“Oh, That Explains a Lot!”—A Family Dynamic

What to Expect

One woman's odyssey through the Trump presidency. My focus is centered on the many issues affecting women--but what doesn't? There's a new post every week.

I’m Natalie and I’m 48 years old. I’m in what I think is my second year of menopause.

I never heard a lot of conversation about menopause before I began my own experience of it, partly because I wasn’t at home while my mother was going through it. I had moved on but later on, in conversations with my mother about when she was going through menopause—we’ve had lots of conversations about that being a contributing factor to some of [her] behavior. The thing is, my mother and father divorced while she was in her late 40s and so menopause and this divorce from a man she had been married to since she was in college, were happening at the same time. It’s hard to say what was a hormonal change and what was a mental freedom.

My father left my mother and I don’t think it had so much to do with her as with him, so she was very much thrown for a mental loop just as physically this was going on. She went from being all about her children to the whole male stereotype—getting a red convertible, losing a lot of weight, getting a new hair-do, new wardrobe, dating, joining the scuba club and the ski club, and we all thought it was great and liberating but, looking back on it, both my mom and my two younger sisters have had conversations that it was not only the divorce but also the onset of menopause that was contributing to this behavior.

I think I have sort of divorced myself from my physical body in the last five to ten years. I was in an unhappy relationship, a marriage that just had no sexuality left to it at all. And I have polycystic syndrome, so my weight has been a problem. I’ve been feeling—just not me. So some of the issues that I think come with menopause or peri-menopause, decreased sexual drive etcetera, are things I am pushing off or really don’t feel. I’ve just shut down that part of myself—which is weird, isn’t it?

I feel like I am so ready to embrace the Crone. I was pretty promiscuous, very rooted in the physical beauty or physicality of who I was, and took a lot of pride in that identity of being a sassy young thing. I’m just ready to move on. I think being a mother has a lot to do with that. My daughter is 12, I’m 48, and in the last six months she got her period, so she’s just entering the hormonal cycle as I’m starting to leave it. Our joke now is “Oh, that explains a lot.” We have such a great relationship that we don’t have a lot of bickering but I have noticed over the last 6 months that there is a little more of that momma-daughter friction. And part of that’s just natural. If I were a younger mother, not peri-menopausal, I think I would still be going through that with her.

I’m talking to my daughter about menopause and trying to model that for my daughter. We’ve always been really open about our bodies and what happens and even about sex. So I think it’s important for her to see that and see me embracing that and not try to change it. I have three sisters and a mother and we are all very close, so she’s in a very women-centric environment, so I really want her to see the positivity in every stage. That’s really important for me.

I miss sexuality, and there are times when I have dreams and think, that was awesome! I remember those days!– so I do miss that but I don’t really feel I’ve left anything undone. Being a mother was so important to me later on—not until I was in my early 30s did I even think I would be, but I got to experience that.

I was dating a man for a couple of years, doing my best ‘savior’ routine, oh, I can save him… he’s somebody who needs help, I can do that… He was a good man but it was pretty quickly apparent that we were not a good match, so we moved on. I kind of reverted back to some casual sexual encounters and then found that I became pregnant. This man Van and I stayed on good terms and then, when I found out I was pregnant, he offered to move in and help with things like house work and just helping me out because I was on my own—I didn’t want to be involved with the father of the baby. And then I developed preeclampsia and—long story short—the baby died. Within about six weeks van proposed to me and I accepted. That’s not a way to start a marriage. That’s not a reason to get married but I felt like I… And it wasn’t his baby—he knew it wasn’t his baby. In a moment of weakness and thankfulness for his presence I agreed to be married and we married 6 months later.

Going into it, in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn’t the thing but I did it anyway. Fast forward, two years later, I became pregnant with my daughter and all of those reasons that I knew he wasn’t the one for me and all those whispers in my conscience this is not the right person… just became louder and louder. He is a kind-hearted person but he’s a person who doesn’t have a lot of integrity. He’s had a rough past that he hasn’t quite gotten over, so he’s very irresponsible with behavior, with money, with the truth. So those just grew and grew to be insurmountable. I didn’t want to live that way for the rest of my life. I certainly didn’t want that to be the example of a relationship for my daughter. So I asked him to leave.

We remain on friendly-ish terms but he feels very betrayed. I’m one more person to leave him so there’s a lot of animosity…and I don’t want to say that that’s one-sided. I have a lot of animosity too. He had this wife who was good to him and this daughter that he was responsible for and he just couldn’t get past his own shit to get it together.

I don’t think the divorce had anything to do with menopause—unless part of menopause is realizing that you need to… I’m on the down angle now and I have only so much more time. I need to live the way I want to live and be with the people I want to be around and not compromise—fundamentally. I don’t mean little compromises, I mean the big, fundamental comprises as to who you are and what you want to be. And certainly for my daughter—I didn’t want her to see that. So that’s my saga of marriage.

Is it that somehow your body just knows, or is it an absence of certain kinds of chemicals that tease you into thinking that this is a good thing, so now you’re clearer-headed?

It’s just fascinating to me to think—is that a hormonal thing? And seeing Annie—seeing my daughter—going through this now, this flood of hormones, it’s fascinating how much that can affect mindset. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that that’s part of it, that it’s common.

I’ve never suffered too much with PMS, although what I’ve always heard other women express about their problems with PMS are the kinds of things that I’ve just started experiencing. And I can tell that I must be going through that, because now my periods are so erratic. I know now—it’s not like I used to know the time of the month every month—now it’s like when I start to get snappish with Annie, or when I start to get defensive or irrational, then I know, oh, great—apparently I’m going to have one of these raging peri-menopausal periods. And that’s been really interesting. And I’m glad that I have the kind of relationship with her where I can say oh, this explains it! If I’m snapping at people when I’m driving my car—like come-on!—that’s so counter to who I am. I feel like I’m a different person for a few days before the next week, and it’s somebody I’ve really worked and been trained by my parents really not to be. The first principle of Unitarian-Universalist is the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and I feel like I really try to adopt that. Those first few days of every month, forget it. You’re on your own, fuckers. You’re all jerks.

I did start researching menopause on the internet, only because I was having some really severe bleeding—like crime-scene periods, just absolutely outrageous. And so I went to the doctor because I though something horrible was obviously going on, clearly I have cervical cancer or something horrible like that. And he said—this was 2 years ago, so I was 46—he said yea, you must be in peri-menopause. And I thought surely not—that would be not for another 10 years! But then I did start doing some research, but not so much any more, just because I feel like I’m not terribly concerned with it. But I think talking about it now, and spending this past week thinking about it, will make me do some more research. Just because I think it will be important to say, oh, right, so that’s why I’m acting this way, or this is what’s happening here. And to be better able to explain it to my daughter, as well, I think will be really important.

But menopause is chicken-and-egg. If my mother’s divorce is my model, and she is a role model to me, in younger years before I was thinking about menopause, it was all a result of her response, like momma’s getting her groove back, and fantastic, she’s out of this relationship that clearly hadn’t been a happy one for several years. But after talking about it and then having talks with her, it was interesting to think that that goes hand-in-hand, it is chicken-and-egg. It’s fascinating, and it’s really been on my mind these last several months since my daughter has started having her period. How much our hormones can triumph over our reason, can triumph over who you are naturally as a person. My daughter’s a lovely, thoughtful, completely selfless kid, but damn if she isn’t hard sometimes when she’s going through that PMS-y time. It’s really crazy. And I know that I am the same way. And I sense it even at work, I sense it bleeding over into impatience with people at work, and having much less tolerance during that time. A lot less tolerance. I’ve found I have a lot less patience, and I’m a lot less diplomatic than I used to be. I would try to—never manipulate people, I’d never try to manipulate people, that’s not the way to approach people and be respectful– but I would try and be smoother about it, more diplomatic about things. And now when people or situations bother me I’m just much more straightforward and definitive. I’m just not going to put up with shit. I love Crone-land—wish I’d visited Crone-land a long time ago! But I think that it’s been interesting to see people’s reaction to me, like I didn’t know you had that in you, or I never heard you talk like that before. And again, with the chicken-and-egg, I don’t know if that’s peri-menopause, or if that’s just the incredibly fucked-up situation at work, but I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of the two. And at any given time it could be a different cocktail, a different percentage of orange juice versus gin– I don’t know. But definitely there’s been a shift in the way I approach stressful situations.

The reason I divorced myself physically from sex, or tried to shut that part of my mind down, wasn’t even necessarily… I had been married before, and I had had a very passionate affair with a guy—Tantric Steve—and I really didn’t like doing that. Having an affair, the affair, is so contrary to who I want to be. To do that to my husband at the time was so utterly disrespectful, even though I do feel like this man was the one, he could have been the one—Tantric aside, he could have been the one for many reasons. But I didn’t want to go there, I felt like if I’m not getting it from my husband, I don’t want it from that. I would rather just shut that down. I’m overweight and now I feel pretty ready to shed it all, literally and figuratively, and get back in the game. Not including my daughter, I want to have my own life back too. It’s a good example to set. And I think she sees that I do a lot of things for myself. I stay at work late, I do different volunteer efforts outside of the job, there are different organizations that I belong to… But she doesn’t see me in a romantic relationship or a sexual relationship, and I think that would be important for her to model. She has some really good models for that kind of a relationship in her life, but I think it would be interesting for her to see me as that as well. And my mother did that, she remarried after several years, and it was good to see my mom in a relationship that was not my dad.

I think there’s so much emphasis on youthfulness and youthful energy and youthful sexuality. I don’t want to be that real-housewife type of person. Once I said to someone that I was in peri-menopause and they said whoa!—that’s brave! And I said what do you mean, that’s brave? It’s the truth. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or shocked at. I think it’s really sad that we have to hide that. I was in a meeting and I said and that’ll be my 50th birthday, and again people sort of did the same thing—wow—50—I can’t believe you just admitted you’re going to be 50! Well that’s fucked up. That is seriously fucked-up. We’ve got to know and remind ourselves and everyone around us that every phase of our life is important and valid and should be celebrated.

My daughter and I were just having a conversation about the fact that at this point I realize that you are starting to have these thoughts, and you think you’re the first person to have these thoughts, and you’re thinking if only mom realized, or if only my teacher or these other adults realized… but we do realize, it’s not a new thing. And it was a very positive conversation, and it was exactly like leading into this idea of the fact that at all these different stages in life you just start feeling better and better. I don’t mourn my menstrual cycle by any stretch—I’m really excited to see what comes next. And I don’t think that not being reproductively viable is going to define me and suddenly I’m tossed out by the people I love or the people I care about. I just wish everybody would feel like that. There should be some sort of Crone celebration. When a girl gets her period, life things like that, shouldn’t there be some sort of an it’s-been-six-months-and-I-haven’t-had-a-period party? Maybe we all ought to start doing that. I will say though, when I was pregnant with Annie, and I could feel her moving around, and it was so alive, after she was born I felt so dead inside, I just felt like oh, right, there’s nothing in there alive anymore. But she’s out here so that’s all the better. But I can’t imagine mourning my period, because I just keep getting better and better in the ways I want to get better and better.

It has spurred me to talk to other women more, because we haven’t really sat down and talked about it as anything like, it’s already been there for you, I’m a couple of years in… that kind of thing. My sister, who’s a year-and-half behind me, who’s married to a man who is 10 years younger, that’ll be a whole different perspective for her. And then my sister who’s 5 years younger than I am will be beginning this whole process too, soon. So, yeah, let’s sit down and talk, and maybe even bring our girls into the conversation. What else would be interesting would be to sit down with a mother and daughter, it would be powerful to have a family setting, to see how your upbringing affects things. My sisters and I have a lot of thoughts in common—we see the world, for the most part, very similarly. But it would be interesting to see if a family dynamic exists somewhere that would influence that response too.

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