OK, so life goes barreling on and you might as well forget what you were planning, since it’s not like you have any control. Today, for example, I realized I have a new calling. I’m a menopause coach.
(Hey! Is it my imagination — or have I just lost my entire male audience with that last sentence? Just wondering.)
Anyway, I was having lunch with a friend who’s several years younger and is about to undergo a hysterectomy. She didn’t know why, exactly, she was feeling emotional about the whole thing.
It made perfect sense to me. I’ve been through it all — minus the hysterectomy — more than a decade ago. “Gee,” my gynecologist said, at the time, “I’ve never seen anybody’s hormone levels fall as fast as yours.”
Well, I’m sure he meant it as a compliment. I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff and crashed to the bottom faster than anyone else in recent history. It’s not exactly one of those races you want to win.
But, there you are. You’re somebody new. After all those years of worrying about pregnancy — this time? this month? — and being defined by your feminine protection brand and your fertility, all of a sudden, you’re not. Which means: Who the hell are you?
My husband and I hadn’t wanted any more children. I’d never been particularly sentimental about periods or their symbolism — until they stopped. Why was it, however briefly, so wrenching?
Because, I think, you’ve lost the possibility you had lived with for most of your life — and even if you didn’t want it any longer, you missed it when it was gone. You’ve lost a sense of your identity and your youth. You’re in a strange, new land, and it’s a land you never really wanted to hear about. I mean, did you really want to hear your mother’s stories about menopause and mood swings and hot flashes? I wanted to die the one or two times my mother mentioned it. I was, like most of the world, an unsympathetic audience. Who wanted to hear a story about an aging woman?
Maybe it’s all changed, but I doubt it. None of us wants to talk about aging till we have to. And, if we do, we probably don’t want to talk about it with our own mothers.
But maybe it’s different, less threatening, with a friend. So my friend and I talked about freedom from feminine hygiene products and cramps and messes and PMS, and about wearing white whenever you feel like it and never worrying about being pregnant again. And how, after awhile, you don’t even miss it — any of it. It’s like something that happened to somebody else, something like youth itself that came and went and disappeared so completely you could almost swear you just imagined it.
After suffering that loss, what happens later is amazing. You’re still whole. In fact, you may come to believe that you’re as whole and complete as you’ve ever been in your life.
I wouldn’t have believed my mother if she’d told me that. It’s one of those things you have to find out for yourself.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)