Grumpy old lady
My journey through menopause
My doctor’s office is cold. Much more so when you have been in the nude for almost half an hour, a piece of paper in the form of a gown barely covering your nether regions. You try to wrap yourself in the noisy material like a burrito, but it’s useless against the icy air coming out of the vent above your head.
Finally, a knock on the door is followed by his usual greeting and his Mona Lisa smile.
“Good morning, girl. How are you feeling today?” He has called me girl since I started seeing him, so many years ago I’ve lost count. It has never bothered me; I take it as a term of endearment, and I imagine he refers to his other patients in the same way.
“Good,” I answer, laying down in the examination table. I have something else to share, but I wait for his next question.
“Last time I saw you was last year. Everything ok since then?”
“Yes, hmmm, except that my last period was in February.” It was already June.
He smiles, this time fully. “And could it be that there’s a little something going on in there?” he says, pointing at my belly. He’s messing with me. He knows I left the pill a few years before, after using it for over 20. He also knows of my decision not to have children.
Following on his jest, I place my hand on my chest and raise my eyebrows. “Doctor, if I’m pregnant at 47, I could die, right here. Dead.”
But I knew there was nothing there. When I missed my period in March, I took a pregnancy test and had been taking one each month with no period. I wasn’t pregnant. I knew what this was. So did he.
“Let me do your check-up and then we’ll draw some blood for a hormone test, ok?”
I nod. He calls the nurse in.
My night sweats started in my mid-thirties. Every so often, I would wake up in the middle of the night as if someone had thrown a bucket of warm water while I was fast asleep. I pinned it down to sleeping with a thick cover and socks, and never gave it much thought. My husband would joke that I ran hot at night. Laying in the doctor’s office while he examines me, I register that was the beginning of the end, my body alerting me that, if I wanted to change my mind about kids, I had to do it fast.
“We’ll call you next week with the results,” the doctor tells me before leaving the examination room. I thank him and the nurse, shoving them out with my mind so I can get dressed and get out of that damn freezer.
My phone vibrates while I’m in a meeting. The screen shows the doctor’s name, and I excuse myself with a “I need to take this”. We are wrapping up anyway, and it’s not like we’re trying to figure out how to solve the world’s hunger.
I wait to be outside, away from other ears, before picking up. After the pleasantries, the doctor goes straight to the point.
“Your estrogen levels are definitively down. However, we can’t call it menopause until you spend 12 months without periods. Keep using some sort of contraceptive in the meantime so there are no surprises.”
There it was. That dreaded word. Menopause. A word that, in my head, formed the image of grumpy old ladies, with light mustaches and big bellies, with a bunch of cats and blue hair. A word that threw in my face the fact that the time to change my mind was over. My reproductive years were done.
For a minute, my heart sank. I felt as if the title of woman had been stripped out from me, as if I had no choice but to accept I was an old lady with nothing left to give.
But that minute lasted like 30 seconds. I realized I was thinking of my grandma, of a time when having children was expected, almost mandatory. I have lived my life with the conviction that being a mother is a woman’s choice, not her purpose, so what did it matter if I couldn’t have kids anymore? Hadn’t that been my decision since I was a teenager? It’s true that after getting married we had toyed with the idea of a family, but as years passed, we recognized we didn’t need children to be one. Not having a period didn’t make me less of a woman; it actually opened the door to become a more fulfilled one.
It’s been three years since that moment and, like on every path, I’ve seen beautiful scenery, and there have been times when my feet have become entangled with roots and rocks.
I think what has bothered me the most is the hot flashes and the bouts of anxiety that precede them. I don’t know if one causes the other, but I know that a hot flash is approaching when I feel the boulder on my chest and my stomach fluttering. In her Not Normal special, Wanda Sykes says “when you get older — no more eggs — you can’t bring any more life into the world, so they just set you on fire.” That’s exactly how it feels. Out of nowhere, you start sweating as if you were in Death Valley, and to make it more fun, mine comes with a side of doom.
But then there are the benefits of not having a period. Not having to endure the cramps, the bloating, the headaches, the occasional accidents because it arrived sooner than you expected. Not having to remember if you took the pill, or hold your breath while waiting for the lines to appear in that pregnancy test because it arrived later than you expected. Sex during menopause gets to be more spontaneous and freeing.
Yes, my skin now needs more hydration so it doesn’t feel like paper sand. Yes, I need to wax my face more often to keep that light mustache, and potential beard, away. And yes, there’s a layer of fat on my belly, legs, and arms that takes a lot of exercise and healthy eating to keep in check. But despite all that, or maybe because of it, I feel like my body is finally mine. I walk around with confidence, my head held high, as if I had finally arrived to where I was supposed to be.
I can’t deny there are days where I have to meditate longer to bring some quiet to my mind, where I want to stay in bed, curled up under my covers, with my emotions wrapped in a paper gown under an icy vent, but those are few and far between. I’ve found menopause to be a journey you take day by day. I’m still not an old lady, and I’m far from becoming one, even though I dyed my hair blue, and I have less patience, especially for bullshit. There’s still a lot for me to give, to do, to experience. Menopause is not the end. It’s just the beginning of a new, and wonderful, phase in life.