I’m Sara Smeaton, I’m 48 years old, and I live in Toronto with my husband and two kids, a teen and a preteen. Before having kids I worked in film distribution marketing and interactive advertising. The first time I got pregnant, I was 32 years old, and the pregnancy was ectopic. The fetus was not in a tube, like how we commonly think about ectopic pregnancies. Instead, I found out I had an extremely rare uterine anomaly, and the fetus was in what they call a “non-communicating uterine horn” which threatened my life and the baby’s. Therefore, I had to have the horn, one of my fallopian tubes, and the fetus removed. Leaving me with half of what I was supposed to have to get pregnant and carry a baby. It was my first real experience with disabling grief.
After a very dark winter, as soon as the due date for the first pregnancy came and went the following May, I was able to get pregnant with our oldest (I later found out that my chances of getting pregnant again had been extremely low). Two and a half years later, I became pregnant again with with our youngest.
With both babies, I had to have c-sections at 37.5 weeks because the doctor didn’t know if my uterus would be able to withstand labour (i.e., not burst). Of course, the second pregnancy (with our oldest) was terrifying because we really didn’t know what my body could do.
After our daughter was born, about 5 days in, she had some unusual tummy troubles. They had to rule out some very scary stuff and we spent the first 3 weeks of our daughter’s life in Sick Kids (aka The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto)- first in the NICU and then in the pediatrics ward. It was a frightening time, our daughter was tiny and we didn’t know what was wrong, I was recovering from a c-section (my second abdominal surgery in 14 months), and likely suffering from postpartum blues (I remember seeing these words “mom…postpartum blues?” scrawled on the bottom of my daughter’s chart which at the time I dismissed and felt sure that anyone in my position would be crying constantly).
I never really processed the shock or trauma of any of this. I just kept going from one thing to another. Responding to emergency after emergency.
Our daughter recovered, thankfully, and we went home to start our lives together. I stayed home with our kids for six years. Both kids had life-threatening allergies and that required a lot of vigilance and advocacy and demanded that I step up in ways that were uncomfortable sometimes.
It was a beautiful and joyful time and also a super stressful one. Looking back, with few exceptions, I chronically put myself last on the list and didn’t have many tools to manage my overwhelm or the understanding of how the trauma and stress were getting stored in my body. There were more significant obstacles to navigate during these years, as there are in any family, but I think it’s safe to say that we might have had more than our share.
The saving grace was my incredibly close and supportive network: my husband, family, and friends, and of course, our beautiful children.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40?
The first shift after 40 was that I went back to work part-time (fortunately I was able to work from home and still be close to the kids). I was lucky to become involved with a not-for-profit online magazine that focused on helping parents get their kids active. I was brought in because of my lack of sports knowledge (which sounds kind of funny but they were writing to parents just like me and wanted my perspective).
My role kept growing organically. It was there that I was able to use my writing and editing skills professionally and got to do many cool things and learned so much during my time with the magazine. I remember feeling very happy when I started this work that I was valued for just being myself. That was a real change from film distribution and advertising, where I always felt like an imposter. And also, in contrast to my previous roles, I thought that the work I was doing was meaningful and essential. I had always tried to follow my values when it came to work and contribution but staying home with my kids and then doing this work were the first times that I felt that what I was doing was fully aligned with what was important to me.
Another huge change happened in my forties, with my kids a little older and more self-sufficient, I finally prioritized myself. I got serious about self-care, exercise, meditation, and personal development. With all that work on myself, I started to hear a little voice inside me, asking, “what else?”. That voice demanded that I take my life into my hands and start consciously choosing. I realized there was a lot I wasn’t choosing; instead, I let myself be swept along like a twig in a river.
So the third shift was kind of a life and work overhaul. I went back to school to train as a coach and started working with my own coach. I learned so much about myself, what was most important to me, my strengths, and what I feel called to do in this world. I learned about how I can hold myself back and make myself small and how to stop doing that as much. I re-examined every part of my life and questioned things that had always felt like absolutes. I remember walking out of the first training weekend feeling like a completely different person. My life may not look all that different from the outside, but the internal shifts have been enormous and I just keep learning more and more about who I am and what I’m capable of.
When do you feel you are most powerful?
I feel most powerful when I am in touch with and listening to my intuition. That “knowing” is an incredibly powerful tool we all have, and my access to it has only grown over time.
What are the top three most important things to you right now?
- Loving the people in my life well and being present with them and for them.
- Taking care of my health, energy, creativity, self-expression, and fulfillment.
- Collaboration with like-minded people to make a difference in this world.
In all cases, I do my best to live in a way that reduces the chances of me looking back with regret.
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
Pausing, listening, and choosing my actions are how I make sure I’m aligned with what’s important. I listen to the people I love, my body, my needs, my gut, to different parts of myself that all want to have a say, to my clients, and to my collaborators. Whenever I feel unclear or stuck, I try to stop and listen to what’s most important for me to hear.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
I think I’m planting several seeds. The first are of course the children I am helping to raise. It’s so important to us that they feel safe to be themselves and to use their gifts and talents.
I’m also planting seeds with my work. I hope to be part of changing how we think about arriving at and being in midlife. I hope to show that this is a powerful time when in so many ways, we’re just getting started. And last, I think a lot about the health of our planet and the way we relate to each other. I’m trying to be as conscious as possible about my impact and take responsibility for doing the best I can to make things better.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
I think the first thing I would say is to try for yourself to “pause, listen, and choose” and see what you notice. So many of us are running a marathon of obligations and responsibilities. We have so many “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that drive us, and I fear that when we get to the finish line, we’ll see that we didn’t run the race the way we wanted to, but instead how we thought it was supposed to be run. This is your one and only precious life. How do you want to live it?