Site gives voice to concerns of boomer women

The Middle Ages

Staying young, growing old and what happens in between

April 29, 2007|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Reporter

Some midlife changes evolve gradually, others arrive as sudden epiphanies.

Take BoomerWomenSpeak.com, one of the first online forums designed specifically to explore the concerns of the roughly 38 million women born from 1946 to 1964.

Creator Dotsie Bregel says she conceived of the Web site when she was tackling her own midlife crisis. The Towson homemaker had just lost her mother to cancer and was also confronting the departure of her three children to college. After devoting almost 20 years to nurturing her family, she was worried about her next act.

What pursuit could bring meaning to this new season of her life?

Bregel found the answer in a book she was reading. Ophelia Speaks, a collection of stories and interviews with adolescent girls, demonstrated the power of giving expression to unheard groups.

"I decided to give voice to the women of my generation," says Bregel, 49.

With the help of a Web designer, she created a Web site for women in their 40s and 50s, a group navigating their middle years without any reliable maps. Like herself, she figured, many women were becoming empty-nesters, weathering menopause, caring for their parents -- and trying to decide what to make of it all.

Now five years old, BoomerWomenSpeak.com hosts 1.5 million hits a month, has 2,021 registered users and more than 175,000 posts.

Described by one writer as a "virtual girls' night out," BoomerWomenSpeak.com offers dozens of conversational forums that consider such subjects as health, singlehood, stepparenting, bereavement, faith, menopause, current events, finance, retirement, eldercare, travel, domestic violence and technology.

A few are decidedly light in nature. "A Very Fine Whine," for instance, covers "luggage issues," hairstyles and "semi-retired husbands."

But most speak to the struggles of women who are hacking paths through the heavy brush of middle age.

Take, for instance, a posting on retirement that's attracted a lot of feedback:

Returning to full time work at age 42 as a single mother (I'm now 50) has been a tough road. Even though the ex paid his court-ordered support, 4 of us were forced to live on (with my salary) less than half of what had previously supported 5 of us. Needless to say, with high school and college and the cost of living in New Jersey, I've remortgaged my house to the hilt and have very little in the way of retirement funds. The reality is, I'll never be able to retire in what I considered the traditional way. ... Has anyone else suddenly realized that retirement will not be an option?

The success of Boomerwomenspeak encouraged Bregel to create the National Association of Baby Boomer Women (nabbw.com). For $75 annual dues, members network; receive advice from women experts in such areas as health, finance and legal matters; and participate in monthly teleconferences on subjects like technology. The association has more than 400 members.

Bregel grew up in Cedarcroft, graduated from Mercy High School and attended college briefly before dropping out to marry Ross Bregel, a Baltimore optometrist, and raise their family. She now spends most workdays in her home office, monitoring her Web sites and setting up tele-seminars. Because Boomerwomenspeak pops up first on Google when anyone types a search for "boomer women," she also speaks to a lot of journalists about boomer issues.

With a staff of two part-time employees and three freelance book reviewers, she says she's finally successful enough to draw a paycheck from her business. Her next goal?

"Health insurance benefits," she says. "I have high hopes that I can start offering benefits to the members of the [NABBW] association, because we're all going to need them."

linell.smith@baltsun.com

Booming voices

Other Web sites that speak directly to baby boomer women:

BoomerGirl.com: a general interest site with information on such topics as travel, financial planning and aging parents.

Boomerbabesrock.com: An inspirational, Christian faith-laced site.

Tipscommunity.com: A women's midlife business site that offers support, education and networking.

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