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Hi Jody,

I hope that wherever you are in the world whether it be day or evening, you are feeling peaceful right now. And if that's not the case, that you're able to find the opportunity today to take just a few moments for yourself to breathe. 


It's been a joy to receive so many messages about Sas's Advent Illumination:

"Hi Pip. I just had to say how brilliant and true Sas Petherick's contribution felt to me today. Everything I've felt, mentioned on posts on here about feeling lost and drifting have been expressed so wonderfully by Sas. It really is full of magic. Thank you. X" 

"Hello Pip, I've really been enjoying the Advent Illuminations. I have done a couple of Sas's courses and have been following her for a while so I knew her offering would be great and of course it was. Thank you for assembling together such a wonderful selection of Middle Years women. I'm so looking forward to the membership group next year." 


And today it is my absolute pleasure to bring you a written piece from another special middle years woman. I'll say more about that in a moment but first of all, in case you're wondering where they've disappeared to, the catch-up links that you've become used to receiving each day are now right at the bottom of this email.

A few words from me about Jody Day:

I believe that you will relate profoundly to today's Advent Illumination regardless of whether you are or are not a mother. There is so much common ground to our middle years experience - you'll feel that deep within your bones whilst absorbing Jody Day's offering.

I feel immensely honoured that through 
Middle Years Monday I get to share this essay with you. It's a long time since I have read something quite as exquisitely written - and as stirring. I am incredibly grateful to Jody for digging into vulnerable territory with such searing honesty, and especially for doing this for a piece that is being shared beyond the comfort of her own online community (more of which below).

I love that she has chosen to participate in this community project. As a childless woman myself (my only - and much wanted - pregnancy ended in miscarriage) I am particularly touched by this. I know how easy it is to feel 'other' when one has not fulfilled what culturally is often seen and spoken of as the ultimate expression of womanhood. It can be isolating and lonely. I want the childless amongst our community to be seen and supported every bit as much as the beautiful middle years mamas amongst us - and I thank Jody dearly for helping with that. 

About Jody:

Jody Day is the British founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women, and the author of ‘Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children’ (2016: Bluebird/PanMac). A thought leader on female involuntary childlessness, she’s an integrative psychotherapist, a TEDx speaker, a former founding and board member at AWWOC.org (Ageing Well Without Children) and a former Fellow in Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. A proud World Childless Week Champion, she lives in rural Ireland and is working on her first novel and planning her next non-fiction book. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @gatewaywomen

THE LIMINAL YEARS
a new piece of writing for you
I turned fifty-five this year and I feel older in a new way. It feels like a liminal time of life, an in-betweeny time betwixt middle age and young elderhood; one that matches the way this time of year has always felt to me too. 

In the Celtic beliefs of my ancestors, these were the last days before the celebration of the Winter Solstice, when the longest night passed and the miraculous ‘sun’ was reborn from the darkness to ascend once more into the skies as saviour. It’s an old, old story, told in many different ways, through many different cultures, traditions and faiths. But although it’s common to focus on the day of celebration, at our joy at the coming son/sun, I’m always drawn to a backward glance over my shoulder too. 
 
This looking back as well as forward seems to form part of my internal integration as the solar year turns once more and I’ve often felt the wisdom in the ancient origins of the word ‘January’ as relating to Janus, the Roman God of transitions, gates and doorways; in statues, he’s usually shown with two faces, one looking forward, one looking back. 
 
I feel this dual focus most strongly in the misty, unformed week between Christmas and New Year when the ghosts of dreams past drift freely through the halls of midwinter, unconstrained by plans and routines. I think it might be, in a strange way, my favourite week of the year, although it’s rarely an easy one.  Each year brings its own flavour, its own letting go, and this year it’s about a deeper letting go of my youth and middle age as part of my own life’s cycles around the sun.
 
 
Turning forty was a celebration for me. I had survived the break up of the marriage that had occupied my twenties and thirties and, foolishly, still thought I had time to ‘meet someone and do IVF’. I was completely in denial about my infertility (so much so that I never even used the word ‘infertile’ to describe my inability to conceive, even to myself) and my lack of knowledge about female fertility (and the failure rates of IVF) still stuns me. How could I have got that all so wrong? (tl;dr - see my book!)
 
By my mid-forties, chest-deep in grief for my childlessness and with my hormones, body and mind all changing shape as I flailed-about adjusting to my social plankton status as a single, childless, middle-aged woman, I felt like life was over. Sometimes I even wished it was.
 
At fifty, I was celebrating again. I’d survived my dark night of the soul and was now at peace with my life, my childlessness, my singleness. I’d almost finished my training as a psychotherapist, had started an organisation ‘Gateway Women’ for involuntarily childless women like myself and had written a book to help others deal with the same. I felt confident and powerful. A bit neutered by menopause, it had to be said, but that too had its advantages; having been on a reproductive detour from the ages of 15-45 it felt good to be focused on things other than romance.
 
And here I am, halfway through my fifth decade and the tides are turning again.
 
I can feel the firm sand under my feet going squishy and I know that it’s time to move or sink. That the version of me that flew out of the ashes of midlife and who knew who she was, what she wanted and how she was going to get there has flown away. Again.
 
Maybe it has something to do with my next ‘significant’ birthday being sixty. Sixty. To my mind, that sounds properly ‘old’. There’s nothing remotely middle-aged about sixty, it’s the other side of that. Maybe it has something to do with being partnered again, this time with someone utterly trustworthy, and planning the last arc of our lives as we build a house together, the house we hope to live out our days in; so very different to being the ‘young couple’. Maybe it’s the gift of sharing a home with my partner’s mother: in her late eighties, she’s unapologetically herself and utterly unsentimental about ageing and death. She hates historical novels or films, ‘I’m more interested in the present and the future’ she says. 
 
I’m beginning to experience time differently and how it relates to ambition. 
 
When I was younger, I used to think ‘I’ll do that degree / write that book / train for that career / move to that country… and then I’ll do it.’ Whatever it was. I had this ridiculously privileged sense that I could stack up all the things I wanted to do, be or experience in life and, like singles on an old spindle-shafted record player, they’d somehow drop into place. I lost that feeling for a long time during the grief of childlessness but some of it came back. And since the loss of motherhood had carved out such a huge space in my psyche and address book, I thought it’d take a lifetime to fill that void. I thought I was starting again; I was starting again. But I wasn’t twenty and somehow I didn’t factor that in.
 
Just recently there was a marathon in the rural Irish town where I now live. There’s a part of me that always thought I’d run a marathon one day. I’ve had this ‘marathon running version’ of me somewhere in my wardrobe of possible selves, thinking that one day I’d slip her on. On race day, I knew I never would. Not in a maudlin, regretful way - the feelings are simpler than that - they feel more like my old friend from childless grief, acceptance. More like the moment when you chuck some out-of-date spices in the bin, knowing they’d be tasteless. 
 
I find I am more impatient; that I don’t want to waste my time on anything. 
 
In young adulthood and midlife, I’ve experienced myself as a patient, persistent and hard-working person. One of those people that commits, that follows through, that can be relied upon. Yet now with this new knowing that my time left on this earth is finite, and that my productive time may be even less, being patient, persistent and hard-working no longer feels right somehow. I sense that I’m getting ready to be impatient with things that aren’t working, to give up persisting with projects if they don’t feel right; to stop working so damn hard at everything other than the new books I long to be writing.
 
Yet this is hard too - because shapeshifting into this new version of me means confronting the childhood beliefs that created those attributes. 
 
And so, in order to become Her - the formidable, straight-talking, gimlet-eyed, not-suffering-fools-gladly crone whose energy stirs restlessly within me, there’s a price. There’s always a price. Ask the caterpillar, cocooned and rotting in its sarcophagus. 
 
The cost of allowing Her to shred the skin of my youth and roar naked into the winter sea is this: I’m going to have to piss a few people off.
 
 
I’m scared of this transformation; of the costs, of the pain. I want to un-know what my wiser-self knows; the lines that She inserts into my emails that I have to delete as they are too honest and meant for me, not them. The seams of my middle-aged self are coming unstitched and I can’t hold the crone back anymore, She’s leaking out.
 
I dreamt of being in a strange place, far from home and my handbag had just been stolen; I had no money, phone, keys or way to get home or call for help and I felt scared. After a while, a young girl came up to me and handed my empty bag back to me. It was the handbag I’d had as a very young woman when I’d first moved to London at nineteen, a battered red leather satchel. I looked inside, it wasn’t empty; my keys were there. Just my keys. Nothing else. 
 
And along with the fear, I find I’m hungry for this shift too. For the soul food that only She knows will satisfy me. For the freedom to unfurl into the next stage of my life without dragging all of my baggage with me. To use the clarity that grieving my unborn children gifted me to cleave away those aspects of my identity that no longer serve me. 
 
This time, however, it won’t be a phoenix rising from the ashes but a shaggy, baggy hooded crow, the ugly and wily one with the old woman’s shapeshifting gift of invisibility: Badhbh my people called her, fearing her call that presaged death.
All transformations are a kind of death and a journey to the underworld to return with life-giving knowledge is one of the oldest human stories. 
 
Yet even writing the word ‘death’ feels transgressive in our relentless bright-siding culture. It seems we’ve lost touch with the necessary power of decay and descent, the delicious wrap-around rest and hibernation of winter, before the new, the fresh. Without winter there can be no spring.  
 
Am I even allowed to talk about my impending cronehood at fifty-five, and a young-looking one at that, with enough sleep and good lighting? It was old enough for my ancestors, but am I allowed to court it?  But then again, I spent so long feeling that without motherhood I had no permission to be a ‘real’ woman and it seems that the crow sitting on my shoulder, doesn’t care much for permission. Maybe it is a little early, maybe if I had teenagers and young adults to care for, my focus would be different. But just because my loss has carved a groove that welcomes something deeper a little sooner, does that have to make it wrong?
 
Will you allow me to share with you what I see as I shade my eyes against the low winter sunset; to talk of the brilliant new shapes illuminated against the cold hard earth? Will you let me walk ahead, to be the hooded one?
 
 
I will never have grandchildren, never be a grandmother. The collective noun for older women - ‘grannies’ - will never apply to me and I will forever live outside the only positive status older women are allowed in our patriarchal society. There is no way back into that gilded cage for this old bird.
 
So instead, I listen to the call of the hooded crow. She sits in the tree outside my bedroom window, still fat with her Autumn feasting and regards me with the same curiosity, kinking her head to one side like a cartoon therapist. I don’t know what she knows yet, or what the price of that knowledge will be, but I know that one day, when she knows that the time is ripe, she will take me under her wing and lead me to the door that fits that key. And there will be no unknowing then.
As always, if you have the opportunity to let me know your response to today's Advent email I would love that. And - of course -  I will be back tomorrow with yet another stunning piece full of middle years wisdom and insight, this time from Susannah Conway.

Thank you for spreading the love about this MYM Advent Illuminations community project. If you'd like me to see your mention, please do tag @middleyearsmonday - that will enable me to thank you and to reshare your post too :)

With love,

Pip x

P.S. What you've missed:
  • Day 1 of the MYM Advent Illuminations emails is here (use the password candlelove)
  • Day 2 is here (use the password meditationlove)
  • Day 3 is here (use the password treeroots)
  • Day 4 is here (use the password ritualswithdes)
  • Day 5 is here (use the password mymadventday5)
  • Day 6 is here (use the password day6qigong)
  • Day 7 is here (use the password momentsofjoy)
  • Day 8 is here (use the password longwayhome)
  • Day 9 is here (use the password middleyearsdating)
  • Day 10 is here (use the password cronehood)

Image copyrights:
Crow in Winter Tree by Eberhard Grossgasteiger
Jody on stool by Teresa Walton
Disclaimer: 
Everything here is shared in good faith with an intention to support and inspire. However, neither Pip nor Middle Years Monday claim to understand your personal circumstances, we are not dispensing expert advice and are not responsible for any damage or harm incurred as a result of any actions you take after reading, watching or listening to something here!
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