Christiane Northrup sums it up nicely, â€œUntil midlife, it is characteristic for a womanâ€™s energies to be focused on caring for others. She is encouraged to do so, in part, by the hormones that drive her menstrual cyclesâ€”the hormones that foster her instincts for nurturing, her devotion to cohesion, and harmony within her world. But as a woman enters menopause she steps out of the primarily childbearing, caretaking role that was hormonally scripted for her. â€œ
Dr. Northrup goes on to say it as though a hormonal veil lifts in menopause and we think, feel, and act with a clarity that was with us prior to theÂ childbearing years. Creative pursuits we once connected with come back as those childbearing hormones recede. Â What did you love to do for fun around the ages of 9 through 11? Â Those artistic seeds often bloom in midlife.
I find this subject fascinating, and that is why I devoted my Capstone Project to it.Â Â Iâ€™ve been interviewing women who made career U-turn’s in midlife to pursue creative endeavors. Â So far, most of the twenty post-menopausal women with whom I spoke had a defining moment where they knew they had to act, to put self first before it was â€œtoo late.â€
For some, the midlife change to more fulfilling and creative pursuits is the byproduct of fear, for some it is a backlash built upon exhaustive service to others, for some it is the longing to return to creative callings aborted during the childbearing years, and for some it is all of the above. Regardless of how the women reached the touchstone of clarity all described a shedding process that was both terrifying and freeing.
Here is a personal story that speaks to stifled creativity–Â while in my forties I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. My periods, as a result, were heavy, long lasting, and painful. Â At the same time I struggled to understandÂ my restlessness and growing desire to find creative outlets. It wasn’t uncommon for me to leave a store with a shopping cart full of tampons and art supplies! Â What was going on? Â I then learned that both Dr. Carolyn Myss (1997), and Dr. Christiane Northrup (2003) believe midlife uterine fibroids develop not only from an excess of estrogen,Â but also from impeded creativity. Myssâ€™ and Northrupâ€™s years of practice experience have shown that womenâ€™s fibroids often shrink appreciably once pent-upÂ creative pursuits are realized, and my personal story has born that out.
I have come back to writing and photography, and feel my voice returning in new ways. As Dr. Northrup (2003) asserts, â€œNow it is time for me, as for so many other women of the baby boom generation, to be pioneers in re-creating the second half of our lives on our own terms. Take advantage of the clarity of vision that is the gift of menopause, and use that gift to let the second half of your life be truly your ownâ€ (pp. 34-35). For me, and for the women with whom I spoke during the three years of my Capstone project, the second half of life smolders with creative and personal growth potential. We just need to welcome the winds of changeâ€”menopausal changeâ€”and allow the natural process of coming into our own to ignite the possibilities within.
*As a side note, it is not easy to get midlife womenÂ to consent to being photographed. Â A handful of Baby Boomer women rather cautiously allowed me to capture something authentic and visceral in their commonality. Â Why do I say cautiously? Â Their stories come with chapters on aging, loss, and creative rebirth… areas that have not typically been treated kindly by an American culture that idealizes youth and marginalizes women. Â It can be difficult to find trust in an environment of relentless judgment, and I saw the wariness in my subjectsâ€™ eyes.
Nonetheless, cautious or colorful, my portraits are representative of a larger group of Baby Boomer women who share a patina developed from layers of cultural expectations and change: 1950s traditionalism, womenâ€™s liberation movements, and menopausal transitions.