A Woman of a Certain Age

Periods suck, and I am happy to be well on my way to leaving them behind permanently. It’s been 170 days since my last period – I always feel like I’m in some kind of program when I say that – by far my longest stretch, and one that I’m hoping holds for forever.

I have to say, though, that when I share my hopes with women who are at the same stage in life as I am, or whom have already reached menopause, I find their reactions … disheartening. It’s consistently a variation of “Be careful what you wish for,” often (though not always) delivered in a condescending tone. I honestly don’t get why they take that tack, or what their endgame is.

This type of response doesn’t take into account the other person’s experiences with menstruating. Periods suck, but just how they suck varies widely from person to person, and to imply that menopause is automatically going to be worse than whatever level of suck someone’s been experiencing for decades is a hell of an assumption.

My personal suck, for example, has been a wonderful combination of heavy flow and clotting. How heavy? Well, once when travelling with a friend, when she saw the number of pads packed in my suitcase, she told me they would last her three months. Less than a week later, I’d run out.

I’m also unable to use tampons or cups, and have lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up in a bed that looks like a murder scene, only to leave a bloody trail on the floor when trudging to the bathroom to get cleaned up, then ruining a towel or three by throwing them on the bed rather than changing the sheets because it’s the middle of the fucking night and I need to get back to sleep.

That’s just my own personal suck. I’m lucky in other respects – my cramps are slight, I don’t bloat much, I rarely get headaches, and the period diarrhea is manageable.

But beyond the physical effects, I find the mental ones worse. See, I never wanted kids. Actually, that’s putting it too lightly. I actively dislike kids, and made very, very, very sure I would never have any. So there’s always been a part of me that’s resented menstruating at all. Perhaps that’s not the most rational of thought processes, but periods are so pointless in my case, I’ve always been extra eager to see them end. The last few years especially, I’ve gotten genuinely angry every time my period has started which, coupled with the various physical discomforts, has made me even more weary than it usually does.

How does that saying go?

Be kind,
for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

In this case, I’d change it to, “Be supportive.” But then, I guess support is a type of kindness.

If the first part of what I don’t understand about their reaction is the dismissal of others’ experiences, the second part is what they expect to accomplish.

Menopause is inevitable. But it’s not inevitably awful. So why build it up as such?

It reminds me of when I had my first cavity. I was nearly twenty years old, and the evening before the appointment for my filling, I got regaled with horror stories of pain and botched work from my parents and some of their friends who had come over for dinner. (Perhaps related, the husband of the couple visiting had terrible teeth because he was afraid to go to the dentist.) I still remember my father telling me that the needle for the freezing, ” … feels like it’s coming out the other side of your jaw.”

Like, what’s the point? Why try to instill fear? Even at that age, I didn’t get it, and their stories didn’t affect me. I got the filling with no fuss, the needle was just a needle, and to this day I’m so comfortable with dental work that I generally opt to go freezing-free unless the dentist says they can’t do the work without it.

Back to menopause, “Be careful what you wish for,” implies that I’m making my comment from an uninformed position. It’s infantalizing. Sure, there are people who don’t know about their bodies, but I don’t find that women who respond with this phrase take the time to find out if the person they’re talking to fall into that category. Nor do they offer it as a launch point for a teaching moment, but rather as a generalized statement.

When I first started getting my period, it was a taboo subject. I remember showing my mother my stained underwear, and she rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Welcome to the club.” At that time, pads that affixed to the underwear with adhesive were very new. I started off with the kind that were instead wrapped with gauze, the tail ends of which got wrapped around an elastic belt that encircled the waist. My mother gave me one of her elastic belts – used for years and badly stained because it had never been washed – and a box full of pads, and that was it.

Fortunately, periods aren’t quite so verboten anymore. No, society’s by no means perfect in terms of its acceptance of this natural biological function, but it’s far better than it used to be.

Menopause, though? Menopause is still pretty off-limits, especially when one is challenging the accepted narrative.

For example, I’m loving the hot flashes. I’ve had poor circulation my entire life, and have often struggled to sleep because when I’m at rest, my feet get so cold it’s painful and wakes me up. That hasn’t happened since my interior temperature regulation has gone wonky, and I’m more than happy to be constantly donning and removing a sweater over and over again when I’m awake because it also means I’ll be comfortable when I’m asleep.

When I tell other women this, they’re appalled, and insist that it will get worse and I’ll change my mind once I’m having real hot flashes. And sure, maybe it will. But maybe it won’t. I don’t see why it matters in the here and now.

It appears that, to many women, declaring their own experience as the only ‘real’ one is more important than being supportive of others. That makes me sad – it seems such a narrow and rigid way to live. Personally, I think our world would be better if, instead of insisting we all need to share a monolithic view, we simply accepted each others’ truths about our bodies and the way they change during the aging process.

One thought

  1. I’m another one whose experience with menopause has been pretty good. I’m cold a lot of the time, and I would have real trouble getting to sleep because my internal thermostat would shift, I’d go from cold to freezing, and I can’t get to sleep until I’m all the way warm. So I’d lie there and shiver until the bed had finally warmed up enough. For me, hot flashes were more like normal flashes. Having one means that I could go from three blankets down to just one. And turn off the heating pad even. During the day it might mean I could take my hat off. The lack of periods has been a huge relief, and even though I never had the problems that you did, they were still pretty miserable, with nasty cramps. Having children improved that some, but not enough.

    I know a young person who got a Norplant, and her periods almost completely stopped, for several years. What a lovely side effect.

    Liked by 1 person

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