The (female) elephant in the room

30th August 2019 | Dr Gill Barham | Women's Health

The (female) elephant in the room

As a woman of a certain age — I often hear comments about the lack of discussion and information available about the menopause. Whilst I accept, sadly, that there are many times that this is still the “elephant in the room” (perhaps more often for women in the corporate world) this is far from my experience as a natural health advocate.

As a woman in my late 50’s, I have dedicated much of my attention to this period in our lives, both from my own health perspective and through giving talks, writing articles and conducting interviews.

However, we are coming up to the season of our young people leaving for their first or subsequent years, away at university, sparking the real “elephant in the room” for mothers across the globe.

Welcome to the empty -nester

In my case, I have experienced this phenomenon many times over the past 11 years with all three of my children embarking on their first or second degrees.

This time my youngest happens to have left for a trip of a lifetime before coming home to take up her master’s degree. 

The feelings and emotions I have been experiencing are even more intense this time as she has gone to walk the Camino de Santiago. This is 800kms and will take her about 35 days. She has gone alone, although we are reassured will meet many souls on the same “pilgrimage”. But I confess to a moment of full blown panic as she left the house!

I decided to express my feelings in a private Facebook group that I run for existing clients and anyone that wants to connect with me.

This is what I wrote:

So — just when you think you have It all sorted in your head:

  • You have come to terms with your children truly becoming the independent beings we have worked hard as parents to create 
  • Your dreams for them are even beyond your expectations  
  • You are proud of their achievements and chosen pathways 
  • You are honoured by their continued unconditional love and devotion to you 
  • You are in awe of their energy and capacity for love of life 
  • You are grateful for their continued good health and prosperity 
  • You are happy that they are happy 

Despite all that

I was not prepared for my heart to feel broken today at no 3 child leaving for a new adventure and the next part of her adult journey:

  • Even though she will come home a lot 
  • Even though we have the wonders of technology 
  • Even though it is the right thing and a natural part of family life 
  • Even though I have my lovely husband of over 30 years who is my best friend 

This is one of those times that logic is meaningless and unhelpful!!

I feel sad and lonely all of a sudden and thought I would share a part of me that is personal in the hope that you too can acknowledge your pains in a world (especially on Facebook) where we all want to show the good times and hide some things that aren’t so good.

Wow — I was not expecting the response I got from so many women, some of whom I know well, who have NEVER expressed any of their grief and sense of loss that echoed my own, at least not to me.

It is not even about feeling that we have lost our purpose, as these women are all busy, fulfilled and accomplished. But all of them expressed the same sense of loss, loneliness and grief alongside pride in their children. A double-edged sword if you like, something that is bitter sweet and as one dear friend commented

“It is in truth expanding and evolving, moving forth, an arrow from your bow, though like a boomerang that always returns home”. 

I don’t think it is any coincidence that I have been feeling unwell this week, which I understand to be the physical manifestation of my inner sadness. Fortunately, I have a variety of remedies, strategies and therapeutic practices at my disposal that have helped me to process both the mental and physical symptoms I have experienced. What I do know, is that it has definitely helped me to have the support of my friends and peers at this time and would urge you if you are in a similar situation to reach out to those around you for some love and support.

Or, you can contact me through my website.

Incidentally, I am not ignoring the feelings of fathers when their fledglings leave the nest, but I do believe that the bond that a mother has with her child makes this more intense and somehow cannot even be expressed in words.

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