One day you wake up and realise it’s been months since your last period. Am I pregnant at 40-something? The frantic realisation of a life (and a lifestyle) turned upside-down is followed by the realisation that perhaps a trip to the GP would be best.
Blood tests reveal you won’t be a 60-something parent at your child’s twenty-first. In fact, you won’t be a parent full-stop.
Not that menopause is a full-stop by any means. My life is full. Overflowing, even. I’ve never felt the so-called burning desire to be a parent, dispelling the “biological clock” as a patriarchal myth.
I was, in fact, relieved to have come through a divorce child-free, having to care only for my own emotional fragility, not that of a small person forever divided between warring factions (because it’s not just two people, it never is). Perhaps if I had met the right person earlier, I would muse. But, no. It was never on my radar – and in one swift blow from my GP, I learned it never will be.
“You’re going through what we call the ‘dying swan’ phase,” she said.
Yep, she. How a woman can refer to another woman as the sum of her reproductive parts is baffling. I changed GPs. My new practitioner was stunned at the description used by her peer. But I digress.
No-one tells you how you’re going to feel about The Change (note use of capitalisation, implying a sense of impending doom). Sure, it will be great to never be caught out at a gig with no tampons in your disco purse. And okay, if I use the term ‘disco purse’ I’m clearly closer to menopause than child-bearing age.
Spending two days a month on anti-inflammatories, second-guessing your PMT symptoms and crying at the drop of a hat is no picnic. But it was my picnic. It was part of the cut and thrust of my life; certainties that once a month-ish I would curl up on the couch with two Naprogesic and a glass of wine (kids, do not try this at home).
There haven’t been a lot of constants in my life and this was a routine – not necessarily a comfortable one, but one that ironically provided a familiar circuit break every 28 days.
Being told you have firmly entered the next biological stage of life shouldn’t matter. I have a dream job, wonderful friends, a great relationship and shared dreams for the future with a beautiful person. I don’t ache for the children I will never have. So why am I not purely relieved to have left the mess and the aches behind me?
Why the sense of dread about my next birthday and ticking a different box on my next census form?
For many women, entering menopause is the first, visceral realisation of ageing. For the child-free, self-denial of the ability to party all night comes only to an end only when your hangovers get longer and your ability to survive on minimal sleep evaporates.
This self-awareness comes with pregnancy and motherhood (nothing like being denied more than two consecutive hours’ sleep to make you yearn for eternal youth). We once danced until dawn and then went to work. Being child-free and sleeping in on Sunday mornings before meeting child-rearing friends for brunch, where they plunge face-first into vats of coffee to fight the sleep-deprivation, certainly had its perks (mind the pun). My age-awareness hit me like a freight train the day I became the dying swan in the eyes of my GP.
Though the average age for Australian women is 51, premature menopause can happen before you turn 40. Most of us experience the hot flushes and mood swings that accompany hormonal change between 45 and 55. Nobody talks about it – is this because menopausal women are too busy caring for children, aging parents and, dare I say it, grandchildren for self-indulgent blog posts? Or is it more a product of society’s obsession with youth as the epitome of beauty? I sweat buckets every night. I have heightened-intensity responses to situations, stories and Kleenex commercials.
It’s not a mid-life crisis, I had that in my thirties (I’ve always been an early bloomer). It’s a period of acceptance (menopausal pun or ‘dry’ wit?) It’s lack of anticipation, preparation and familiarity that makes it hard to navigate through the symptoms and eventualities. If we could read more about others’ experiences (and I’m not talking about Dr Google here), it might help us know What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting.
Twenty years of ballet lessons taught me a few things. One; standing on your toes looks graceful but it bloody hurts. Two; the dying swan is the main act.
On my 46th birthday tomorrow I’ll be raising a glass to my next chapter – and heading out with a small purse.