Stephanie Raffelock is the author of Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women, to be released by She Writes Press in August of 2021, and of A Delightful Little Book on Aging. A graduate of Naropa University’s program in Writing and Poetics, she’s published articles in The Aspen Times, Quilters Magazine, Care2.com, Nexus Magazine, Omaha Lifestyles, The Rogue Valley Messenger, and SixtyandMe.com, among other venues.
A recent transplant to Austin, Texas, Stephanie shares her life with her partner, Dean, and their Labrador retriever, Jeter. Her commitment for working with women extends to teaching personal development classes for the non-profit Dress for Success. She makes room in her life for hiking, Pilates, and swimming to offset her internal life, which involves thinking up stories and essays.
Barb: Last summer I spoke with Stephanie Raffelock about a book she had just published, A Delightful Little Book on Aging. We talked about writing, about the myth of insignificance that often surrounds midlife women, and about how we reclaim our genuine selves after years of raising families, pursuing careers, and more. I suspect that Stephanie’s next book was inspired by that last point: How do we reconnect with that creative energy that seemed closer to the surface earlier in our lives?
Stephanie: Thank you. I am so happy to be back with you. I had such a fun conversation with you last time, so I always love the take-two on these things.
Barb: Yeah, good. So fast-forward six or seven months, and here we are. And congratulations on your new book!
Stephanie: Thank you.
Barb: Am I correct in thinking that the new book arose from the stories you told in A Delightful Little Book on Aging?
Stephanie: You would be correct in thinking that there was an evolution to that particular message. Eventually the tentacles of that message was about, you know, age doesn’t matter when it comes to creativity. It’s a number, and unfortunately, we’ve layered on a lot of stereotyping and negativity to that. So then what is the next step?
So yes, you are right. There was a gradual evolution. It’s kind of like you write a book, and it doesn’t stop. You take it to the next level. At least that’s what happened with me.
Barb: Yeah, that’s great. Probably many authors in the writing of a book discover that there’s just more to say, and so I’m grateful that you have more to say because I think your voice needs to be heard. So your new book is called Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women. Can you talk a little bit about the title itself and about the word selection?
Stephanie: The title Creatrix: I was looking for a word that would replace crone. Because “maiden mother crone” is kind of the old archetype that we look at if we are looking at symbols for women. And maiden mother crone came from a guy in the 1930s and 40s named Robert Graves. He wrote a book called The White Goddess, which was kind of an homage to his poetic muse. And in the book, the muse was this triple goddess, the maiden mother and the crone. But most women I know whistle at the word crone, as well they should, because the word entered the lexicon somewhere in the thirteenth century, and it means “disagreeable old woman.” So it’s an insult. The word is an insult, and you can dress it up and try to reclaim it and all of that, but some words should not be reclaimed.
We’re in an exciting time in history where women—ah, this is such a great time for us—but I really feel like we need a new word to mark that period of midlife and beyond. So an editor that I was working with suggested to me several words—we went back and forth between wizard and sage, and what’s the female equivalent to wizard, and nothing quite set right. And then creatrix. Now, I thought it was a word she made up because I’d never heard the word.
It turns out that creatrix is one of the three Greek fates. There’s the spinner, the weaver, and the cutter. And the weaver is Creatrix. And the word literally means “a woman who makes things.” And I thought: That’s what midlife is. That’s what midlife and the great creative surge is all about. That’s the power of midlife that we make things. And if you open your eyes, and you look around the world right now, what we see in politics, what we see in art, what we see in business, is that women are really claiming their voice and standing in the light of their truth and shining their light.
Barb: I thought maybe you made up the word because I was not familiar with it either. So I looked it up. And as I looked it up and read the meaning, it just struck me that it’s a really beautiful word with a beautiful meaning, and it needs to be used and introduced into our lexicon of women supporting women.
Stephanie: Right. And I think that you know, the book that I’ve written dares to talk about an emerging archetype. Now I’m no minion or therapist or anything like that, but I do believe that archetypes shift over time, and that women’s archetypes have been shifting. So here’s this new archetype, creatrix, that embodies strength, and personal self-confidence, and will, and goodness. And that’s the word I want us to identify with because as you said, we live in a world of women supporting other women during this crucial time in our evolution. Creatrix is a beautiful word to assign to this period of life.
Barb: So from your perspective, what do you think are the obstacles that have kept midlife women from being recognized or fully recognizing in using their power?
Stephanie: Well some of it comes from within ourselves that we buy into the stereotyping, and some of it clearly comes from the outside. I think we always have to begin with ourselves. It keeps us from falling into a victim mentality, although sometimes we truly are the victim, so that’s a fine line to walk. For instance, my mother sat down with me and told me that she never would reveal her age, or that she lied about her age: as if her age were an embarrassment. And so that was part of my story that informed me as I got older. And it’s like well, what becomes important as you get older—and maybe it’s that I’d like to tighten up my jowls a little bit; maybe that’s where the focus goes—but really where the focus needs to be is on this creativity that happens, I think, once we enter or go through menopause.
I really see menopause as kind of a marker, like the physical symbol, of what happens to women when we introduce them to this great creative surge. Because creatively, you’re not going to be creating babies anymore; that period of time is over. But you are still here for some reason. There’s a reason, as Carl Jung said, that nature keeps us alive past midlife. So there’s a purpose baked into the DNA. What is it? So one of the ways that we can figure that out is to ask ourselves that question. What is my purpose in life right now? What is the purpose-fullness of my life—and fullness being an operative word.
Some of what has held us back is just, you know, is outside attitudes that celebrate youth and try to hide away age. [Laughs] I’m still on a jag about Athleta because I’ve been wearing their exercise clothes for years and years and years. And now I’m at a point where, why aren’t there older women in your commercials. Why aren’t there older women in your print ads? It’s like, you know, we made your company when we were in our 30s wearing your stuff. And now it’s as if we don’t exist. It’s like, what do you want for your own mother? I would want my own mother to stay active and be exercising, be engaged in the world. That would fill my heart. Not be put off in a corner somewhere in a Barcalounger.
So some of it is outside. Some of it is inside. You’ve got to do the work on yourself and then take advantage of those educational teachable moments.
Barb: You’ve highlighted menopause as, in your words, a time of awakening. But as you said, it was only in retrospect really that you kind of understood that. So, my practice is primarily around midlife women—perimenopause, menopause—and I guess I’d like to understand how to help women recognize that? Or is there a brief message to share with women so they can feel like they are empowered to see it as that? Because for most women who are seeking my care, that isn’t how they are feeling. I’m just wondering if there’s a 30-second elevator speech I can use to encourage women at this time to see it for what it might be as far as a new beginning and in your words again, a time of awakening.
Stephanie: Well, as a doctor—and I believe the word doctor means a teacher—as a doctor you ask questions: What are your physical symptoms? For me, it would have been helpful for someone to say to me during my menopausal thing, what are your emotional symptoms? What are your spiritual symptoms? Do you feel like there’s a greater psychological or spiritual message to this? And you don’t have to give me an answer right now, but it might be something to think about.
When we think about women—great mystical women like Teresa of Avila and stuff, who were writing back in the twelfth century, they were writing about the burning desire for the divine. And you know, probably they were in menopause [laughs]. That’s where that burning desire came from. But why remove it from that? Why not say that there are physical symptoms that do parallel the psychological life and the spiritual life. And they call us to become more introspective, and recognize that this is an important passage. This is more than just a physical passage. It is also an emotional, psychological, a spiritual passage in our life. We will get to the other side of it, and it’s like childbirth. You know, what do you say to a woman in labor who says, “I want this to be over.” You go, “Well, eventually it will be. And on the other side of this, there’s something remarkable that happens.”
So, that’s my… was that two minutes?
Barb: No, and I like your childbirth analogy because I use that when I talk to women about menopause. How, generally speaking, we know what to expect physiologically. We all basically do something similar, but the experience, the journey is very different—a lot like labor. But I like your added comment about the remarkable outcome that awaits you. And then maybe that’s really the message that we need to give women: that this is a time of transition, but there will be something remarkable ahead of you.
Stephanie: Yes. I think so.
Barb: In your new book you tell a lot of stories about women ancestors. I’d like to hear about how you decided that was going to be an important element of this book. Can you share a little bit about that journey?
Stephanie: One of the things that happened was when my mother died, the relationship didn’t end. It surprised me that the relationship didn’t end. I continued to grow and develop in my relationship to her. And sometimes I feel like she whispered or put something in front of me that was indicative of that. As that relationship began to develop, I began to realize the strength and message she had given me in my life, and I began to wonder, “Then what did her mother give her?” Because my mother wasn’t, you know, a feminist in the same way that I am, and my grandmother even less. Yet these were women who paved the way for me. And they paid a price for paving that way. They passed on a light to me.
So part of writing about them in my book was to honor them, and the other part of that was to say, “There is in us some kind of innate stardust in our DNA that can feel that connection of the women who stand behind us; that came before us. In the book I talk about this exercise that I do sometimes where I’m in a room by myself, and I close my eyes, and I just imagine my mother standing behind me. And then I imagine my grandmother, Julia, standing behind her. Then behind my grandmother Julia, is my great grandmother, Eva, whose face I know, but I never met her. And behind her is her mother. Now the faces blur, and I don’t know the names. But I feel like each and every woman in that line, in my lineage, contributed to who I am and how I am in this world. So I give a little prayer of thanks for that; a little homage of, “I’m grateful that you guys paved the way in which you did.” And on the other side of that, because I’m at the head of the line—it’s like the women behind me are all dead at this point.
I feel like I hold a light for the generation coming up; also behind me. And at a certain point, as my mother did with me, metaphorically, I will turn and pass that lantern to those next women who will then hold a light for the younger women behind them. So the whole ancestral thing is a place of purpose in one’s life. And it’s an honoring of the women who really helped us get to where we are today.
Barb: I have to say that it really gave me an opportunity to ponder some of my own experience upon reading yours. I had the opportunity to read some of your book in advance of its publication. While our childhoods couldn’t have been more different in probably every way—mine was much more traditional for what you might have expected in the 60s.
My mother had a very similar experience to your mother in that I came home from school one day, and she had quit her job. And at the dinner table that night she announced she quit her job because—she was a bookkeeper at a furniture store—the boss had given all the men a raise that day, but not her.
I think your mother’s story was identical. And while it was a small event that took place over minutes at the dinner table, it’s just reverberated over my life that she had the strength to make a statement about how she perceived that act. She went back to work, and she got her raise, and her life went on. But, again, it was one of those little identifying moments where I wonder how many other girls had a very strong message from their mothers about equality and respect.
Stephanie: Right, and it really was a message about equality and respect. It’s interesting to note because you started off by saying that our childhoods couldn’t have been more different, and yet here’s this one little piece of story where we are connected. You knew exactly what that story was.
This is the importance of women’s stories. I think you get to a certain point in midlife where it’s a good idea to keep a journal or recording or something to pass along because these stories are valuable. And of course, we live in a time where we no longer sit around the fire, and you know, women share their stories with the younger generation. But to share these stories in some way is A) it’s liberating, and B) there’s value in it for people who hear a little piece of their story in yours.
Barb: I’ve recently started Madeleine Albright’s book, and she makes a comment in it about there’s a special place in hell for women who are not helping to support other women. And it made me smile. I do think in a way this feels new, in that women are being more intentional about creating, developing, expanding their horizons. I don’t know that we’ve always, as women, known how to be supportive of women. I guess I wonder if it’s been more competition than support. I just wonder if you have an insight into that as to sort of trying to help further develop this idea of coming alongside other women for mentoring and supporting them in their endeavors to design and create and discover.
Stephanie: I think that you are absolutely right. I think that in our generation the competition with women was for men. And the competition with men was for money. And it kind of felt black and white like that. You didn’t worry about the money because you were going to get married, right? That shifted a lot with the upcoming generation, the millennials, the Z-ers where they are demanding their own independence, and within that independence there’s kind of a built-in notion that, “Hey, we’ve got to help each other.”
I think that even in business, there’s this male hierarchical overlay of business that is so tough that the paradigm includes, “If you work this hard as a guy in business, chances are you are going to have a heart attack in your late 40s or early 50s.” So women are now approaching business in this newer generation [differently] than we did. They are not working themselves into the ground, and there’s this element of personal development that comes with, you know, you’re building your career, but you are also living a bit of the examined life. And part of that is helping other women. Plus, there’s nothing like helping other women who inform you about where you need to look and where your own personal work is. It’s a crucial piece.
Barb: Hmm. The other story I hear from women in my day-to-day practice is I think it’s a unique time of discovery for women as they transition through menopause. It often coincides with children leaving their household and sometimes examining careers. But for those who find themselves in a less-than-great marriage, it can be a time of deciding to step away.
On the other hand, many women just don’t have the independence—especially the financial independence—to do that. And so it’s sort of heartbreaking to watch women need to be prevented, they are prevented from kind of moving forward in what they could see as opportunity strictly for the financial aspect of it. It’s interesting, your comments about trying to come alongside other women to make sure they can be successful in their own right.
Stephanie: And financial literacy is a place where I believe there’s lots and lots of opportunity to grow. The statistics are still that we are making 78 to 80 cents to the dollar that a man makes. Women tend to take off time once they have children, and so they miss out on opportunities, and even though we have laws that are supposed to protect women from being discriminated against because they can get pregnant or will have children, I fear that some of that still goes on in corporations when it comes to being able to rise up the corporate ladder. And also, there are women who chose to raise children in a more traditional way where they weren’t working, where they didn’t have a career. And now in later life if they find themselves in a tough marriage, you know those are women who really need our support—if only to lend an ear. But there’s always something that I think we can do for each other.
I’m real big on complimenting and acknowledging women for where they are and how far they’ve come. Because that kind of stuff is little, but goes a long way, and it’s a beginning point for being proactive.
Barb: Yes, I think that’s very well said. I don’t know if you have any other words or advice about inspiring women to become their own version of a creatrix.
Stephanie: Well, I think it’s good to visualize what the creatrix looks like. You know, archetypes just simply mean a collection of qualities. So I’ve been thinking a lot about who the women are in this culture who are creatrixes—creatrices is actually the plural—and Stacey Abrams comes to mind; Meryl Streep comes to mind; perhaps on the younger end of things is Reese Witherspoon, who took an acting career and turned it into a producing career and a book club that has turned millions of women on to great books by and about women.
So I imagine what creatrix looks like for me, and I like the vision of, “I’m a woman who likes to go for the goal and the prize, but if I don’t win it, what I want to be able to do is just roll up my sleeves and look around and go ‘where I can do the most good.’” That’s what creatrix means to me.
Barb: I think that’s a really great message. It might not feel like a huge beginning or accomplishment, but this idea of where do you belong to do good?
Stephanie: Yes. Yes. Well said.
Barb: I’d like to remind the listeners that your book is not available, and it will be coming out in late summer, but it is available for preorder on Amazon.com, Bookshop.org, and Indiebound.org. Is that correct?
Stephanie: And, [laughs] you know I have a love-hate relationship with Amazon which I think many of us do, but I do like to mention Bookshop.org and Indiebound.org because part of their proceeds goes to keeping your local bookstores alive and well and thriving in your community. So those are also places where you can buy online. But, yes, it is available for preorder.
Barb: And again, Indiebound.org…. I just want to make it easy for people to find that. And the name of your book is Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women.
Barb: Great. So that last time we talked you said you were finding fullness in being tuned in to your purpose. We like to culminate the interview by asking about that. I don’t know if you have anything to expand on that or if anything has changed in the last six or seven months that you’d like to share with listeners about you in this particular moment in your life and creating fullness.
Stephanie: I’m becoming more confident in this fullness in my life. Even more so than six months ago. I know what it is I stand for, and I stand for lifting other women up. I stand for support and encouraging the women around me, the best versions of themselves that they can be. I have a message that comes out in my books and in my blogs and my speaking that says, “You’ve got it in you.” It’s not like you have to read a creatrix guide. Creatrix Rising is not a how-to book. But you might recognize some stories in there that make you think of your own stories, and where you do have courage. And where you do have expertise. Stand in the light of that. Risk it.
We sometimes think that courage looks like having it all together, but as I’ve said before, I think courage really more looks like skinned knees and a little baby barf on your shoulder. So, stand in the light.
Barb: Great. Well, thank you. And I think to add on to that, you and I have both lost our mothers. We don’t have them here to now say we appreciate what they were able to teach us in their small and not-so-small ways and actions. I guess I would just like to encourage women to maybe be more intentional about taking the action of thinking of someone who they’ve seen as a mentor before it’s too late. Because your book made me look back on some educators I’ve had, some friends I’ve had, but there are certainly mothers, grandmothers who are no longer here and able for me to share my thanks. I think for you it was a little—in hearing your book—it was a little nudge for me to try to be more intentional about recognizing that while I’m still able to. So, thank you.
Stephanie: You bet. Thank you.
Barb: I appreciate your time, Stephanie. I know our listeners will too. So thanks again.
Stephanie: Thanks for having me on. It was really fun talking with you 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. Read more about and from her here.