Among the joys of my medical practice are the relationships I’ve formed with women with all kinds of backgrounds, living all kinds of lives. It’s an honor to be able to provide information, problem-solving, companionship, or just a sounding board for women navigating the many kinds of change that midlife can bring. One patient was willing to share her story, in hopes of inspiring others to believe that it is possible to take hold of your life and shape it in a way that is fulfilling and joyful.
Sometimes life brings major changes that challenge every coping skill you have ever used and known. Major changes in my immediate and extended families nearly upended my life. I was in my mid 60s and anticipating retirement in a couple years. My life had not been perfect, but I was comfortable with my identity and focus. Or so I thought. When these life-altering events breached my life’s boat, I either had to lean in and learn to steer a new direction or be capsized in the roiling seas. I chose to lean in.
Leaning in remade my life. I learned that the identity I had chosen or been taught, or perhaps both of those, was not going to carry me into this last quarter of my life. I needed to own all the aspects of myself that I had either suppressed or intentionally denied. This required many hours of therapy as I sorted out and processed with new eyes the values I had owned and the person I was. I questioned every aspect of my identity and stripped away old patterns of thinking and living. None of this was easy. In fact, it was often difficult and exhausting and probably wouldn’t have been accomplished without the guidance of a wise therapist and other supportive people in my life.
Probably for the first time in my life, I took a long honest look at my sexuality. I was a married woman living with a man who might be considered by most people a desirable mate. He was hard-working, kind, supportive, and faithful. Our sexual life was somewhat sporadic and bland. We communicated fairly well on many things but not often on a deep level of understanding each others’ sexual needs and wants. After more than 45 years of a shared sexual life that was less than fulfilling for either of us, this was a challenging learning road. It required trust and a willingness to explore new sexual territory. All of this was vulnerable and sometimes intimidating. However, we persisted and learned to express our fears and desires. Physical expressions of love grew into emotional and spiritual intimacy not experienced before. Especially in the early months of this learning curve there were sometimes struggles with orgasm because of the aging process. We tried not to view this as failure but verbalized the joy we experienced from sharing our bodies in new, intimate ways. We experimented with massage and different kinds of lubricants and found good advice on the MiddlesexMD website. All of this was a growing and learning process of ups and downs. At times it would have been easier to give up and return to the previous patterns of our sexual life, but each new level of learning gave us encouragement to continue on this journey.
I have often said that I am a late bloomer in life. I am. Arriving to this new place of understanding and owning myself has come later in life. Sometimes I wish I had learned these things sooner. However, at this stage in my life I have a keen awareness that there are no second chances with the life I am given. I can either choose to grow or wither away. I have chosen the road of growth and change with all the possibilities it offers.
I believe I could not have made some of these monumental shifts had I not been blessed with a spouse who gave me space to discover myself in ways I had never explored. He truly had no idea where this process might go and who his wife might be at the end of it. However, he trusted the process and let me struggle and thrive. A wise therapist and skilled doctors have guided my thinking and encouraged me to persevere. I have been blessed with a dear female friend who encourages me, holds my trusts in confidence, and debunks my sometimes faulted thinking. God has befriended and followed and guided me on this journey in ways I have not anticipated or believed possible. I continue to appreciate every day how intricately our spiritual, physical, emotional and mental lives are woven together and how health or illness in one area affects all the others. It is never too late or too hopeless to begin again. And again.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.