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  • Tania Elfersy

Women at midlife, the evolutionary advantage and an incident at the bakery

If you attended one of my recent webinars, you’ll already be familiar with theories that attempt to explain why women suffer during perimenopause and menopause. One of the theories I happily debunk is the argument that we were never supposed to live this long.

During the webinar I present evidence of women living into their 70s and 80s throughout the ages and across continents – yes, even before the age of modern medicine!

Living beyond our reproductive years makes us quite unique among mammals, although not totally unique. Female orcas (killer whales) and short-finned pilot whales also live long, active, post-reproductive lives and now scientists are trying to work out why.

Prof Darren Croft, quoted in this BBC article, states: "From an evolutionary perspective, it's very difficult to explain. Why would an individual stop having their own offspring so early in life?"

While scientists work out the evolutionary advantage of having an older, wiser, experienced female in the family, a female who isn’t tied to the responsibilities involved in raising her own young offspring, perhaps us wiser women can work that out ourselves :-)


The shift from childbearing years was in my thoughts this summer, especially during an incident at my local bakery.

Below, I’m happy to share my true story about midlife, summer dresses and that incident at the bakery.



Midlife, summer dresses and an incident at the bakery

Deep in the season of summer dresses, I’ve embraced fine cotton, embroidery and tassels.

The dresses I’ve recently added to my wardrobe make me happy – they bring an air of Morocco and Portugal to my every day.

Shopping in a local boutique, I select my new dresses carefully. The ones that I try on and then leave behind are those that make me look … possibly pregnant.

Because there’s a Law of Physics of the Summer Dress and if you’re a woman with medium-sized breasts or larger, you’re surely aware of it: summer dresses of certain styles will directly increase the risk of embarrassing moments.

It’s about gravity and the way the material falls.

I’d rather avoid meeting an over-chatty sales assistant who might inquire when I’m due, or the clueless mom from school who could point toward my womb and ask with excitement: “Boy or girl?”

I’m in my late forties. I last gave birth over eight years ago. Pregnancy may be possible but surely unlikely.

I wonder, as I glance at myself in the mirror one morning, when will the Law of Physics of the Summer Dress no longer apply to me? How old will I be? Or rather, how old will I need to look?

A few hours later, wearing a new cotton dress, embroidered and tasseled, I enter my local bakery.

Normally I go to the bakery when the kids are in school and the bread is fresh. Even during the school holidays I often run in alone. But today, I brought my two daughters.

The woman who works there smiles, inquires how I am and pulls up the box of whole-wheat pitta bread, still warm from the oven. “How many today?” she asks.

“Ten, please,” I reply and I turn to my daughters who are standing in the middle of the bakery debating whether to feast on a sesame bagel, a za’atar bagel or the warm pitta bread.

The sesame bagel wins and they bring a bag of bagels to the counter.

“So, are you taking care of your grandchildren today?” the friendly shop assistant asks me.

Oh wow, that’s a first. Is this what happens when the Law of Physics of the Summer Dress no longer applies?

“Grandchildren?” I inquire. “No. These are my children.”

The shop assistant stands frozen – in the hot air, soaked with the smell of freshly baked bread. I’m a little shocked but doing a calculation in my head:

If I started having children at 18 and one of my children started having children at 18, then yes, I would have become a grandmother at 36 and my children could be my grandchildren. It’s possible.

I smile. I’d like to pay for the bread.

“Well I say that,” continues the shop assistant, breaking the silence, “because the children don’t look like you.”

I look at my girls, glowing from long days of summer play – their mocha skin matches mine. We’re each wearing a summer dress. In this season, we look more alike than at any time.

“Well maybe,” I say, trying to end the conversation and paying for the bread.

I step outside with my girls and open the bag of bagels.

In the sun, I quickly recover from being mistaken for the grandmother of my children. I now feel bad for the friendly shop assistant.

I want to go back to the bakery and clear the air but my girls are tired from running errands. They want to go home.

Two days later, I return to the bakery.

Surrounded by customers pushing their bags of baked goods toward the till, the friendly shop assistant sees me and looks away. I wait in line and speak up quickly when I reach the counter.

“I just wanted to say that I don’t mind that you thought my children were my grandchildren. Really, it’s fine. At my age, it could be true.”

“Of course,” she says. “There are lots of young grandmothers. I became a grandmother at 45.”

“Well,” I say. “I just wanted you to know.”

We both smile and she takes my hand over the counter, holding it for a few seconds. The embarrassment melts away.

I step aside.

The woman behind wants to pay for her bread. A woman at midlife. Perhaps she’s a mother or a grandmother, or childfree.


Didn't catch the webinars in June on Perimenopause, Midlife and Life Cycles? Want to catch the next round or recommend the webinar to a friend? Make sure you receive an invite to the next round of webinars – request an invite here.

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