Meet Later Mom Angel Underhill

AGE: 46

I have been singing most of my life. My undergraduate degree is a BFA in musical theatre. After graduating I moved to Chicago to pursue a performance career in the Chicagoland theatre scene.  I was cast in productions such as West Side Story at Drury Lane Theatre and Play On! at The Goodman. For the last 10 years, I have sung and continue to sing with a professional 24 voice vocal ensemble called The Lakeside Singers. We perform a wide range of musical genres including musical theatre, classical, r&b, pop, country, gospel and more. I also have an M.A. in English Literature from De Paul University. I freelance as a writer and have been published on Popsugar and HuffPost and was recently featured in Voyage Chicago, an online magazine that highlights local artists and small businesses.

 What was your road to parenthood like?  I spent most of my 20’s assuming I’d be married with children by the time I got to my 30’s, then spent most of my 30’s worrying that neither would ever happen. By the time I met my husband I was 38, newly accepted into a graduate program and very excited about both of these new adventures. Two years later I graduated from my M.A. program and two months after that, walked down the aisle at 40. I was more certain than ever about wanting to write. Suddenly I had the guy and creative direction I’d been lacking but was unsure about children. Then, two years into our marriage, I realized my ovaries wouldn’t wait forever. The thought of not being a mom felt devastating. It took my husband a bit longer to process, but once we were on the same page about all of it, we started trying. Several Clear Blue Easy boxes later I still wasn’t pregnant. Then I started having issues with my cycle. We saw a fertility specialist, had all the tests run and were told that because of age related infertility, we had a 2-3% chance of conceiving naturally. For some reason I would not accept that my body could no longer do this on its own. I began researching different supplements and diet choices that would help improve egg quality. And I began reading about Chinese Medicine. Inspire by all the success stories, I found a great clinic and practitioner whom I saw every week for 3 months. At the end of 3 months I was preggers.     

How does being a mom influence your work?  I’m not sure exactly. I suppose its given me more courage in some ways to say what I have to say, stand in the truth of who I am a little more bravely than I did before. It’s what I try to teach my daughter. I definitely view many things through the additional lens of motherhood. And I suppose this is also true when it comes to my long time interest in writing about race and religion. For example, I wrote a piece awhile ago about racial identity and what that might mean for myself going forward as well as my daughter who is much lighter skinned than I am. I’ve also written about the dilemma of facing racism in my neighborhood and how I might address those encounters with my daughter as the need arises. 

What inspired you to launch your blog?  After Hazel was born I experienced postpartum depression and really struggled with my new identity as a mom. I’d also gotten into a slump with my writing. So I decided that creating a blog would be the perfect project to help me chronicle the early days of our journey together, get me writing more regularly, and process the transition I was in the midst of. I also wanted the freedom to write about other things that interested me–not just being a mom. I think that was important to me because part of what I was struggling with was the all consuming nature of mothering. I needed to continue nurturing these other parts of who I am.

 What do you hope readers will take away from your writing?  I hope that the moms who read what I’ve written about motherhood will feel a little less alone in their own journeys. I try to be honest about what its been like for me personally, which is something I always really appreciate in others. It can be an isolating experience, but so many of us are finding the same things about it difficult. It’s always validating and reassuring to hear other women say “Yep, me too!” And as far as my writing on topics other than motherhood are concerned, I hope readers learn something new, feel persuaded to consider a different point of view, or feel a sense of solidarity around their experiences with issues like race and religion. 

What advice would you offer to multi-tasking overwhelmed moms?  Breathe in. Breathe out. Slow down. Sometimes I wonder if maybe multi-tasking isn’t such a good idea. I mean of course we just have to on occasion, but perhaps it would be better for our hearts and minds if we separated things out a bit, did some of what we have to, one thing at a time. Where I am able to do this, I try to. Well…if I remember to! It helps me to be more mindful, more present in the moment. I think that’s always a good thing!

 Do you think it’s tough for women to balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits?  I believe so. It certainly has been for me. But like I previously stated, I am better when I slow down and breathe. And personally I have had to adjust my expectations, allowing certain facets of my life to move to the forefront and others to the background, knowing that this will shift and change as Hazel grows.  

What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over?  Hopefully you have more wisdom and perspective. I know a lot of people say one of the benefits is that for older moms, their careers are typically already in full swing, but I am kind of a late bloomer in that regard as well. You are definitely more cognizant of time and I think that makes you more strategic and mindful about how you spend it. Also, this awareness can help you really savor the journey. But, time can also be a stinker. It has made you older, and its that much harder to run after a toddler when you’re older!  

Has anything about being a mother surprised you?  If so, what?   What do you love the most about it, and what is the most challenging?  I nannied for a number of years and fancied myself pretty patient, funny, creative, in touch with my imagination. But as a mom, I find it much harder to stay engaged–to play–than I expected. The days can be monotonous. Boring, even. For these reasons and more, being home with her has been much more challenging than I anticipated. I think the loss of personal time and space takes a toll at times; it is more valuable to me than I realized. But, I love that I have been here to witness all of her discovery and exploration of the world around her. She is a funny kid, imaginative, empathetic, sweet, smart and just all around “spicy” as one of my friends likes to say. It makes her so interesting and fun to be around.

What do you most want to teach your daughter?  What have you learned from her thus far?  I want her to know that who she is, is enough. She is beautiful–inside and out–strong and “worthy of love and belonging,” to quote Brene Brown. I want to teach her what it is to be kind and to value people for the precious beings that they are. I have learned from her how powerful words can be–especially when I hear my own coming back to me. But probably the most impactful thing I’ve learned from her is how powerful empathy can be in its ability to transform a moment. Leaning into love in those moments when she is testing boundaries, screaming defiantly at me in that “charming toddler way” of hers–when I am about ready to “lose my mind”–if I can just sit with her and embrace her–literally give her a hug and tell her that I love her–most of the time, all of it falls away; she just “melts.” Tantrum over. We all need to feel seen and validated, even the littlest of us. 

Do you have any particular memories from your own childhood that inspired you to make memories with your daughter?  I was always a reader. I got so much joy from books. I love sharing that with her. And since she truly enjoys it too, I never refuse when she wants to have story time. I have collected many of the books I loved as a kid and added them to her library. I really look forward to reading more of them with her as she grows. We have a little ritual every night that has sprung up out of this mutual love for stories. We call them “Once Upon a Times” and either her dad or I will make up short stories about something that happened during the day, or involving certain characters she likes, or whatever. Its a lot of fun to see which kind of plots she likes and doesn’t like. And she is not shy about telling us!

Do you think about aging, and do you have any advice to share re: practicing good self care?  I do. Obviously because the hubs and I are older parents we worry about sticking around a long time for Hazel. I think because of that concern I feel a much more intense commitment to eating well, exercising, getting good sleep and staying on top of my health in general. The more emotional/psychological/spiritual side of self-care comes in a variety of forms. Although playdates and mommy and me outings have provided much needed camaraderie in these first few years at home with my girly, I also make time for girlfriend get togethers, without kids.  And sometimes for me, self care looks like less activity, or just sticking close to home, or spending time on my own–even if all it is, is wandering aimlessly through a beautiful Wholefoods grocery store while drinking a glass of wine!  

What words of wisdom would you like to share for someone contemplating motherhood over age 35?  I would say as far as potential age related fertility issues are concerned, never count yourself “out of the game” until you’ve explored lots of alternatives. No one solution works 100% of the time for everyone, so its worth it in my opinion, to stay open to a lot of options.  

On a more general note of observation, I would also encourage you to take stock of what you truly want your life to be, how you want it to flow, what you want it to be made up of experientially. There will be people who tell you its too late. There will be people who tell you raising an only child is not right and that you should have another. There will be people who tell you that you should stay home with your kids. There will be people who tell you you should go back to work. And on and on and on it goes. Do what’s right for you and your family.