Making the next decades the best years of your life.
Chapter 3. The Clock is Ticking
As we near 40, we become acutely aware of the fact that our clocks are ticking. We have been ingrained from a young age with the idea that bearing children after 35 is a poor choice. And, to a certain extent, these warnings are accurate. From a biological standpoint, we have until only menopause sets in (which happens between the ages of 45 and 55 on average) to naturally conceive a child. But the chances of having a successful full-term pregnancy begin to shrink even earlier than that—from our 20s onward, since egg quality starts to decline. By 35, we already have passed the “peak fertility phase.” What does that mean, exactly? Well, consider this: it takes a woman in her 20s an average of 13 attempts to get pregnant. Between the ages of 30 to 40, our fertility becomes about half as efficient.
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Nearly every childless woman I know from the age of 35 to 45 will experience moments of discomfort about her fertility—confusion, anxiety, depression, frustration, and fear. (The exceptions, of course, are women who have made the choice not to have children, or to embrace their stepchildren as their own, and who are genuinely at peace with their decision.) These days, we have several options in terms of how to conceive and raise a child. Even so, for many of us who have put off or struggled with having children, fertility can be one of our greatest challenges as we approach our fourth decade.
Chapter 6. Mentoring
Brigadier General Loree Sutton
Brigadier General Loree Sutton is one of only 57 women among the 875 total flag rank officers serving in the United States military today. While her appearance is intimidating, with rows of medals and a star pinned to her dress uniform, complimented by short-cropped red hair and piercing blue eyes, her manner is instantly sincere and engaging.
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Sutton, who grew up in southern California, applied for an Army health professional scholarship after gaining acceptance to medical school. While she never intended such a long career in the military, she has stayed with it ever since because she has grown to love and respect the profession, and those courageous enough to join it. As an army psychiatrist for over two decades, Sutton speaks as someone who “has been steeped in learning how to better foster resilience and mitigate the impact of trauma with respect to the human mind, body, and spirit.”
As the head of the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in Rossyln, Virginia, Sutton feels blessed to be working on the cutting edge of cultural change. She is supporting military leaders at all levels in transforming their historical “suck it up and drive on” mindset. Rather, she encourages them to embrace a public health model that emphasizes strong partnerships—both on the battlefield and the home front—with peers, families, units, and communities. She explained, “Our message is simple, yet powerful: you are not alone; the unseen wounds of war are real; treatment works, and sooner is better; and lastly, reaching out is an act of courage and strength.”
This daunting mission tracks its origin to the growing recognition in 2007 that, due to medical advances, the military was saving the lives of those who would not have survived previous conflicts. Complex conditions resulting from “IED” blast weapons employed in both Iraq and Afghanistan include myriad injuries, including internal organ damage, traumatic brain injury, and other unseen psychological, moral, and spiritual wounds of war, which often turn out to be the most deadly of all. Committed to eliminating stigma, Sutton and her team lead a holistic effort, harnessing integrative approaches such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, nutrition, and animal-facilitated therapies, as well as more traditional treatment options.
Her voice intensifying, Sutton stated, “I am impatient. This is not business as usual—the suffering is real today, so we must deliver what we have now, and continue to improve every single day. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the history of our republic have we placed so much on the shoulders of so few on behalf of so many for so long. Anyone who questions the strength of these remarkable individuals needs to visit our wounded warriors. It breaks my heart to see what they and their loved ones are experiencing, but I always leave humbled, inspired by their intrepid spirit, courage, and dedication to each other.”
Brigadier General Sutton admitted to me that she grimaces inside when reporters ask her what it’s like to be a woman in uniform. “The smart aleck in me is tempted to retort, ‘It’s hard to say, given that I’ve never experienced being anything else!’ There’s truth to that: I don’t know. What I bring to all my missions is who I am, Loree Sutton as a human being. Yes, I’m an officer who happens to be a woman. And as a senior leader, I accept responsibility for educating, mentoring, and coaching at all levels to mitigate the unique stresses of being a woman in uniform. Yet I also work to strengthen cohesive bonds regardless of gender or, for that matter, religion, race, or sexual orientation. In the end, we are fellow warriors; we are brothers and sisters; we are human beings, learning to live, love and serve on this small planet of ours. Truly, we’re all in this together.”
While Sutton strongly prefers seeing herself as an officer and physician in uniform, as opposed to a woman in uniform, there can be no doubt that she has forged inroads on behalf of all women in the military. And yet, especially in matters of warfare, peacekeeping, national security, community resilience, and psychological wellbeing, Sutton is right: in the end, we are all just human.
Chapter 7. Intimate Partnerships
Reigniting the Flame – Exercise on Relationships
While Gottman’s research has proven tremendously valuable in my work with people, I’ve also discovered that not all couples are battling the four horsemen. Some of them simply find themselves bored with or disengaged from their partners over time. I’ve counseled a number of women who had been married since their early 20s. Their typical complaint was: “When you’ve been married for this long, you get so wrapped up in the daily lives of others—your children, your in-laws and extended family, your friends, your coworkers, and even your spouse’s colleagues from work—that eventually you lose the emotional connection to one another.”
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In response to this issue, I introduce several exercises that I learned during my years of training at the Ackerman Institute. All are based on the belief that you can reignite the flame in your marriage or long-term relationship with the use of rituals. I invite the women or couples I’m counseling to think of three rituals that they would be willing to perform with their partners, and make a commitment to doing them on a daily or weekly basis.
An example of a ritual is to take a piece of information from, and leave a piece of information with, one another every day. In the morning, check in before you both take off for your day’s activities. Tell your partner about something that will happen during your day, such as “I’ll be taking the kids to the zoo,” or “I’ve got to submit a report by noon.” Ask about something that will happen during his or her day. When you reunite that evening, recall what your partner said to you, and ask how that particular event went. Have your partner do the same for you. It may seem like no big deal, but this simple ritual can offer a straightforward, effective way for you to stay closely connected.
In Fortytude, therapist Sarah Brokaw reveals the surprising, accessible principles that can help women sail through their midlife years — more happily, with more accomplishments, and with grace and satisfaction.
“Whether or not your forty is fast approaching or a long look back, Sarah Brokaw’s Fortytude is a wise and compassionate book filled with specific exercises for meeting life’s bumps and challenges, filled with the examples of women who rose to conquer them, beginning with Sarah herself.”
–Maureen Orth, Vanity Fair Correspondent
“Fortytude is a great book. It’s honest, fun, and does a wonderful job tackling — and helping women transcend — their fear of aging.”
Christiane Northrup, M.D., OB/GYN physician and author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause
“Turning 40! It’s a milestone that prompts many women to rethink the direction of their lives. Sarah Brokaw’s thoughtful book provides an excellent framework for anyone seeking to find a path to greater happiness.”
–Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
“Sarah Brokaw’s Fortytude looks at the hurdles, joys, and decisions women face at—or near, or after—age 40 from many thought-provoking angles, then cinches those observations into must-read insights that will make the reader feel inspired, connected, and grateful for the decades to come.”
–Lee Woodruff, author of In An Instant and Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress