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For the release of The Zen of Midlife Mothering (essays from MotheringintheMiddle)
January 1, 2014
The first anthology by and for midlife mothers!
In my late 40s, after the adoption of our daughter, I stumbled on the book, The Maternal is Political – an anthology of powerful and poignant essays written by mothers. At the time, I did not consider myself an activist. However, as both an only child and now, as an adult who had pursued the less taken path of midlife motherhood, I was struck by the fact that after many years of feeling isolated, I suddenly belonged to a group – The Community of Moms – whose collective power and passion just might make a difference…
Around that same time, I began searching for answers to my own midlife mother conundrum – my choice to (re) start a family at an age when others were preparing for retirement, sending their children off to college and reinventing themselves. I found few role models to emulate, and my wide sphere of friends were themselves at a loss for how to deal with my new life. Beset with hormonal changes, aging parents, and my own “middle-age” status, I could firmly say that for the first time in my adult life, I was completely and utterly lost.
As a former journalist, writer, and life-long seeker, I decided to take action, to discover what I was missing. Over the course of more than two years, I networked across the country to find women, like myself, who had also chosen motherhood over 40. I found an eclectic group of nearly 60 women, ranging in age from 41 to 65, and from every socio-economic class, race, religion, creed and family model.
I asked each woman a series of questions: Why did she start or restart a family over age 40? How did she do this? How did her friends and family feel about her decisions? How did she feel about her life choices? Were she to live her life over again, would she do it the same way, again? The end result was the creation of the first and only art gallery show dedicated to presenting women who choose motherhood over 40. Consisting of the dramatic black and white photographs of 25 family units, plus accompanying narrative text, NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers began its journey across North America in 2011.
I felt passionate about creating a voice, face, and forum for this group. While a good start, this show was limited by space and audience numbers. I felt that the depth, breadth, and diversity of our journeys – our beautiful and disparate voices – also needed to be heard. Hence, the website for all-things regarding midlife mothers was born.
MotheringintheMiddle.com was a thinly veiled reference to my being in mid-life and my Oreo-cookie status regarding my two generations of children (two in each). The fact is that nearly every (new) midlife parent is in the middle of something — two generations of children, two differing adult families, aging parents and young children, perimenopause or menopause, status quo and reinvention, and, of course, living somewhere near the half
-way mark of our expected life span.
I sought to gather and present as many varied and distinguishable voices as I could find — to revel in the rainbow of experiences and emotions, to explore the wonder of this “brave new world” and all which it encompasses. The beauty of the collected words compelled me to do more.
With our ever-changing society, there have been additional bonuses for those choosing new parenting over-40 – men finding themselves fathers at an age when retirement was surely in their sights. There are others who have done a role-reversal in their homes, and chosen to become “Mr. Moms” — stay-at-home dads. The 21st century will be a time for redefining the family model as we know it.
In our two-plus years of existence, Mothering in the Middle has garnered more than 570 posts, from nearly 100 contributors and two dozen regulars ranging from well-established/well-known and up-and-coming writers to those new to writing who are just finding their voice. Each contributor has something important to say, to share; each story has something which we hope will resonate with our readers. En masse, we intend to offer encouragement to midlife mothers and fathers, and provide inspiration or support for living both fulfilling and truthful lives. I also hope that we help dispel long-standing societal myths; provide role models for younger women; help redefine notions of women and middle age, and give this growing group a voice.
In short, I want MotheringintheMiddle.com to follow in the tradition of NURTURE – to reflect and present midlife mothers, and fathers, in all their glory!
In The Zen of Midlife Mothering, you’ll find painful essays delineating love and loss — of children, innocence, and life; spiritual, uplifting works defining the human spirit, the perseverance of women to achieve motherhood at all costs, the unwavering testament to loving children, and of the messiness that life often hands us — ripe with mixed messages, unexpected endings and new beginnings. All of which is done in the name of mothering, of fathering, and of love.
Ten (and then, again, eight) years ago, I felt I had no choice but to find, pursue and finally get my two children. My journeys to Russia became a spiritual epiphany. In the end, I could finally hold the children I fervently believed were meant to be mine, and who were just waiting for me to embrace them.
In my earlier years, I failed to explore and embrace my womanhood and my motherhood. However, the (not so) simple act of passion — to nurture and to love — ignited a firestorm in me and released a flood of emotions I never knew I had.
I know I speak for so many others when I say that we will stop at nothing — absolutely, positively nothing — to become mothers and fathers, when our time is right.
It’s a New Year (A Blog Post by NURTURE – now 2 1/2 yrs. old)
May 9, 2013
Phew! I’m tired. I’ve traveled the country during these past two years; gone to Canada (Toronto) and am now enjoying the sun in California for the summer.
I can’t believe some of the marvelous reactions I’ve received during my various exhibitions. Here are some of the latest:
Awesome exhibit. Thank you. – Anonymous
Beautiful and inspiring. I am a 35 year old single mom and love seeing the different families. – Anonymous
I can hardly wait to see this exhibit and am delighted that I am a member of the JCC, so that I can easily go more than once. – Bev
NURTURE is a wonderful celebration of mothers in midlife. Cyma Shapiro has done a remarkable job celebrating this stage of life. – Karin
Just saw it — it is GREAT! The gallery is perfect, just beside the front entrance doors and facing the front desk — it is like a waiting room, almost, overlooking the street outside. Constant parade of people going by and while I was there at least a dozen came into the gallery. The room is clean and modern with an island of seating in the middle — so a lot of people just come into the gallery to sit and wait for someone, and end up looking at the exhibit…Most of all, it is absolutely inspirational. I was bawling away several times. It is possible I’m inspired enough to have a few more children. The photos are beautiful and the stories are so different. It is wonderfully done. – AH
I’ve got to… tell all of my (midlife mother) friends to see it! – Anonymous
Sometimes I could cry for joy that we’ve been seen, heard and are (hopefully) making a difference. Other times, I’m frustrated by the lack of speed at which this is happening. I guess that’s true of anything in its infancy, especially when it’s a “first,” like me!
In the end, I’m so happy that there’s space for me in this world and someone to share my life with. Thanks to all of you who have expressed interest, supported me, and taken the time to (come by and) see me. I look forward to more joyous reunions…and greater disucssions about it all.
A Baby is Only As Good As Its Mommy?
November 14, 2012
How silly a premise, isn’t it? Any of us mothers would know better than to say it, but we might think it, ruminate on it and talk about it with our closest friends. In my own case, I often think it, but dismiss it. There are so many other aspects that go into raising a baby: its own soul-path, genetic make-up, personal experience(s); its birth experience, the experience of the mother during conception, climate change, etc.
So, when people ask how my latest baby, NURTURE, is doing, I always answer first with pride in stating the facts: It’s traveling North America; it’s the only show of its kind; it was designed to make a difference, dispel societal myths, open discourse, rearrange thinking about women in middle age. I understand that it has touched people’s hearts and minds. It has caused discourse and ongoing discussions. It has provided a window into this phenomenon; a much-needed mirror for members of this group. Also, in its second year on earth; it’s really still in infancy, without a sense of how it will turn out, when it grows up.
And, then they look hard at me, the Mommy and Creator. As a Type-A personality, achieving less than the highest heights is often a disappointment for me. I must constantly monitor my internal and external reactions to not always being on top. But, also, my experience of being a Mommy – a Midlife Mommy, no less! – with my younger children, has been enough to force me to employ other practices. You see, being over 50 has its pluses (don’t get me started on the minuses, please!). It’s true, I’m more patient. It’s also true that I work hard to find daily gratitude and grace in all that I do. Finally, and most importantly, the overachiever in me has learned over (mommy-) time that heaping my methodologies and goals onto my own children is truly often a clear-cut prescription for disaster.
And so we come to NURTURE. I had such astronomical hopes for it – had expected for it to be on the Oprah Show, for me to be invited to the White House and to have become a household-name along with the women subjects in the show. I had hoped that many of the dozens of midlife mothers I now have at my disposal would be utilized in the Dove and Got Milk ads; that Proctor and Gamble would recognize our vast buying power; that the country’s oldest organization for individuals over 50 would invite us in the front door, rather than swing open a side-window for the air to blow out and not all around us, in love. (OK, so some of the above isn’t exactly true.)
Although I am an only child, I suffered from the first-born-child-syndrome – expecting the very most of it all, and being disheartened when it came to pass with lowered results.
So you see, I, too, am guilty of my foibles and fallibilities. But of this, I am sure: that I have tried my very, very best, each and every day. I can say that as NURTURE’s proud Mommy, I can do no better. And, neither can my child.
The Seedling Has Sprouted!
June 7, 2012
Recently, NURTURE returned from the Houston JCC, where it was, in their words, a “success.” A simple shout-out from there to institutions throughout North America has guaranteed us another year of travel – first to Hartford this summer – the Hartford Public Library – before moving on to the Providence Alliance JCC this winter. Spring will find us at the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, Canada (YEA!) and on, again, to the Osher Marin JCC, San Raphael, CA, for the summer of 2013.
My dream of (our) being seen is now being fulfilled! The interest in our work and our show continues to increase as we find and pick up more new midlife mothers from across the country.
When I started this project nearly five years ago, I was a frightened new (older) mom, with a vision – to show the world who we were; why we made the choices we did; how we did it; and how we felt about our (often trail-blazing) new lives. However, I was lonely, alone and, well… distressed. As many other new older mothers can attest to, my simple (well, not so simple, after all) hope of achieving motherhood came with many other unanticipated issues and problems. As midlife mothers, we face a host of external circumstances truly indigenous to our group – impending peri- and/or menopause, aging parents, blending stepfamilies, two generations of children, etc. We are not called the “Sandwich Generation” because we love hoagies…We are called this because we live with (sometimes insurmountable) pressures day in and day out. The added external factors only make our original choice – to be mothers – more problematic as time moves on, more fraught with perils we could not have dreamt of. We only wanted to love and be loved, right?
When I first started my midlife mother project (then called “New Mothers in a New Millennium”) as a woman in her mid-40s, I seemed to mirror so many other 40 year olds I interviewed. Most of us (defiantly) defied our age with our often younger looks, great health and good jobs. We would laugh as we shared stories about younger mothers whom we thought lived with (seemingly) trivial and insignificant challenges. Their “trying to be-all-that” was to us, “Been there and done that.” Now, as a nearly mid-50 year old, I’m re-reminded of the women I originally interviewed who, in their 50s, seemed to struggle far greater than I. (At the time, I did not understand their angst and thought I would never be in their situation.) Of the 60+ year olds I spoke with, many of whom had preteens and/or teenagers, the responses were downright deprecating, if not nearly maniacal. Grappling with the conflagration of dying (or dead) parents, menopause, teenagers, a changing society, illness of self/spouse and/or the challenges of aging seemed insurmountable to many of them. Again, I did not quite understand this. I was, after-all, a new mother with my whole (exciting mothering) life ahead of me – or so I thought.
Today, I’m much more sober about it all. The zeitgeist of new older mothering /midlife mothers is, indeed, about the intersection of: new breakthroughs in medical technology, greater socio-economic freedom, a redefinition of middle age and women, and the willingness to push past traditional societal norms. It is also about struggling in ways that our forbearers did not; it is about grappling with new truths for which there aren’t simple remedies or easy relief. More importantly, it is about traveling a new path without a blueprint. Many of us are alone in our struggles; many of our fellow mothers are ignorant of this fact or, even more possibly, secretly pleased with our admission of the struggle. “What were you thinking?” they often ask us in disbelief. Our answer? We only wanted to be mothers. And in this new time and place, it was made possible.
NURTURE: Off to Texas!
January 5, 2012
My baby has been sitting…but not for long! Off to Texas we go on a glorious two month spree. Together with the likes of Elizabeth Gregory and company, NURTURE will become larger than life as several hundred people again read about pioneers like Frieda Birnbaum and Fay Johnson; Jordanna Hertz and Laura Pope – women whose life-choices defy age and were made regardless of race, religion and creed. As it is, we have nearly 30 more amazing women we’d love to add into our current show! My next project? I’d love to do something about gay fathers.
America has passed what I believe is a major milestone. No longer can we afford to look at family as a traditional two-parent configuration with two children (of differing sexes, no less), living in a house behind the white picket fence. Today, family means everything from a single mom/dad with one child, to same-sex parents (or heterosexual) with a myriad of children – created through fostering, adoption and many methods. Sometimes older children find families for the first time; sometimes Midlife Mothers opt for medical technology or obtain children by means they would not have dreamed of, years prior.
We are a creative bunch, us Midlife Mothers. We need to be. In many cases, biology has not allowed us to have what we had hoped, when we had hoped. However, we have proven time and time again, that chronological age has no boundaries.
We remain a force to be reckoned with, and we are growing!
NURTURE: Coming Back Home
June 8, 2011
I’ve re-read this past year’s worth of NURTURE posts – a diary of sorts about my “baby” and its growth. Although NURTURE has grown exponentially, both in breadth and stature, it is truly I who have grown – in confidence, in remaining on an even keel regarding this, in allowing for transparency when necessary, and in just accepting (more about) life and what it offers.
Not just preparing a delicious meal and serving it up (the stages of NURTURE), I’ve come to realize that the origination, creation, and inception of this project served a much greater purpose for me. Despite an incredibly liberal upbringing, which included tolerance and acceptance of all, I carried many internal biases toward individuals, lifestyles and ideologies – reflections of my own fears and personal demons.
Now, I can honestly say that having been blessed with the acquaintance of so many, and given the honor of walking through the front door and into their lives, I have now become a “love machine.” For me, families, relationships and motherhood now represent only one simple thing: LOVE. It is a realization that is both freeing and welcome.
Today, I no longer wince when hearing about certain afflictions which people may have; turn away when seeing what others may believe are idiosyncratic family units; nor do I make any judgments about people’s life choices and life paths.
So, there you have it. I’ve grown up. For many, many years, I reread a famous quote with despair that I would not fully comprehend nor ingest its truth in my lifetime. I can honestly say I now embrace and understand Mahatma Gandhi’s saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I hope my tiny ripple will, in some small way, help create a greater wave.
NURTURE: Launched to NY on 3/3/11!
March 6, 2011
(Or Learning Life Lessons in How to Parent)
How can I convey the glee I feel now that my baby has launched! Not the big-time, like going off to college, here… just a light-hearted movement out into the world.
I promise that I will do everything possible to gently support and encourage, not scream and press on.
I promise that I will welcome all responses and respond only when I am asked.
I promise that I will smile at the appropriate time and not make any comments that would embarrass.
This show is a testament to my perseverance and fortitude, and it is teaching me, just like my children have, to use patience, restraint and resolve, while employing gratitude, intent and love.
It’s so simple, and so brilliant!
We’re moving forward and (I’m) growing up along the way …
Stay with us…
NURTURE: The Desire to Succeed
February 9, 2011
I am struck by something that I must explore, and it is this: that everyone working on NURTURE has
unveiled and revealed a level of quality that wasn’t expected, wasn’t requested, and was nearly always
matched. While I think that my contribution to NURTURE is the finest work I’ve ever done, I know that
both NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers photographers, Shana and Tracy, matched me (as I’ve
said before) word for word, photo to photo.
Now, we’re into the next phase of our project – the new blog, MotheringintheMiddle.com – another
creative entity for which I easily found (and was attracted to) the best writers I think I could find. I’m
delighted. They are pioneers in their own right; amazing, remarkable new midlife mothers with vastly
differing lifestyles and perspectives. Isn’t this what it’s all about? Supporting and helping those who
make life choices irrelevant of age? That’s what we’re all about at Midlifemothers.org. We owe this to
ourselves and every other woman out there.
Next, our very latest phase of our project is still hiding in the shadows, in secret. All I will say is that the
collaborators on this end have more than admirably stepped up to the plate. I am thrilled with the end
result, but this all causes me much contemplation.
What has happened during this process? What has made this all so successful and just provided
profoundly quality work?
I think it’s a mirror for the NURTURING we’ve so aptly explored – of mothers who just couldn’t stop until
they’d grabbed hold of their dreams to procreate and create families, to experience motherhood, and
to just “be” who they really are. I owe a very big kudos to the Universe. I think it has supported me and
them in a way we might not have imagined possible.
So, on we go forging new paths, exploring new ventures. I think this is what it’s all about. And, I hope
we’ve helped redefine middle age in the process.
NURTURE: A Subject in Waiting
February 1, 2011
What does one do when one’s baby does not perform up to expectations? When the potential and possibilities seem endless, but the end result does not happen as expected? I’m having a dilemma with my baby, NURTURE. I am doing everything possible to create scenarios which would potentially work for her – I’m making myself available for whatever she needs; I’m even waiting patiently for her progress and development to catch up to my desires and expectations. And, still I sit and wait.
I think that every single thing in one’s life can provide lessons for daily living. Every situation, every person we meet, every experience we have can either be utilized and capitalized upon, or discarded and filed away under a host of categories: too painful, unrequiting, anger producing, non-resultant, etc.
Although I have several irons in the fire, much has yet to materialize into a concrete application.
What’s a mother to do?
I aim to learn from everything in my life. I aim to learn the fine art of patience, acceptance, submission, compassion and be available to my friends and family as much as possible. In my previous life, it was all I could do to just take care of myself, by myself.
Therefore, I will continue to try to swaddle this baby with love and a gentle resignation of sorts. She’s very much mine and I’ll keep her, in whatever incarnation she becomes. I will accept the final results, with best intentions and unconditional love.
Patience and persistence do count for something: we’re going to NY on March 3 and have irons in the fire in Los Angeles, Houston and Northampton (and more). Stay tuned for this! We’re also collaborating on other projects. Regardless, I love my baby!
Happy New Year to You and Yours
December 31, 2010
This year has been one of the most monumental, shape-shifting years of my entire life.
I have concretely passed through that “time of life” and found renewed power, strength and purpose. I’ve found a mission; new dedication to others and an intense desire for connection, especially to women. I was always living on the outside longing to come in from the cold. Now, I’m surrounded by warmth and found a true understanding of what it means to be a woman in this moment in history.
On a pragmatic note, I’ve turned my book into an art gallery exhibition (NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers), launched the show, created the accompanying website (www.midlifemothers.org), launched a new blog (www.motheringinthemiddle.com), and have several other ideas in the works. I feel like I’ve just truly landed on shore, having lived for so long alone on my own island.
Today, I’m more centered, happy and grounded than I’ve ever been. Instead of living with daily internal dread, I live each day with gratitude and grace. I aim and strive for happiness, peace and centeredness at every twist and turn.
Despite having young children (and older children), working full-time and having a “full plate,” as I’m often fond of saying, I feel most at peace here, writing to you, Dear Reader.
You compel me to be the best I can be, encourage me to continue this mission, and support me in achieving my dreams. My words help me clarify my internal thoughts, hopes and dreams. The very creation of it all provides catharsis for my joy and pain, and channels my life force from my third chakra through my left arm (my writing hand!).
To conclude this, I looked long and hard to find the right quote to end the year and bring in the new. I’ve finally found it. Here it is with all my love, best intentions and best wishes for you in 2011:
Every new year, people make resolutions to change aspects of themselves they believe are negative. A majority of people revert back to how they were before and feel like failures. This year I challenge you to a new resolution. I challenge you to just be yourself – Aisha Elderwynv
Wanted: Daycare for NURTURE
November 25, 2010
Wanted: Daycare for NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers. NURTURE is an art gallery show, featuring the words and photos of 25 (out of 50) women subjects who chose motherhood after 40.
Proforma: Is enormously exciting; will break societal barriers; dispel myths; promote the voice and face of new midlife mothers; will provide role models for subsequent generations of women to make life choices, regardless of age.
Requirements: May be a gallery, museum, venue, institution. Can be a library, seminary, or meeting house. May be used as a backdrop to a fundraiser or women’s conference.
Pay scale: TBD
Travel: Can be negotiated.
Information: Baby comes with supreme benefits (is the first in the country); features black and white photographs from award-winning photographers; offers stellar writing and commentary on new midlife mothers.
Please respond to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any and all inquiries, suggestions or referrals will be followed up immediately. We need your help to make our mission, traveling art gallery show and movement a greater reality.
NURTURE: My baby is born!
by Cyma Shapiro | November 4, 2010
I have birthed my latest baby – my show titled NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers. The experience was, as I said previously, just as I imagined – the rush of hot wind, much commotion and fanfare, and then silence. A cool, pleasant breeze surrounded both of us as we just sat together. I know it is not always this way for all mothers. I am humbled and grateful.
Now I wait, basking in the joy of what I hope will be a long, fruitful and fulfilling life. Although we never know what tomorrow will bring, today brings hope, joy, pride, pleasure and utter fulfillment.
As a mother, I now see nearly everything in these terms. Before motherhood, there was no ‘cycle of life’ – I moved forward and forward, faster and faster, as the years slipped by and my days held much less meaning.
Now, I savour and taste it all, just like I did when I kissed my baby’s toes, smelled her hair and basked in the smells of babyhood. It doesn’t last forever.
Tomorrow I will wake up, gently carry the baby out of bed and start the day all over. For now, life is really, really good.
NURTURE: Pregnant with Hope
by Cyma Shapiro | November 1, 2010
This is the week of my opening show. As with all experiences mother-related, the past three years have felt like the rush of hot wind blowing me along, ending with any number of door openings: getting this show; getting this far along in our Midlife Motherhood project; getting attention and interest in this group. I felt this same rush before getting our daughter, and then before getting our son – hot wind propelling us to the door, and then silence and the cool, gentle breeze running around and through us. I always imagined that was how the birthing process felt. It’s not something I will experience in this lifetime, but I’d swear that the months leading up to all of these occasions must mimic something about that experience. I can feel it.
In never giving birth to my children perhaps I’ve glorified that experience. Regardless of the method I used to get to motherhood, all of the outcomes ended with babies. NURTURE is my latest baby. Trust me, I’m beaming with joy, pride, love, gratitude and pleasure.
To speak further about this would do this show/project/movement an injustice. I’ve talked for a long time about my youngest addition. Now, it’s just time to sit back in silence and let it grow.
How my baby reacts to the world; how the world reacts to my baby remains to be seen. If I’ve learned anything from this and from having children, you can never, ever predict how your life or the life of your children will evolve; how events will shape all of you; how forces well out of your control will somehow take the wheel and steer the course of your lives. I think that’s doubly true for new midlife mothers.
What I do know, as always, is that I will resiliently stand in my truth and accept my opening day with grace, gratitude, love and good intentions. As a mother, everything unfolds that way.
NURTURE: A Work in Progress
by Cyma Shapiro | October 25, 2010
We are one week away from our opening show, and I’ve now lined up all of my recently finished photos. There they are: twenty five (out of 50) brave, courageous women who, three years ago, had never heard of me, did not know me and didn’t know what was about to unfold. All but one of the women I chose for this show willingly went along with my request to be interviewed. The one dissenter tearfully shared that to reveal her age in her line of work, would be the “death” of her. It engendered a powerful reaction in me, and made me even more determined to pursue this project.
On paper, and to many of you who (I hope) will view this show, the women subjects are ”everywoman” – two-dimensional portraits of women who, in reality, are truly important to the people in their personal and professional lives. They are mothers, sisters, businesswomen, writers, school teachers; women from all walks of life, every socio-economic status; all races, religions and creeds.
To me, (even though I have not personally met most of them, yet) they are three-dimensional and very much alive and well – testaments to right timing, faith and the power of love. To me, while they represent every woman’s story – the desire to love, be loved and create a home life/family. In reality, they are pioneers – (women who pushed the boundaries of age, physical and monetary limitations, and in some cases, spirit) who have achieved one of their most important goals, or, as I see everything in life, one of their purposes on earth during this lifetime.
I am eternally grateful to these women for their willingness to share their innermost thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams, and for their willingness to stand as testaments to truth.
I am more than eternally grateful for the patience, kindness and willingness of my two absolutely superlative photographers, Shana Sureck and Tracy Cianflone, to help all of us bear witness to this increasingly emerging new group of women – who are themselves helping redefine new older motherhood and the very definition of the (traditional) mid-life years for women. Tracy and Shana are also members of this group.
Midlife motherhood (MLM) is a brand new term – the result of a very discernible emerging societal trend – the newest chapter in the women’s movement; the very essence of life choices made possible by new breakthroughs in medical technologies; a relaxation of family structure and mores; and of opening socio-economic freedoms, for women. MLM is also our moniker.
For much of my life, I have stood alone and apart. I am now (proudly) one of these women and part of this group; no doubt my previous sense was probably the preeminent factor behind my originally starting this project. Now, I feel an indescribable solidarity that I wish to can and hand out to everyone in need of this foodstuff.
As I have repeatedly stated, it is for these women, in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, that I dedicate this project. They have helped me reaffirm the beauty of our older lives and of living life to the fullest. According to the old adage, “age is just a number.” I hope that after you view this show, you will agree.
Later Moms: Rocking the Cradle and the World
by Elizabeth Gregory | October 13, 2010
We tend to think of later motherhood in personal terms – often focusing on the story of each woman’s journey to having kids at what is still sometimes considered an advanced age. But when all these personal choices are added together, they have enormous ripple effects, unraveling the old social fabric and moving us all toward a very different tomorrow.
Delay of kids, made possible by the advent of reliable birth control and our expanded life-spans, gives women in the 21st century a voice in shaping society that we’ve never had before in history—a voice that the world is only beginning now to hear from. And it creates a more equal family dynamic, shaping personal relationships in powerful, positive ways.
So no wonder increasing numbers of women choose to start their families later. Even in recessionary times, when birth rates overall have been falling, births to women age 40 and over rose by 4% in 2008, adding their bit to the overall 80% rise in births in this age band since 1990.1 Add in later moms in the 35-39 age band (also burgeoning in recent decades), and that’s one in seven babies born to a later mom, and one in 12 first babies (up from one in 100 in 1970). Add to those the many later adoptive and step moms (for which there are no firm stats), and you’ve got a substantial portion of the population mothering later than their mothers did, and from a very different cultural access place.
The new human ability to control fertility offers women who want kids the chance to wait to start their families until they feel personally and professionally ready for them. For many, that means waiting until after they’ve finished their educations and established at work. In our current family-unfriendly work world, delay works as a shadow benefits system, providing women with access to higher wages and flexibility, perks often not available to workers who start their families earlier.
This isn’t always a conscious choice, and many other factors may also affect individual women’s decisions (like waiting to find the right partner, or to accept that the right partner isn’t on the horizon, or deciding that you do want a family when initially you thought otherwise, or moving on to adoption or egg donation after a history of infertility that may or may not have been age related, or suddenly finding yourself a step-mom because you fell in love with a divorced dad, or just finally feeling ready to focus on family!).
But whatever your back-story, the economic, educational, and work-history benefits are there. And your children, your partner, and the world gain from your increased cultural and economic capital. You get a hearing now when you stand up for them.
Which doesn’t mean delayed motherhood is right for everybody. Many women feel ready to start their families earlier. But a growing group of later moms has been and continues to be crucial to changing the options for all. Women who move up in the worlds of education, work and government have been changing the work world and the world of government policy from within, gradually improving the options available and bringing women’s interests and concerns to the table. Not coincidentally, many of these ladies either have no kids or become moms late in their careers. What makes sense for them also benefits the rest of us.
Media stories often present later motherhood as a problem – set to the ticking of an infertility alarm clock. But that leaves out the big social and personal gains that women experience individually and as a group when they delay their families until they’re ready – either by a few years, or by many.
The real story is the happy tale of how much positive control women do now have over an aspect of our lives that ran roughshod over us for millennia. While long delay does lead to infertility, many women address that through treatment or continued trying, or they find alternate routes to a happy family through adoption, egg donation or fosterage. And once they get there, they’re fully present in ways many of them would not have been earlier when they were focused on exploring the world and building their careers.
Rocking the cradle and the world at once, later moms’ are among the faces future generations will look back on with love. Thanks to Cyma for documenting them so beautifully here.
Elizabeth Gregory is the author of Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood. She blogs about the economics and politics of women’s work at www.domesticproduct.net.
1“The birth rate for this age group has been generally increasing, by nearly 4 percent per year, since 1981 (3.8),” CDC, NVSR 58, 24, Final Births 2007. See also NVSR 58, 16, Preliminary Births 2008.
Gratitude is just a nine-letter word
by Cyma Shapiro | October 3, 2010
For many years in my yoga classes (pre-children), I had trouble finding the ‘gratitude’ that the teachers requested of us, especially during our parting word, “Namaste” (meaning: the light/spirit in me acknowledges the light/spirit in you). While I knew that it was necessary to acknowledge the goodness in my life; the people who had sustained me; the loves I had found; and the joys that I experienced, the truth was that I was always just surviving the day only to run home and find solace and peace in the solitude of my home, alone. The truth was that I was rarely happy.
It was only after the arrival of my children, that I began counting my blessings. Suddenly, the simplicity of things became much more apparent, and the necessity to make things more simple, vital. Before long I was (easily) finding words of faith during nightly meals and High Holidays, and I began thanking people for the good deeds/words/hugs/praises/gestures they would bestow me. It took me many months before I realized that although my children had opened my heart and soul, it was actually me who was morphing into a kinder, gentler creature — still Type-A, but with a much, much softer edge. After many years of self-loathing, I was becoming someone I thought I could come to like.
Now, it wasn’t so important to make that deal; dress to kill; or drive a car that people envied. I didn’t have to prove myself to the entire world. It wasn’t necessary to always be “on top,” or more importantly, to be “on.” In my new life with young children, “on” meant awake and functioning and “on top” meant having a day unfold without any major meltdowns, lost items, forgotten appointments or irresolvable crises. A ‘good day’ was one in which I was called upon to constantly reassess family situations and provide good, sometimes clever, and nearly always instantaneous responses, many of which surprised me…. about me!
While I felt I lost myself during early motherhood, I prayed that I would somehow come out the other side with a better set of expectations about the world, a more realistic view of my (length of) time on earth and more peace and joy than was previous experienced. Before that time, I think I rarely experienced much peace and joy at all.
Although my childrearing years have come at a later age than most, and there are certainly days that I ponder and sometimes grieve the truth of that, I am now nearly always hopeful about myself, my life and the lifetime of potential for my children.
Having gratitude provides a constant stream of strength and power which I draw from daily in my quest for a good, compassionate and life-affirming existence. I pray often and constantly give thanks. I am now just grateful to be alive, AND to have my children.
* First posted in Motherhood Later...Than Sooner
A Project Born of Love, Gratitude and Nurturing
by Cyma Shapiro | October 1, 2010
The first leg of (the three-year journey of) my new older mothers project is nearly completed. It is titled NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers and it features the words and photos of 25 (out of 50) new older mothers from across the country. In November, it will open as a traveling art gallery show. I hope it will close as a book.
These women subjects, ranging in age from 41 to 68, and coming from a variety of faiths, occupations, races, and circumstances represent nearly every conceivable family unit. Their determination, willpower and perseverance to get/have/obtain their children is the common denominator in the show, and reflects the amazing desire of many women to both mother and/or procreate. The convergence of these two aspects has birthed the very appropriate title: NURTURE.
Although my original intention was to gather a collection of iconoclastic (life) stories, it has become so much more: a project about gratitude, right intention, connection and giving back. The project reflects truths, honesty and the sheer grit of being a mother. It is a study into new older motherhood, compassion, nurturing and the overriding power of love.
In short, this entire experience has changed me. I expect it has changed the lives of some of these women who in voicing their “truths” have helped heal themselves, and will hopefully help countless others. I started this project filled with many questions for others; it turns out that all along I was just looking for me.
My project was intended to delve into the following questions: Why did you do this now? Would you do it again? How do you feel about new older motherhood? Why do you think this group is rapidly increasing in numbers? How do you think society views you?
I learned that most new older mothers never expect their lives to turn out this way. Many of us are just grappling with the reality of daily existence – whether it involves struggling with menopause while raising young children; parenting two generations; experiencing midlife in a differing way than our own parents did; or readjusting our own expectations of what we expect middle age to be. To add to the mix is society’s view of all of this…………………….
While we’re just plain living, to others we’re pioneering spirits forging a new path and creating a new road for future generations of women. While all mothers often say, “Huh?” in response to their rapidly and unexpectedly changing lives, many of us as older moms say the same thing, only we really mean: How did this get this way, what do we do now, where do we find comfort and nurturing and solace? The most important question, which is a constant reminder in our daily lives, is: How will we cram what used to be 40 or 50 years of living (with our children) into 20 or 30? For us, there really is a goalpost, a discernible ending to our great journey – much greater now than in our early adult years. For us, living can only be in the moment, right here and right now.
For us, too, the lessons we impart to our children have that much more importance for us, and maybe more intensity to them. For us, life isn’t to be wasted, but to be savored. Not that other people don’t think this way. But for many of us who pursued this aspect of our accelerating lives with a vengeance, defying age, circumstances and in some cases, gravity, this is our very foundation. This, too, is what defines us and sometimes separates us in relation to the entire spectrum of mothers. So, to all of the midlife mothers around the world, I celebrate you, embrace you and welcome you into this new existence. I’ve welcomed me, too.
* First posted in Motherhood Later...Than Sooner
M is for Menopause and Mommyhood
by Cyma Shapiro | September 7, 2010
Aaaaahhhhh. Here I am again. Blogging on my own website……………..
Welcome to my new blog. For those of you already following me on
www.Motherhood LaterThanSooner.com, I’m now here, as well. I thought it fitting to address head-on a topic near and dear to many midlife mothers: menopause. I look forward to writing for and meeting up with you……………….
M is for Menopause and Mommyhood
For many women, life works like this:
Get a job
Fall in Love
Babies go to college and/or get a job
For new older mothers, it more often goes like this:
Get a Job
Look for Mr. Right
Look for Mr. Right
Look for Mr. Right
Marry, or not
Try to have babies
Use in vitro; sperm donors/egg donors; adopt; foster; become a guardian, use a surrogate
Become menopausal while
Babies go through school
Babies go to college and/or get a job
It’s important to see this in living color. For many of us, this is our truth. And, it becomes a hard thing to reconcile given the emotional, physical, physiological and financial components. In short, all of this becomes damn complicated. It’s hard to navigate these waters at this stage of our lives. We have few role models to work from; often have scant resources to utilize; and even more importantly, we can’t find the support we need from family or friends. We often can’t even find it from other mothers.
As new older mothers, we’re asked to reformulate the images that many of us grew up with – partnering and then having children, or having a traditional family unit which often exists, in part, for this purpose. But, what happens when it doesn’t go as planned – when Mr. Right never shows up, or age precludes the commonly accepted practice of becoming pregnant before hitting menopause? What if the gears finally fall into place after the body is incapable of producing this blessed event? What if the gears never fall into place? What if a woman desperately wants children, but can’t, and doesn’t have the money to pursue it in any direction?
These are some of the topics we hope to address here. We hope to also discuss………..daily mothering. Daily spirituality. Daily living. This time it’s from another perspective. Ours.
Please join us in our quest to help demystify our lives.
M is for menopause, mommyhood, midlife motherhood and………………maturity.
We’re all right here.