Women in midlife challenged to be feminine, active Seize control of lives, surgeon general urges

October 20, 1991|By Sandra Crockett

For Janice Plein, 44, middle age means a sense of loss for time that has gone by. To Marcie Watts, 42, middle age is an exciting time of discovering new things about herself. Barbara Melfa, 50, who suffered a heart attack nearly eight months ago, focuses on boosting her morale and cutting down on stress.

They were among the more than 500 women attending a conference yesterday on "Empowering Women Over 40: Challenging the Myths of Midlife" at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Speakers included the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Antonia Novello, who told her audience to take control of their lives and care for each other. "In order to succeed, you have to be extremely feminine and somewhat feminist. And extremely active and somewhat activist," Dr. Novello said.

She also told the mostly middle-class group they were connected to women who may live on Indian reservations, in African countries or on the streets of New York. "We absolutely must not forget to care for one another," she said.

Mrs. Melfa, who had her heart attack March 5, said she attended the seminar to boost her morale. "After eight months, I still need that," explained Mrs. Melfa, a secretary at Loyola College. "After the heart attack, I was feeling depressed. A feeling of, 'Gee, will I ever be Barbara again?' "

Recently, Mrs. Melfa said, she has begun feeling like her old self. She credits, in part, a supportive husband, friends and a yoga class that is helping her manage stress.

Mrs. Plein, a bookkeeper, said she is trying to cope with growing older. "It's hard. I'm trying to make some sense of it," she said. "I have all these years left. What do I want to do?" She is divorced and has two children.

Marcie Watts is a Ruxton homemaker and mother of four. "It took a lot of guts for me to come here by myself," she said. "I'm not a career person. I'm a housewife." Mrs. Watts said she is doing more things for herself instead of just for other people.

Diane Gibson, who teaches at Sheppard Pratt's National Center for Human Development, told the audience that the "midlife woman" should not simply define herself as being menopausal.

"Women in their 40s could be a grandmother or a mother for the first time. She may be single or married or living with a spouse equivalent. She may be divorced or starting a job," Ms. Gibson said.

The conference was sponsored by the college, the Women's Resource Center at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Sheppard Pratt's human development center.

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