In the days leading up to my 40th birthday, I occasionally found myself in tears. The same emotional meltdown happened a year ago, right before my son’s 10th birthday. The night he turned 10, I cried myself to sleep. My 9-year-old daughter, who’s been sleeping in my bed with me since the pandemic began, was sandwiched right beside me, wrapped up in blankets, my own personal heater. Before she fell asleep, she reached over and put her little hand on my cheek and whispered, “Don’t worry, Mama, you still have me.” 

It’s true, this was not my best parenting moment. 

And so it was that the night before I turned 40 mirrored that very same cringe-worthy mom moment. With my daughter right next to me, my eyes swelled, those familiar warm droplets like waves about to break. I thought she was asleep, so I reached for some tissues. Instinctively, she reached up, her little hand on my cheek again. 

“I’m so excited for your birthday tomorrow, Mama,” she smiled.

“Me too,” I lied. 

Mom-of-the-year strikes again. 

My 40th birthday made me sad not because of apathy about what’s to come, more because of grief for all that was. 

In her new book Oh William, my favorite author Elizabeth Strout writes “grief is a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think. It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you.” 

RELATED: If 40 is the New 30, I Want My Money Back

For many of us, melancholy happens at milestone momentsbirthdays, weddings, anniversaries. This is certainly true for me. Perhaps because it doesn’t come naturally for me to celebrate myself, I find my birthdays, especially this last one, challenging. I’m always in awe of people who love their birthday. They care if people remember it. They plan detailed celebrations, sometimes they even have a birthday week.

I grew up in a home that criticized self-congratulatory behavior, and birthdays certainly fell in that category. Humility above all elsethe lone message my antithetical, divorced parents actually agreed upon. 

In my 20s and 30s, life was full of seemingly important steps.

Secure job. Find partner. Stabilize. Get married. Buy a home. Have a child. Or two. Stabilize. Advance career. 

These societal steps, albeit privileged and pressured, gave me purpose, a path to follow, a direction when I felt directionless. On the cusp of 40, reflecting on my life’s journey, I felt both proud and pensive about my choices, the very decisions that propelled me to this moment. In the days leading up to my birthday, I wondered, just as Elizabeth Strout did, Was I sliding down the outside of a long glass building? Could anyone really see me? 

After all, at life’s intersections, we make our choices and live in their aftermath. As I looked back on the last few decades, the decades I spent building the life I have now, I contemplated my choices.

And at times, I felt loss for what could have been.

And then, on the morning of my birthday with the room still dark, my daughter woke up next to me and reached up to rest her warm, little hand on my cheek. 

“Happy birthday, Mama. I made a card for you,” she smiled and then reached under the bed to where she’d been hiding her card. 

RELATED: To the 40-Something Moms, I’m Broken Too

I squeezed her hand, read her card, and looked back at her. Then, I told her the truth.  

“This is the best birthday of my life.” 

 Originally published on Medium

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan is a community college professor and a writer. Her work has been featured in Edutopia, Mantra Magazine, and Moms Don't Have Time To Write. She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her family. 

What Mid-Life Crisis? Turning 40 is Everything.

In: Living
Woman smiling

I turned 40 and something woke inside me. Some turn 40 and have a mid-life crisis. I believe I am experiencing quite the opposite—a mid-life awakening. This may mean different things for different people, but this is what it means for me. RELATED: I’m in My 40s and Finally Hitting My Stride It means understanding the value of time and only wanting to spend it with people who make me happy. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone I once considered a friend, a toxic family member, or a disgruntled co-worker—if you’re constantly negative, I will distance myself entirely. I am...

Keep Reading

The Gifts Life Gives You in Your 40s

In: Journal
The Gifts Life Gives You in Your 40s

I’ve been in my 40s for a few years now, long enough to reflect on all the gifts life gives in this new decade which used to sound so old. Now that I have arrived here I realize, of course, I am still oh so young and 16-year-old me is still alive and kicking right behind my wrinkles and reading glasses and slightly saggy neck. In no particular order, here’s a sampling of the awesomeness life has given me now that I have reached my 40s. Life gave me so much laughter, the carefree kind that comes not from laughing...

Keep Reading

I’m in My 40s and Finally Hitting My Stride

In: Living
Woman holding sign that reads, "Today is all about me," color photo

As I neared my 40s, so many of the women around me who were already 40 were proclaiming a newfound sense of self. They spoke about how they didn’t care what others thought of them anymore—sharing that it was as if some sort of epiphany suddenly released them from the burdensome weight of other people’s opinions once they reached the magical age of 40. Hallelujah! Bring on 40! That sounds fabulous! But, here I am, already 16 months into my 40s, and I can’t find the promised life-changing insight anywhere. There were no epiphanies that greeted me on my 40th...

Keep Reading