Well, I had to say something about September being National Menopause Awareness Month but the news really played into my hands…
Every woman is born with a set number of eggs, when you run out of them, that’s when menopause happens. I’ve always thought that was something of an amazing statement: you expend all the eggs and then you are done, free to go about your business as a non-reproductive creature but, unlike almost all other animals, birds, fish, insects and so on, you are not going to die right away—not unless you get some disease. In fact, you may have three or four decades to go in this liberated condition. There are only two other creatures currently known to survive more than a year or two after menopause: pilot whales and killer whales. It’s a rare gift from evolution and, for some reason, we got it.
Yesterday I saw an article about a 72-year-old woman in India giving birth after two years of fertility treatments. She is not the first but she is an extreme case. (Here’s the LINK) This new treatment is being designed for women who are more recently post-menopausal. Last month a Greek scientific research team announced that they had been able to prevent menopause by injecting platelet-rich plasma into women’s ovaries. There has been other work leading towards this—a U.S. research group announced in 2010 that they had found a way to stimulate new ovarian follicles to produce additional eggs.
Even the idea of this makes me borderline angry. I don’t want to go all “natural order of things” over this, but it seems so ignorant, so male-manufactured—a sort of companion piece to Viagra only with unknown and possibly worse consequences.
It feels less like an option and more like pressure to stay youthful. More grounds for perpetuating competition among women—particularly heterosexual women on whom beauty can be an onerous burden. Instead of repeating plastic surgery to the point that you look like a cross between a kabuki actor and a chipmunk, you trudge on through the rounds of PMS, periods, birth control and all that female crap. No rest for the weary. And, by the way, it will not make you immortal. (Note to Big Science—I don’t want that either.)
Remember the movie, “Something’s Gotta Give,” with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton? When they finally went to bed she explained to him that they didn’t need contraceptives. He realized what a plus that was. It is. So instead of this boon, you could get pregnant in late middle age or even early old age. How irresponsible. What kind of a mother would you be? A wealthy one, I hope, because you are likely to be too busy and tired to cope 24/7. Yes, I do know women who are raising their grandchildren and who are still doing it in their sixties, but usually they are no longer working and always need as much help as they can get from extended family and/or paid help.
Further, male or female, there’s a statistical curve that shows a large group of people dying between the ages of 55-65—if you make it to 70, it’s a probability that you will reach 85, but you have to get through the thicket of late middle-age diseases intact. So there’s your child, orphaned very young. Not good.
This “Say no to menopause” thing seems like a religious conspiracy (no sex without reproduction), or an ego trip—whose, I’m not sure. Is the new normal going to be, “I’m waiting until I retire to have kids?”
Here’s what I have to say: Do not miss out on menopause. It’s a gift. It’s not about sex; it’s about mommy-mind. The state of your brain on estrogen that made you so damn nurturing and nice also made you okay with putting your needs second or fifth, and not always for good reasons. I don’t mean staying with a batterer or giving up the biggest steak at dinner or driving the older car, but giving away your life to others on a daily basis. You set your needs aside not just for your kids or your husband, but too often for your boss, your co-workers, and complete strangers. There were times when you absorbed stress so others wouldn’t lose it. When you quietly got the job done and smiled when someone else got the credit. When you did the shopping, the laundry, made the lunches, and still got to work early. There are all those times when you made or managed peace among fractious co-workers, family members, and neighbors.
It’s not a bad thing to be seriously unselfish; it’s what matures women differently from men. You learn a lot about yourself and others doing it. You learn about diplomacy and the impact of random acts of kindness. You are not plagued by testosterone and driven to verbal contention or bar fights. The number of men who tell me that they enjoy a bout of fisticuffs with a stranger or even a best friend amazes me. Clearly, it’s why women are in charge of culture and men are in charge of war. It’s why we need female leaders (I vote for Michelle Obama), because the world is now a crazier place than it was just a few decades ago and we need cohorts of peacemakers.
But that is not all there is to life. During menopause women tend to lose some of their niceness and the rage of decades may boil up. Women often find themselves in what seems like a very natural shift that causes them to change jobs, get divorced, or move to a calmer place. Irritation, usually mental but sometimes palpably physical, makes the world suddenly sharper because the soothing quality of estrogen has worn off.
It can be an ugly stage of life. Women often dread it and most can’t wait for it to end. There’s depression and irritation, anger and frustration. For some it gets so bad that the thought of suicide is the only option. Others are afraid they are going crazy. Loyal partners walk on eggshells. There’s a sudden sense of mortality—a wake up call. This is it! The downward slope! Yikes!
It is indeed a rite of passage, and often a lonely learning experience. But after it’s over there’s something else. Women talk about the brain fog lifting and their own rise to a state of clarity. They don’t become fierce Amazons, instead they find they have learned how to better say no, to everyone’s benefit including their own. Not all that well-meaning agreeability was truly helpful. Some of it simply enabled detrimental behavior in others. Those good intentions that pave the road to hell are later listed among regrets.
You incur less remorse when you have the clarity and experience to think several chess moves ahead. Remember how you were at 10 or 12 years old? Smarter than the boys, clear about what you wanted, dubious about the benefits of puberty? It seems like the minute you were mature enough to stay home alone those damn hormones had kicked in. When you did stay home the Barbie dolls were gone and there was a boy with a hard-on sitting on your mom’s sofa. In a shift of which you were barely aware, you became caught up in the biological urge for mating and reproduction to the point where your grades dropped and you spent too much time distracted by preening rituals and sexual discovery.
But in menopause, or rather after it’s over, you have all the pieces once more—you can make choices about sex, your body, and your mind. You aren’t looking after everyone so much. You don’t have to be selfish but you can now stay home alone and write a novel, or go get a degree in Theology, volunteer at a museum, or make plans to climb K2. If you love kids, there’s no need to make any more of your own—millions are out there, desperate for love, clothes, and schools. You can choose who you would like to help and do so in small or major ways. This is your time of discovery—go do it!
The post-menopausal years are ours, finally, to do what we want with our lives. They are a gift. Don’t let anyone rip them out of your warm, living hands.