Yes, I am menopausal. When is somebody going to throw me a party?
Written by: Nicky Pellegrino
OPINION: Every girl remembers her first bra.
Mine was a stretchy piece of fabric covered in Disney cartoons, more than adequate to contain the nascent swellings I was excited to see appearing on my chest.
When a girl becomes a woman, it is a time for celebration. Then, several years down the track, when her body performs more miracles – pregnancy, childbirth, new life – there is a joyful burst of warm wishes, baby showers, push presents and congratulations.
Later in life, when a woman’s body reaches another of its big milestones, it is considered better form not to mention it. Nobody congratulates you on becoming menopausal. Mid-hot flush, no-one rushes up and places a hand on your fevered brow, murmuring, “Ah how lovely, is this your first?” Certainly, no-one throws you a party.
My mother’s generation didn’t even like to say the word menopause. They called it “the change”, or “that time of life”, whispering as if it wasn’t quite nice. When I asked my own mother how it had been for her, assuming my own experience was going be similar, she claimed she couldn’t really remember.
I mean seriously, oestrogen is leaching from your system, your ovaries are shutting up shop and you’re hot, sweaty, angry, sad, anxious, bone-tired, fatter, vaguer, sleepless – possibly all those things at once – and you’re going to forget it?
Perhaps the reason women prefer to keep being menopausal on the down low, is it is a sign we are getting older. And, even in these enlightened times when it is fine to be as non-binary and sexually free-ranging as you like, it is not really OK to be old. Age is the last bastion of discrimination.
Maybe we haven’t quite shaken free of the old-fashioned idea that when a woman is no longer fertile she has outlived her usefulness and should shuffle off into invisibility. That is a depressing thought; particularly as modern life expectancy means a menopausal woman might still have 30 years ahead of her (fun fact: it is only us and killer whales that live decades after menopause).
It unsettles us when women in mid-life refuse to conform. Our hair is supposed to be cut into a neat bob (the other night I caught up with a bunch of girlfriends and we all had the exact same hairstyle). Clothes are meant to be modest, covering knees, upper arms and definitely cleavage. Please don’t to try to be sexy. When Madonna appeared on The Graham Norton Show recently wearing a corset and an eye patch, the social media fall-out was telling. Here is a woman who has dared to push the boundaries her whole life, yet past 60 she was meant to show up in a winceyette twin-set and play nicely.
There is no reason why life should be over, just because you no longer have to shop for tampons. Post-menopausal women-run countries and businesses, they act in hit Hollywood movies, write award-winning books, crash through glass ceilings and are on top of their game. Once done with your fertility, things can actually be better. Film-maker Gaylene Preston told me she experienced what she calls “the post-menopausal zap”; a surge of energy once her hormones had settled down that led to her most creatively fulfilling time.
Of course, those hormones do have to settle down and that process isn’t necessarily quick or easy. Trigger warning here for young women who may not want to know: everything they ever told you about menopause turns out to be barely half of it. If you go onto the dark web – well, OK menopause chat-rooms and forums – you’ll find out the truth. Women who have 15 years of hot flushes, who can’t drink wine or coffee anymore – and never leave the house without a battery-powered fan in their handbag. Women who think they are going mad. The ones who end up at a cardiologist because their heart is doing crazy stuff – full disclosure that was me, but no-one tells you about the pounding and palpitations that can accompany a hot flush, and it is really freaky.
Thank goodness for those secret menopause Facebook groups with women sharing tips and tricks. At least finally we are talking about it, even if we haven’t got to the stage of celebrating the milestone yet.
And really we ought to celebrate menopausal women because while this extraordinary hormonal storm is raging inside us we carry on gliding through life. Many women still have kids at home, elderly parents to care for, challenging careers. Life is super-busy while we are sweaty and sleepless, hot, angry and sad, fatter and fatigued.
So let’s just put this out there right now, shall we? Yes, I am menopausal. When is somebody going to throw me a party?
* Nicky Pellegrino is a journalist and the author of 11 best-selling novels.