Celia is a yacht captain and broker, working in Florida. She is Brazilian. I would like to say she has lived in the U.S. for a long time but really she has lived on boats, racing and cruising with her husband, managing yachts for other people, or doing whatever it takes to stay afloat.
She has traveled all over the coasts of South America and the Caribbean and has sailed through the Panama Canal several times. What fun!
She recently left her husband and has just moved to be closer to a new job, managing a large yacht fleet. She lives with her cat, Tambourine.
I am Celia. I’m 53 and four years into menopause.
When I was younger there wasn’t anyone I knew going through menopause telling me what it was like, and though sexuality was something we talked about quite openly in our family, menopause wasn’t. My mother was around 50 when she entered menopause and totally occupied with supporting our family, because also my father had left us when she turned 50. I was accepted at university when I was 17, and because I didn’t want to be a burden to my mother I found ways to support myself independently from thereon.
As a young girl I always fantasized about being 50, because in my youthful mind it was an age of enlightenment, and I wanted to live to see the year 2000. I imagined that something wonderful was going to happen then, that it was going to be magical, and I never lost that feeling. But then two months after I turned 50 my mother died. It was the worst event in my life and my whole world came crumbling down.
In 1995, I gained a lot of weight when I met my future husband and started taking birth control pills. After I stopped taking them in 2011, I dropped fifteen pounds like that and got skinny in a month, and I have a lot of muscle mass so it was easy for me to stay toned and look fantastic. With the onset of menopause I was free to stop taking the pill and could have as much sex as I wanted without worrying about getting pregnant, and that was liberating. Physically though my body changed and I started to have vaginal dryness, and that is murder for any type of sex, it’s like sandpaper. The skin around the vagina becomes less supple and elastic, and any time there’s penetration it’s so painful. My libido, which had always run high, slowly began declining due to the birth control, but as soon as I hit menopause it was gone, there was no desire to have sex whatsoever, mentally or physically. I talked to a physician who suggested hormone replacement therapy, but I said no, there’s nothing wrong with me. I hadn’t had a mastectomy or a hysterectomy, I was a normal human being who’d reached menopause and I didn’t want to replace anything. So he gave me some creams for my vaginal dryness but they weren’t working, and anyway the sexual drive wasn’t there to make them work.
Around that time my husband and I were living on a boat in the tropics. He was an incredibly sexual man, and having to insert vaginal creams onboard a boat in the tropics is definitely not a situation any woman wants to be faced with. You need hot water to flush the applicator and you can’t wash your sheets regularly, and when you have sex the creams drain out; it’s messy and a lot of work for little, if any, pleasure. My husband was patient with all of this, but so I told him to go out and find sex elsewhere, which I suggested largely in jest. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere with no madams or doux-doux, that word from the old Creole meaning sweet soft little feminine helpers, so I told my husband he could do whatever he wanted with other girls on the outside, but to come back home for dinner. His response was what, do you want me to bring a girl on our boat? I said no, that’s not what I meant by that.
But I didn’t have clinical depression or hysteria or flushing, what they used to call the vapors, that not-so-nice term; I didn’t share many of the troubles women experience, though I don’t know much about that to begin with because when it was my time to have menopause my girlfriends weren’t available to me, and there was no one else around to talk to.
I’ve now separated from my husband of twenty years because he pissed me off, and when people piss me off they don’t see me again. He sold our house when I was in the hospital with my mother while she was dying, and that was an incredibly selfish move, and something I begged him not to do because I was in a very fragile state and needed my home as a refuge. Perhaps it was because of the lack of estrogen and the extra testosterone, but I became a raging bitch and made our lives miserable for two years, and maybe the hormonal change gave me the strength to finally bail out. I had come to terms with the fact that either we were going to be friends or we weren’t going to be together. He is still very sexual and can go anywhere he wants to finds lovers. Sex is sex, love is love, friendship is friendship. But if I cannot have sex with him I still can have a good life, so it’s not a huge deal.
By the time you reach menopause you’ve most likely been in a relationship for a number of years, and often the friendship is no longer there. I’ve seen older couples bickering in restaurants and that’s so unfair, they might as well split up rather than pick at each other all the time, but the fear of loneliness clouds their judgment. People don’t want to be alone in life, but we are alone, every single one of us. There is so much drama with these women: I’m having my menopause, what’s going to happen now that I’m no longer desirable! Going in for plastic surgeries and seeing psychiatrists and trying to recapture a youth they never owned, all from fear of being or living alone. In my view being older gives you the freedom to just be with friends, and maybe when some women go through menopause, if they’re lucky, they come to realize that being alone is not being lonely, that they’re two entirely different things.
Midlife is a period of discovering, and it’s a time you can chose to continue learning or stay where you are. And if people have a comfortable financial situation in their 50s and 60s they can pursue activities and interests they really love. Right now I’m comfortable saying I want to do this today, I don’t want to do that. Someone asked me out for dinner the other night and I just said no; and then I started backpedalling and telling him why I said no, and that sounded so insincere. No was the perfect answer, it was all I needed to say. We’re more comfortable in our skin when we get older because it’s a lot looser, there’s more skin! Being older is emancipating; all the aches and pains and concerns that go along with aging have no bearing on how good it feels spiritually and mentally.
I’ve been living an incredibly healthy life. I was recently in Central America with the Amerindians for three years so I’ve been extremely physically active, spending a lot of time in the water and eating healthy food, local fish and whole grains and little of anything processed. My joints are dilapidated because I’ve played sports all my life; soccer on the beach ruined my knees, and climbing mountains and a lot of hard work on boats, my elbows and wrists, they feel it. If I start digging in my garden by the end of the day I’m going to be very sore. I’ve broken my back twice, and it’s healed, but if I make any stupid moves I’ll probably tear that again because the vertebrae are worn down. But I feel good physically, and I’m able to keep my muscles trimmed and stay fit.
I would like to see a campaign to find some way to alleviate vaginal dryness without messing up a woman’s hormones, because I’m sure there’s enough activity left in the mucous membranes after menopause to address that with the same kind of seriousness and ingenuity that was given to the discovery of Viagra. The last hormonal creams I used were prescribed to me in Panama, and they were almost a hundred dollars per application. But those creams are hormone-based and they’re absorbed into your endocrine system. This same gynecologist also prescribed a pill to me she called a “horny pill,” to enhance my libido and ease the activity of intercourse. Well that pill affected me adversely: I became highly irritable, I had no patience whatsoever, I was pretty much what you’d call a raving madwoman. The level of displeasure was incredible. Virtually everything made me angry; if I pricked myself cleaning a fish I was mad at the fish, it was insane. And that little pill was nothing but hormones. If someone still wants to have sex and can’t because it hurts, they’ve got to find something that will make it better; but what I would say to someone who’s lost their libido is congratulations, because it is the most liberating feeling you can have. Sex takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy in our lives, and when you think about it, it’s a lot of investment for very little gain.
My mother had a PhD in chemistry, and then later became a journalist. When I was born she was 36 years old, pretty old to become a mother in the 1960s, and when she was in her fifties she was still supporting our entire family, with a high standard of living that included private schools for my younger brother and sister. One of my uncles was President of UPI in South America, and he found an important management position for my mother with them in Rio de Janeiro, which she held for over fifteen years, working there into her mid-70s. And then after she retired from UPI she went to work for a movie studio in Brazil that leased location equipment to big networks like CNN and BBC; and when she retired from that she went to work in an orphanage. Right before her death she started talking to me about things she’d never discussed before, all kinds of fascinating stories about dictatorship days and the dissidents and revolutionaries and guerillas. She could have had the financial backing of her own mother, who was rich at the time, but she didn’t want to be under her thumb any longer. My mother was a woman with a tremendous amount of autonomy and strength of spirit and character.
On the other side of the railroad tracks here they will use pejorative words for women who are no longer in their reproductive age, women who are probably denying sex to their partners. I don’t know all the horrible terms, but they’re spoken to denigrate, to make a woman feel more inferior, and she’s already inferior because she’s a woman, cooking and cleaning and rearing everyone’s children. That segment of society has to feel extreme duress about being in menopause, and it’s shameful to so many of these women because their sole identity has been to perform domestic chores and bear offspring. And the gossip is horrible, people are whispering all of these nasty things about them while they’re in menopause, and they know it and that makes them extraordinarily sad and isolated.
Living with poverty is a great deal harder than living with menopause, and on many levels it can be worse; but living with both at the same time is unimaginable. To have no power, to have others above you telling you who you are and what you can and cannot do, and to add to that the imbalance in your hormones and all the physiological and social ramifications of that, is inconceivable.
You have to be welcoming of menopause, you have to take it cool, just as you should approach death when that time arrives. I don’t think women prepare themselves for menopause, in fact I don’t think they give it a first thought! But when menopause comes it should be embraced as a natural thing. In your life you got your breasts, you got your period, you got your children, if you had them, you basically made your whole female system work for you. And now you’ve reached a place in your body and your personal history that’s beautiful, you’ve achieved biologically what you needed to achieve and you’re done, so enjoy it. And yes, you begin to lose your youthful assets and have some symptoms, but you’ve gotten menopause, and it’s perfectly normal.