“Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.” –Mark Twain
*Disclaimer: This post contains gender-specific and hormone-related information. It is intended for mature readers only. Men are not discouraged from reading this educational material if so desired. Mild sexual references included. Proceed at your own will. You have been warned…
We remember it clearly, as I am sure most women of our generation do: In the fifth grade, the girls and boys were separated, and taken to separate rooms. We were given “The Talk,” the one about how our bodies, if they hadn’t already started to do so, would soon be changing. We would soon leave childhood behind, and become young women.
I recall having learning most of it already, probably mostly from Mom, but perhaps some from Gail, too. She was always–and still is–a good teacher. It didn’t blow my mind as much as the other “talk” did, the one about the birds and the bees. That came directly from Mom. I swore I would never do that. Gross.
I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I am 99% sure this is the book all the girls in my class were given after that lesson:
I didn’t save it, I doubt any of us did. With a little digging, I found an image of it online. If any of my hometown homies can corroborate or correct me, I would welcome that.
So there it was, spelled out in words and pictures, as well as spoken to us, likely from the school nurse. We left that room forever changed, and waiting for those changes, if they hadn’t already happened. We were told to welcome the beginning of fertility, because, as women, it was our destiny.
Having learned to drive already on the farm, I still had to take driver’s ed to make it official. It was June after my 8th grade year. That’s when I became that woman I was destined to be. If you had told me then that I would get to deal with that nearly every month for 39 years, it likely wouldn’t have sunk in. Looking back, however, that is a long time to deal with that, and a small fortune spent on “feminine products.”
Now, on the other side of the hump, I have one huge, glaring question: Why weren’t pre-menopausal women once again separated from the boys, and taken aside several years before “The Change,” ushered into a private little room, and given another “Talk” on what was coming down the pike for us as we exited our fertile years? Why didn’t they give us another handy little handbook? They told us what to expect when we got on that bus, so why not let us know the hell that may await as we try, perhaps for several years, to get off that bus?
That’s not fair.
I learned very little about that in a structured form, mostly hearsay from the women who blazed that trail before me. I chose to educate myself during the process to save my sanity, but I truly had no idea what was coming.
Now, I understand this was my unique experience, and mine alone. While many women like me struggled, others, like, say, Gail, didn’t. To quote her directly, this is her summary, given to me earlier today: “As for hot flashes, I may have had them, but was deep in the throes of donut-making in a hot kitchen, so who knows?”
I’m here to tell you, if she had hot flashed like I did–and still do, she would know it. Normally one to welcome the scorching summer heat, I have welcomed the sub-zero temps the last few winters. Rushing outside in these temps was instant, welcome, blessed relief when that sudden inferno started up deep within my core. As the name implies, it is indeed a flash, lasting perhaps a few minutes, and not to be confused with the heat of a fever, or a blast from a hot oven, or the heat from the sweltering sun. It is like no other feeling of heat. It begins deep in the core, and radiates outward, perhaps complete with sweat.
I recently had a retired physician as a home health patient. His house was already hot, and the flash hit me. I began to suddenly and visibly sweat, and I had to remove my top layer–dressing in layers when possible helps me. It was obvious to him that something was amiss, so I simply and honestly said, “I’m sorry, hot flash. I’m sure you understand.” He did.
It’s difficult to hide a flash when it is so intense, and my husband and sons are used to me running outside or tearing off a layer or throwing off the covers. Last summer, when we were the only ones home, my husband and I were on the back porch near the above-ground pool. The flash flashed, and I didn’t hesitate: I simply tore all my clothes off and quickly threw myself into the pool for blessed and instant relief. Whatever it takes.
Then, there’s the little matter of sleep. While Suzanne struggles because she doesn’t have a thyroid, and Gail can subsist on next to no sleep, my sleep needs are extreme. As in, at least eight hours a night. And that means good sleep. Unfortunately, my sleep is often interrupted by hot flashes–which, brutally, become worse at night, and by the 3 a.m. wide-awake spells, which may last for several hours. Mercifully, to combat that, I have discovered three magic letters: CBD. That’s all I have to say about that.
And, just in case anyone on the other side of my bed doesn’t understand how important sleep is to me, I have made it abundantly clear with informational plaque on the headboard.
The roller-coaster mood rides deserve an honorable mention as well; they are similar to those I felt when I entered fertility. They have smoothed out, they feel much like a kiddie roller-coaster now. I have heard it said that if you struggle going into fertility, you will likely struggle coming out. This has been true for me. Not so much for Gail, because, as you may already know, not much gets her down. Suzanne seems to coast along, too.
And we can’t forget the bladder. Tucked neatly in front of the uterus, it is subjected to the whims of the womb. Like two siblings in the back seat of the car, one may put just enough physical pressure on the other to make it a big deal to cry about. And the bladder does cry. As in…“take me to the bathroom AGAIN! And again, and again.
Having just given you the litany of the hormonal hell that I have lived through, and that other women may find themselves in, let me assure anyone struggling through, or yet to struggle through, with this affirmation: It’s all worth it.
Lucky for me, I was the one-in-five women who are rewarded with larger breasts during menopause. My girls, while they sustained two babies, finally appear to have reached puberty. Suzanne’s daughter asked her quietly, not long ago, “Did Kathleen get a boob job?” Nope. Just menopause. Sometimes a “B” really is better than an “A.”
While the hot flashes still plague me off and on, I feel I have emerged into the other side, the beautiful, post-menopausal green meadow with butterflies and wildflowers. The land of Act Two. The time and space to be the next woman I was destined to be. The chemical messengers known as hormones have relaxed, knowing their job with me is reduced to part-time. They have given me a break, and I am grateful for that.
Suzanne, quite simply, says she doesn’t want to grow up, so her contributions to this post are limited. She tells me today that she was absent that day in fifth grade when they had “the talk.” She came back to find the little book in her desk. So, she says, she has exempted herself from any suffering, because, she had no information, then, or now. Gail, however, has always been the wise one to me, so perhaps she didn’t have to wait for the autumn of her life to feel like a wise woman.
She relishes her role as grandmother, adding that these three boys are the best part of aging for her:
While I can claim no genetic contribution to the charm and irresistibility of my stepson’s children, they have indeed added a new and exciting dimension to our lives:
Perhaps the best part of this phase of life are the hard lessons learned all along and put to work now, because we can see aging as the gift it is. My hair, while normally straight, has began its own wave in the recent years. I now have a whole new appreciation for hairpins. I hesitated with the following picture, because, well, not only can you see the wave and the gray, but you can see the wrinkles around my eyes and on my neck, but I have earned them, and they are my badges of honor. I wouldn’t trade them for the wisdom I gained getting them. Gail only has a few gray hairs, and plans to let the rest come in gray as well. It is all part of the process.
While I haven’t yet sworn off of coloring my hair again just a bit to cover the gray, I am inspired by two beautiful women who chose to embrace the glory of aging, complete with gray hair.
Chris, my neighbor-friend, always had the most gorgeous brown hair to frame her beautiful face. During the shut-down in the spring of 2020, she decided to take hair matters into her own hands, and shave it all off. She was recently retired, and, she tells me, she could be incognito in the grocery store with her bald head and a mask, because it was her only outing. Clearly, she remains radiant with gray hair–if not more so than with her brown hair.
Shari, my friend of 50 years, has embraced the beauty of gray as well. Like Chris, her beauty shines through, no matter what the hair color.
Perhaps the greatest gift of life after fertility is the sure knowledge that we have the power to make choices about our lives. We can surround ourselves only with those people, places and situations that bring us joy, and leave the others behind. We realize more fully that we can decide what works for us and what doesn’t, and let any negative energy from others roll off our backs. Except for the fraction of the population who could be classified as sociopathic, and truly wants to cause harm to others, we realize that everyone else, just like we are, is simply trying to do what works for them. If it happens to offend or hurt us, that likely wasn’t their intention. We are all just trying to cover our own bases and our asses, and in that process, sometimes feelings are hurt.
It is for them, not against you.
Sharing the indomitable wisdom of Helen Reddy: “Yes, we’re wise, but it’s wisdom born of pain.” Most of that pain can be over if we let it go. It’s our choice, and if you haven’t already, it’s probably time to do so.
WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR