Despite being happily married to my amazing and loving husband Eric and locating and renovating the house of my dreams, I realized at the age of 42 that I was headed directly into the eye of the storm of a mid-life crisis. Infertility can do that to you – knock you sideways into territories that you had never even dreamed of before, in an unhappy place without many teachers or guides to help you navigate the treacherous waters.
I was having quite a good time distracting myself from this reality with our new home renovations, as well as my demanding day job. Eric and I met with contractors and home renovation experts, discussing at length that we may need a nursery… we weren’t sure though. Those were awkward conversations. Where were the children after all? I didn’t look pregnant. Well, we explained, we weren’t able to have our own children – but MAYBE we would adopt – we hadn’t decided yet. So if you would, please make this room off of our bedroom into a small bedroom that COULD be a nursery (or just a guest bedroom). After that difficult conversation, it was very puzzling that the layout our home designer came back with was making that room into an over-sized massive CLOSET. We had to then re-iterate the strange conversation and let him know that we would need him to re-think his drawing of that space. Did he really think we were that materialistic that we needed a closet fit for a king and a queen? I simply don’t own that many shoes! What gives? And why did we have to embarrassingly explain ourselves twice? How awkward and embarrassing all while we were also trying to stall on any family planning decisions as we needed a mental break as I outlined in the last post.
As we charged ahead with the house, it seemed weird to me that I was also having thoughts of maybe wanting to burn my life down to the ground and start again. “I’m 42 and my life is half over” I would sometimes think to myself in the secrecy of the dark. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this house renovation. Maybe we should sell it all and move to a sunny beach in a shack! I started to have this fear that I should be doing something else with my life. But what? I was doing what I was supposed to do. I had a good job after climbing the corporate ladder and built a beautiful home with my husband. But where were the kids? What would my life look like potentially without them? Will my friends still accept me if I am not a “mommy” like them? What will we talk about?
Like a dark alley at 3am, a mid-life crisis is a place where very few feel comfortable to step foot. This was never more evident than when I found myself knee-deep in one – completely blindsided by a sudden rush of uncomfortable feelings. Many psychologists say it’s common for women between the ages of 35 and their late 40s to feel overwhelmed with feelings of depression, emptiness, confusion and possibly a sudden desire for change. During a mid-life transition, our psyches may get bewildered about our sense of identity and purpose, both in how others see us or expect us to be, and also in how we see ourselves.
Often this is after some upheaval in our lives as well. At 42, I had just been through some of the most horrific incidents of my life including the trauma of infertility and the subsequent failed treatments, the death of my father, a job that no longer felt rewarding. What’s next? Where to go from here? When my father died, he was surrounded by his wife, his daughters, their loved ones – and I knew he had always wanted grandchildren. I realized I failed at carrying on our biological legacy. No kids. What does all of this mean? Who am I and why am I here? What’s life about anyway? Why bother? What’s the point? Surely not to make an enormous closet in your new house for more shoes!
Looking back, I see my midlife crisis as an empowering experience, a positive thing. It forced me to look deep within and eventually answer some pretty tough questions. I had to look myself in the eye and think over my own sense of self. There are many societal pressures that discourage women from tossing off others’ expectations of who they should be and instead embrace who they are at their core – and how we truly want to live our lives. This growth can threaten the status quo of the traditional ideas of wife as nurturer and mother, and husband as provider and father. Many middle-aged women find themselves too busy taking care of other people to explore their own needs and desires – they simply have too much responsibility to others.
The price that women can pay if they don’t take the time to discover who they truly want to be can be high. Denying oneself the space to think and discover can lead some to a “meltdown”, with depression and eventually thoughts of suicide. If we are convinced that we have to confine ourselves to the identity of dutiful wife, “achievement” oriented professional, all while the title of “mother” eludes us, a major identity crisis can be inevitable and sometimes debilitating. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was headed towards a big ’ole bout with depression and confusion about my identity and purpose. Also what I didn’t know was that was completely normal, especially as an aftermath of failed infertility treatments.
There are moments in our life where we need to ask others for help. Everyone will go through some hard times at some point. Life isn’t easy. I recently read that “three of the hardest things to say are I love you, I’m sorry and HELP ME. Sometimes just because a person looks happy, you have to look past their smile to see how much pain they may be in.” To those reading this that are going through the struggles that infertility inflicts on us, we want you to know that someone cares – we do. Especially today as I embark on a campaign with a dear friend to help prevent suicide, please know that help is out there!
Please join us next week to hear more about our personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.
This post is also available in: Arabic