The mid-wife crisis

Fast cars and torrid affairs are no longer just a middle-aged man thing. More women than ever are facing 40 - and hitting the panic button
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The Independent Online

Once a mid-life crisis was the preserve of balding, pot-bellied men who would buy themselves a sports car in the vain hope of boosting desirability.

Now record numbers of women hitting their forties are having affairs and making big changes as they realise time is running out.

New figures reveal that depression levels have soared by 30 per cent in five years and record numbers are fighting time by treating themselves to cosmetic surgery, taking time out to travel the world or starting a business.

And it is not just high-flying career women who may come to feel there is more to life than achievement in the boardroom. Full-time mothers are just as likely to go through a mid-life crisis - tired of looking after other people, including a husband who is now a bore in bed.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps) says the number of women in their forties going for operations such as breast uplifts, liposuction and tummy tucks has more than doubled since 2003. Dr Rajiv Grover, a Baaps council member, said: "They have often finished having children and want their confidence back."

Sarah Bishop from the African Conservation Experience, a company running gap-year trips, discerns a similar trend over the past three years, with a fivefold increase in female clients over 40. "They may have become disillusioned with their careers or gone through a divorce," she said. "These trips give them the space to go away and think about what they want to do when they come back."

Many start a business. Kim Fletcher, an adviser with Business Link, the government business support agency, said the past two years had seen more middle-aged women enquiring about start-ups than ever.

But the changes are not always so positive. Dr Claudia Bernat, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital, north London, said depression, one of the symptoms of a mid-life crisis, has increased by around 30 per cent in the past five years amongst women aged between 30 and 45.

"Over the last few years the incidences of mid-life crisis in women have increased dramatically," she said. "There is transition and crisis. Transition is normal development when, more or less at the age of 40, women question whether they should be dividing their time better between their profession and family. Crisis is when people act impulsively. They leave their husbands, their careers or want a child. They have a desire to run away from what they have and a fear of their life ending without being fulfilled."

Jane Polden, a psychotherapist and author of Regeneration: Journey Through Mid-life Crisis, has far more female clients who are going through a mid-life crisis than male. "They have had a whole meaning to their life looking after their family or having the perfect career. If they have chosen one of the two they start to feel incomplete and that they have missed out," she said.

"All the hormones about mothering are starting to leave their body and their testosterone is starting to rise, which actually makes them more turned on to sex, but not necessarily with their husband, which can take a lot of women by surprise."

Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said: "We are seeing more women in therapy whose issues are to do with middle life. Women in their early forties have reached a different stage in their life which is one of uncertainty. It calls into question their identity and activities which are less rewarding because the more you go on doing something the less rewarding it is."

Mr Hodson believes many women experience crisis in their middle years because of dissatisfaction with their partner. "What women really want is better men. I think that they would like to find that men could be more responsible, reliable and understanding of them. They would like men to be three or four dimensional rather than two-dimensional. The problem with extreme masculinity is that it's very flat. Because women are wired slightly differently from men they are looking for a bit more integration and experience."

Off the rails: 'My crash and burn was the best thing to happen to me'

Emma Triplett, 39, is the founder of Hatti Trading and lives in Swindon

"I used to be in IT sales, one of the most high-pressured sales jobs there is. It was great for a long time. I was on a six-figure salary and living the lifestyle as well. I had the flash convertible car, wore smart suits and could nip off abroad for the weekend. The stress and the pressure of the job eventually got to me and I literally woke up one morning thinking, 'What is this all about?' I was running myself ragged and it just suddenly didn't make sense to me.

"At the same time I found out that I wasn't able to have children. I'd put it off and put it off and had left it too late to do anything about it. My two-year relationship broke down. I crashed and burnt at 35. I was off work with stress and then resigned. After teaching in a college for a year, in 2004 I ran away to Kathmandu for two weeks.

"When I came back, I took voluntary redundancy and then returned with no idea what I was going to do or why I was there. After a month I met the founders of the Esther Benjamins Trust, a charity that rescues children who have been trafficked into circuses. While I was working for them as a volunteer we discovered that no one would employ them as they were regarded as tainted and it was assumed they had been prostitutes. I got very close to them and couldn't just leave them and do nothing. I came up with the idea of teaching them to make handbags and said to the founders that if they funded the training, the sewing machines and the raw materials, I would buy the bags, take them back to England and sell them.

"I set up Hatti Trading in 2005. The first girls on the programme are now living independently and earning a good living. Some of them have even married because of the respect they have gained. I love what I do and get a huge sense of achievement from it. It's made me a better person. My mid-life crisis was the best thing that ever happened to me."