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Essay: What’s next?

Recently, I turned 40. While I’ve never been one of those women who gets wound up about aging (everybody’s doing it!), I did find myself pondering one nagging little question over and over: What’s next?

My life had taken me on a path that, considering who I thought I would be when I was in college, surprised me. I had not become an actress. I had not become a tortured writer. I had not become a 4-inch-heel-wearing business executive. I had become a married woman and a mom. At the age of 40, I was working from home as a freelance writer, doing the laundry, providing good meals to my family, making sure I was there when the kids were sick and spending summers juggling freelance clients as I took my girls on mountain hikes.

I had become a rather traditional woman.

Mother and Baby by Hyacinth Manning

Mother and Baby by Hyacinth Manning

Over the course of my growth into this life, I went through several bouts of the independent woman’s fear: Am I a sellout? Am I giving up part of myself? What about the dreams of success as I had once defined them?

But when I was completely and utterly honest with myself, I knew I was happy! Like, deep-down, giggle-for-no-reason, roll-around-on-the-floor-with-babies happy! And as my daughters grew they gained independence from me, and I was able to see beyond my daily chores and my freelance deadlines to start wondering: What’s next?

A friend and I started a little company called MA! (motherhood with attitude), dedicated to supporting other moms as they faced the ridiculously hard yet rewarding journey of motherhood. I started writing for myself again — journaling, blogging and rediscovering the creative flame I thought I had surrendered with my business suits.

And I turned 40. As I’ve said, I don’t care about aging per se. For me, turning 40 with a great husband and two daughters ages 6 and 8 meant I was regaining some control over my life. I could again think about my dreams and goals with a bit more ability to act upon them.

And then … A. Third. Child.

Yes, this was an absolute surprise. And I did not take the news gracefully. I can probably best illustrate the impact this had on my mental state with a few snapshots: me collapsed on the bathroom floor; me on the phone, screaming at my husband, “Yes! I said I’m pregnant!”; me calling the doctor and begging her to tell me all about false-positive results with at-home pregnancy tests; me taking two more tests the next day; me sitting at the bottom of the stairs where the girls couldn’t see me, crying my eyes out and muttering obscenities.

The thing that surprised me, though, throughout all my tantrums, was the small light somewhere inside me that just kept bouncing around, sighing pleasantly, saying, “A baby! Oh my goodness! I get to have another baby!”

As the days turned into weeks, I realized I had a rock-solid answer to my nagging question, What’s next? In fact, I realized I had many beautiful answers. A new baby smell. Snuggles. Chasing another naked bottom around the house before bath time. Reading Goodnight Moon. Long walks with a stroller.

I also know myself well enough to anticipate that I will go through a few more tantrums of my own as I surrender what was a quick glimpse at more independence. But at the same time, I believe the answer I’ve received to my question is absolutely the one I was supposed to receive.

I am a mother! I can handle what’s next.

Janalee Card Chmel (MLS ’97) is a Denver-based freelance writer. She and her husband welcomed daughter Mae Marie in late January.

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