and flow as a mother. Each of our identities and “flows” are unique to us. Also, as we discuss in this conversation, it evolves over time. Join in the conversation below by telling us how your identity and flow has changed of challenged you over the past few months!
Geriatric. It’s a word that I didn’t expect to have associated with me for many more decades, but about 10 years ago I heard it for the first time. “You’re a ‘Geriatric Primigravidae”, the midwife told me. Basically I was a first-time mom over the age of 35 and was being told that there were some special considerations for my pregnancy.
Luckily the birth center and midwives who helped me through that first pregnancy weren’t into classifying me as high risk, and I was able to have normal pregnancy without the many tests, and an unmedicated birth at the birth center. Two and a half years later at the age of 39, I enjoyed the homebirth of my daughter. All were fine and normal. My babies were healthy. At the time, that was all I cared about.
Shortly after my son was born I realized that I was in a class of moms who were different from those around me. I was older with young kids, a self-proclaimed “midlife mom”, and the path of motherhood that we travel is a bit different than those of women who had their kids in their 20s and early 30s. Not better or worse, but different.
At first it was hard. Most of my friends had kids in middle and high school and had long said goodbye to the trials of infancy and toddlerhood. They were sympathetic, but were not a group who I could talk to about the struggles I was making transitioning to life as a mom. The women in mommy groups I attended never quite clicked with me. In the MOPS group I attended, I had more in common with the “Mentor Moms”, those who had older kids and were there to support the new moms, than I did with the main group. I was older, and frankly my personal style just didn’t gel with the other moms of littles in the group. I felt disconnected and alone, just when I was in such a vulnerable season of life. I didn’t have a mommy friend who understood the struggle I was having in shifting my identity and transitioning from a life I had lived for 35 years previous to where I was now.
By the time my son was born, I had acquired two Bachelor’s degrees, a Masters in Education, and had pursued at least two different career paths. I had worked for 15 years and had lived alone and independent for 13 of those. I had lived an entire life that many of the moms I met didn’t have experience in as they had often transitioned from college to marriage to motherhood. They were looking at getting their pre-baby bodies back, and I was juggling the emotional swing of both postpartum and perimenopause. They were back at their 6am gym class by 3 months postpartum and I was wondering if I would ever have another full night of sleep again!
Eventually I realized that I wasn’t alone. As my kids entered school I finally started to meet other moms my age. We all marveled that there were more of us. Where had we all been during the younger years, we wondered? I think many of us had retreated into hiding to figure out how to handle the mess of hormones and random bodily fluids we had become. As many of us were Gen X’ers, we’re pretty adept at figuring things out on our own. But man, was I glad to finally find my tribe and we all started chatting, it was clear that there are some major benefits to being a “midlife mom”.
We’re more stable. Most of us have established careers, or our husbands do. The stress of adding kids to the mix wasn’t a financial stress as it may have been in my 20s and early 30s, when I was still getting started financially. Many of us own homes and are prepared to what it means for our budgets to expand our families.
We’re experienced, intentional, and have more perspective. Personally, I had two Bachelor’s and a Masters degree before I had kids. I had explored a few different career paths, traveled internationally, and had the freedom to make dramatic life changes on a spur of the moment. By the time my kids came along, I was ready to settle down and be a mom. The experiences I had before they came along have given me a different perspective in their interests and education.
We’re more chill. We may not always be the “cool” moms, but most of us are a bit more laid-back than some of the younger moms. We remember a childhood free to explore and play, and while we understand that our society has changed where our kids may not be able to have the same freedom, we are not hovering around waiting to save them for every possible negative outcome. Climbing a tree, jumping from swings, and getting in an argument with another child doesn’t stress us out as much.
We’re more confident and less judgemental. We know that every person has to take their own journey and find their own path. As we hit midlife, we’ve been through the wringer and have finally come into our own. While we may look at other parents’ decisions with curiosity, we don’t tend to judge them quite as harshly as we may have when we were younger. Also, we are fairly confident in the decision we make for our kids. We’re OK with our kids not being into the same activities as their friends and classmates. My daughter has never wanted a big birthday party with friends. At one point in my life it would really stress me out, thinking about the socialization she was missing because of this preference, but honestly I’m OK with it now. I see that she still has friends, gets asked to parties, and wants smaller playdates and I understand that 100%.
We have more patience. Well, some of us. This one was definitely a toss-up. For some, the journey to motherhood was preceded by years of infertility and treatments, and just waiting each month for those two pink lines. Some of us have just experienced a lot in life already. For example, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly before my oldest was born. By the time my youngest came along, I was juggling potty-training my daughter and also helping my mom with toileting. Temper tantrums on both ends. Patience is something I’ve definitely acquired along the way. However, some of us feel like parenting is trying now that we’re older, that we don’t have as much as we did when we were younger. I definitely can see both sides. Personally, I do think most of us are very patient, but when we’re done, we’re done, and the eruption is usually not pleasant.
Being a midlife mom isn’t all chill and calm. We have difficulties that many of us would gladly trade with those moms younger than us. For one, most of us had to navigate not only the hormonal chaos of pregnancy and postpartum, but immediately shifted into perimenopause.
Which means most of us have been a hormonal mess since our pregnancies – which is why sometimes our patience runs thin. We are also the sandwich generation, caring for our young kids while simultaneously taking care of parents in their 70s and 80s. Because we have older parents, many of us don’t have some of the childcare options available to those who are in their 20s and 30s – our parents aren’t well enough to handle the kids alone. And for some of us, our we struggle to keep up with the energy that our younger mommy friends exude. I often read posts from younger friends of days full of crafts, work, fitness, and a home-cooked meal. I can do all of those, but everyday you’ll have one emotionally fried woman on your hands. Parenting is exhausting, and I think many midlife moms feel it a bit more (although many of us are pretty good at hiding that fact).
Would I change anything about my parenting journey? Nope. I can’t imagine having kids at any other point of my life. If I had my kids when I was younger, I wouldn’t be the woman who I am today. I am thrilled that the other midlife moms are starting to come out of hiding and connect. Personally, and of course there is a lot of bias here, I think we’re a pretty amazing group of women with a unique perspective on raising kids honed by watching our friends go through the parenting process before we set out on our own. Ideally, moms of all ages would come together and collectively share their parenting advice. Midlife moms could help counsel younger moms as the kids get older and they start looking at career options, and the younger moms can help the older moms to maintain their youthfulness and play – get us out of the house past 9pm on occasion. Just because we’re older and looking in the face of menopause, doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have some fun.
He’s sweet, handsome, works hard and chases his dreams; also, he loves me. Before he came into my life there were boyfriends I thought about dwelling with and marrying but, in those younger years under the guise of love, perhaps it was really out of fear for marriage’s sake that I would consider those things. I’m eternally grateful such things never came to fruition.
With the stress of the world encapsulating us we fell into a heated discussion that left us concerned about our relationship and saddened by the other as well as the role we each play individually. Fear of the commitment called marriage and fear of committing to living together without that piece of paper as a thin slice of abstract protection, we come from different angles in regards to what the next step is. One of the desired qualities of this relationship is that we are happy together – sometimes I forget this. I get stuck living in my head instead of a harmonious balance that includes being rooted in my body. I’m aware that not all folks who are married experience happiness together consistently or at all, living together won’t necessarily prevent us from “marrying the wrong one,” and marriage won’t prevent us from losing each other. There are daily variables that either bring us closer together or pull us further apart within and outside of the relationship. And so, even though I tend to try, I can’t find 100% of life stability and security in the context of this romantic relationship or in marriage alone. A great source of it must be found within my own being. Yes, external factors play a large role, nonetheless I have responsibility to myself.
It is a challenging matter for me to remain present with my partner during the communication of differing opinions without adding the stories from my head into the mix. During this particular conversation I realized I will be 28 soon (by the time this article is released.) I never thought I would still be single at twenty-eight. And by single I mean unmarried. An odd thing it is: unmarried = single. But I don’t feel single because I’m not. I have a partner; we commit to each other according to the terms and values we each see fit. I have no paper, no gown, no ring, no new last name. I have my own place, my own money, my own work, my own dreams, my own ideas, and the freedom to do what I want when I want sans Coronavirus. He has a house with land, his own money, his own work, his own dreams, his own ideas and the freedoms that come along having lived thirty years as a single man. We have our love for one another, an ornery ass cat son named Miles, dreams for vacationing in beautiful, faraway places as well as local adventures even within the bounds of our own spaces. We have heartache when we imagine life without the other.
So what’s a gal to do? If I was still confined to the limiting beliefs of yesteryear I might run, leaving behind all we have invested into the relationship for the sake of finding a man who will offer me marriage the exact moment I want it. And then what? There’d be something else bothersome, no longer stinky feet but a stinky work ethic I’d come to find for trading in a man who loves me for a man who loves the idea of me: a motivated woman down to f***, cook dinner, clean and pursue dreams. That guy might not be able to handle the intensity that comes along with my passion, the parts of me that bring about challenge and suffering, my blood and the fact that I, too, sh*t.
The conversation had an ebb & flow to it of fear and relief, frustration and understanding. By the end, other things that were affecting us made their way to the surface.
Context: I have a client who is very special to me that’ll be moving to another state in the near future. I live in an apartment above a garage and am not allowed pets such as dogs.
“If I had a yard I would take Buzz and Woody; Buzz’s face is so cute. I’m going to miss Jennifer.” I burst into a deep cry, “She’s my friend!”
In that moment I moved into an extreme state of grief. I looked into my lover’s eyes, he too was crying, “It makes me sad seeing you sad.”
I was sitting in his lap facing him, we hugged tightly and cried and something within led me to ask, “You miss your dad, don’t you?”
He wept deeply, “Friday was 10 years.”
I completely forgot. In February I kept thinking to myself, “The date of his passing is coming up.” But I got so busy with my own life it stopped crossing the forefront of my mind. On the tenth anniversary of his father’s passing we went on a date. I had complained bitterly that evening about where we parked and why he turned the direction he did. I thought to myself, what’s important to me must not be important to him, as if he only cared about what he wanted and not about me. If it was his nice car surely he wouldn’t have parked there and now that I have a nice car I want to protect it.
The list goes on. It was a rough start to that date. All the while I was oblivious to what he was or could possibly be going through. Because he hadn’t said a thing or given a clue to the degree I’d be able to perceive, I assumed all was well with him; perhaps in those moments I even thought he was getting on my nerves to be cruel to me. How ridiculous a belief that is! This man has never been cruel to me. Why would he start then? And over a parking space? There’s plenty he could be cruel to me about but instead he has continuously shown me grace, patience and love even in the midst of this self-absorption fit. While believing my partner to be selfish, it was really just me.
So, there we sat on the couch, four days later, feeling sad because of inward struggles we face and the outward struggles we participate in response to the other. We were mourning a loved one and grieving each other and living through the pandemic that is Coronavirus without being totally aware of it all until those things rose up into our consciousness to be experienced in a more obvious way. It was incredibly humbling. I kept thinking to myself “I didn’t know. Why didn’t he say anything?” as I shamed myself for having forgotten. But, to be sure, I don’t need (read: shouldn’t have) to know everything my partner is going through in order to be kind, gentle and loving to him. These qualities needn’t a special reason to be expressed or received. This is what I’m finding, when the hope that security and stability (beyond a certain degree) is possible and it becomes a goal I work to achieve, it simultaneously destroys any harmony that may exist at present because of its illusory qualities. No longer am I living in a place of contentment; I end up with a scarcity mindset. I’d been living with the notion that marriage could magically save me from feeling loss.
It’s 2020 and with all the information, technology, and money in the world we still face a pandemic – where’s the stability in that? What’s the real issue I’m facing here, the root? Hanging onto imaginary security as if it will save me from any potential suffering. It’s also me thinking my partner is sooo selfish because, in any given moment, I have chosen to believe I know everything going on with him when in reality that is never possible and so I’ve forfeit the truth that he is good by nature, that he is doing the best he can. The issue is my own delusion, to think that every moment that is good must be totally pure and separate from any other experience that is qualified as less than good, as if good moments were not intertwined with a twinge of grief coming from somewhere long ago.
Take up all the space. Yes, I am talking to you, that sweet insecure and anxiety ridden 13 year old, who wants to change the world. Society teaches girls and women to shrink, make themselves smaller, not to question or offend those around you. Do not listen to them! You are not too much, they just can’t handle you, there is a difference. Being an outspoken, opinionated, strong girl is difficult, but so important. You won’t often be described in a positive light, those are the adjectives typically reserved for men making power moves. Girls like you are branded difficult, attention seeking, stubborn, or conniving. That is just the list of “nice” descriptors, there are much much worse. Sure it would be easy to go along and get along, but where would that get you?
“You are not too much, they just can’t handle you”
Growing up as a spirited and strong willed girl is not easy. You are not unlovable, you don’t need to change. You can be seen and be heard! You do not have to grow out of your tendency to fight for justice. That admirable quality will lead you to do great things. You will be the one your friends call when a wrong needs to be made right. You will work to revolutionize your profession, and fight for women to get the care they need. You will be the one that cheers your friends and even strangers on. You will set and achieve so many amazing goals. You may not see it now, but you are paving a path and clearing the resistance for those yet to come. You are making an impact and you are so valuable.
“You may not see it now, but you are paving a path and clearing the resistance for those yet to come.”
Don’t stop asking questions, they aren’t disrespectful. The world needs you, not everyone has your gumption. When you ask questions, those who couldn’t, get the answers they seek. One day they will see you are loud so others may be heard. You are an example, remember why you do it. Don’t forget to step aside and let others shine, their light does not extinguish yours; you’re brighter together.
I’d love to tell you it gets easier, one day you’ll reach an age or position where you are just afforded the space and respect you deserve. I won’t lie to you. Maybe that day will come, but it hasn’t happened yet. But all these challenges are preparing you for the great things to come. Recently, there has been a collection of women and girls speaking up, and society has made it clear that is just not okay. Taylor is just playing the victim, Lizzo is offensive, Greta needs anger management, for example. These are your people, and we still have a ways to go!
Never stop being difficult, but always remember to be kind. You have been criticized and left out. You know how it feels when all of your strongest qualities are seen as flaws. This is not a competition, and the world is not out to get you. You don’t fit in, and you will soon realize that is a good thing. Keep taking up space and making power moves.