aging · menopause

Menopause can be boring or dramatically awful or something in between

Note: I was busy drafting this post thinking I could talk about my experiences of menopause since I haven’t had a period since the fall. Finally! I’m no longer the woman menopause forgot!  (And yes, I know it’s not officially menopause until it’s been a year. Yep.) However, between first draft and hitting “publish” I started to bleed. Of course.

Surely I can talk about peri-menopause though. And I have this to say, yawn! So far it’s pretty boring. Nothing to report here.

(Okay. There is one thing to report. I had kind of imagined the way menopause worked is that one’s periods gradually end. From 6 days a month to 4 to 2, then every second month. You know, an orderly gradually cessation of all things bloody and crampy. That’s the way it ought to be. If I ran the zoo, as Dr Seuss might say. Instead my periods went from the usual boring kind of thing to wild, extra bloody, extra crampy, and completely unpredictable. It was hard to teach and exercise was challenging and so at my doctor’s advice I got an IUD. Problem solved. Back to extra boring. And I haven’t looked back.)

Boring is not unusual for me. I remember during each pregnancy doctors rhyming off the bad symptoms associated with pregnancy: Swollen ankles? Nope. Heartburn? Nope. Backache? Nope? Basically pregnancy agreed with me and other the warm, happy, fuzzy glow there wasn’t much different about being pregnant. Other than a brief stint of morning sickness of the super convenient variety (I couldn’t cook food or do dishes. I had enough non-pukey time just to sit down and eat quickly.) I walked, biked, and exercised through pregnancy with not much to report other than obvious increase in size. Childbirth was likewise not very dramatic.

So there’s this silence around pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause–these things that some female bodies do. And sure some of it is because its “not supposed to be talked about” but some of it is also because for some of us, it’s dull. How much is there to say really?

In all of these things, it seems obvious, YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.

So when friends started sharing this piece last week–The Truth is Out There about Menopause— I was surprised. THE truth? Just one?

I didn’t comment. I just ignored it hoping it would go away.

I’m pretty good at avoiding ‘someone is wrong on the internet’ syndrome. I pick my battles.

The part of the piece I liked was about shame.

Jennifer Nadel writes, “There’s also this weird shame. There’s almost a conspiracy of silence around it because obviously being menopausal isn’t quite the same as being hot and young and nubile and sexy. To say out loud “I’m menopausal” feels like saying “I have lost my femaleness,” which obviously isn’t true, but as a result so few of us are really openly talking about it. We’re both in the same book group, and the moment we discovered that everyone else in the group was also going through it, it was just heaven. Whenever women of a certain age gather together, it’s not men or careers they want to talk about, it’s menopause.”

But I was less thrilled with the general tone of the piece which was about all the bad things associated with menopause. Again, the uniformity bugged me. Again, the misery.

Rebecca got it just right I think when she commented,

A post about menopause on a friend’s page this morning got me thinking. All my life I feel like people – very much centrally including other women – have been basically threatening me that my body is going to betray me because of its femaleness. I’ve been told how I will see, just wait for it, my body will get gross and unsexy and low-libido and shapeless and leaky and weak and painful and moody once I am pregnant, no, once I have a kid … no, once I hit 35, no 40, no really it’s once I hit perimenopause, no it’s menopause that will do me in.

I have just realized that I am angry about this. It’s like a constant onslaught of microaggressions designed to undermine my self-trust and my sense of at-homeness in my body. I think it is distinctively gendered … women are supposed to hate and fear our bodies and not trust them, so if we trust and like then well enough now, someone is always ready to tell us how temporary that is.

Now of course plenty of bodies leak and have pain and change shapes at these times and any other time, but there is nothing magical or universal about these changes. Personally, I am basically the same shape and size I was at 19, and my menstrual cycles are the same, and my functionality is the same or better; none of these scary threats has manifested so far. Lucky me, and obviously there is lots of variation, and eventually I will die like everyone else. But I am pissed at being told repeatedly to fear my body and its future, and I am pissed at being asked to orient myself towards inevitable decline, inevitable failure to count as a possible object of sexual desire, etc.

Every body is different. Childbirth and menopause and so on are not magical and they do not come along with any kind of universal shared experience. Let women enjoy their bodies, wherever they are at, in all their strengths and all their frailties and frustrations. Don’t create counterfactual or impending body shame and fear when you can’t manage to generate the actual kind. We are all gonna die eventually. In the meantime, YMMV and YOLO and all that.

Yes, yes, yes.

Also there is this in the news this week: How menopause affects athletic women.

(tl/dr version: The symptoms of menopause are less severe but your race times may be affected.)

Also, menopause seems to be something that only happens to white women with grey hair and scrunched up angry faces according to Google image search. Though I do like the “gun show” photo.

Image description: Google image search results for a search for "menopause." Lots of white white with grey hair, frowning.
Screenshot of Google image search for “menopause” Image result? Lots of white white with grey hair, frowning.

What do you think? Do you think we don’t talk enough about menopause? Do you find such conversations falsely universalizing?

13 thoughts on “Menopause can be boring or dramatically awful or something in between

  1. My body hasn’t hit that point yet (and shouldn’t for another decade or two, hopefully), but I do like Rebecca’s point about people constantly telling us not to trust our bodies. I’ve run into that in constant and silly ways–my blonde hair will get dark when I’m an adult (it hasn’t), I’ll gain weight when I pass 21 (I didn’t & haven’t), etc. Before I went on birth control, everyone warned me about the side effects, but I didn’t notice any. I could do without constant undermining of my body.

    It seems like women have chosen (been conditioned?) to use uniquely feminine experiences as misery badges. “Oh, your period/pregnancy/menopause was that bad? Well, mine was even worse!” I’d love to see that change.

  2. Menopause is certainly different for each woman. It’s good to talk about it but is it necessary to talk about loud enough across an open office work floor for 20 people hear it in the workplace for women and men? I actually don’t expect men to understand it but would expect they show empathy of their wives, mothers, etc. –the women closest to them in their personal lives and accommodate them. I don’t expect men nor other women able to do much for menopausal women in the workplace, except to lower rm. temperature or if she wishes to step outside to cool off. It’s not helpful to ascribe one’s behaviour in the workplace to menopause… then you get pegged in ageism. It’s a dangerous route when you start declaring to work colleagues your behaviour is caused by menopause.

    In all honesty, I dislike this barrage how horrible menopause is. It’s like setting yourself up in advance to expect a bad experience.

    It’s not like that for all women. There are some discomforts –even for those with small symptoms of hot flashes in morning. That’s all for me. Seriously. My period just slowly faded away for 1.5 years. I’ve discussed menopause my symptoms etc. with close female friends …for 15 min. Then we’re bored of the topic and move on.

    Honest it’s like that. Same for menstruation…talk about it for 5-10 min. maybe 1-2 times per yr. or less. Bored. Next topic. Do I talk about periods with my 4’s not taboo since I grew up with sanitary napkin boxes in closets,etc.? Maybe once or twice in all these decades. That’s not what bonds me to my sisters –having periods and menopause? Are you kidding? It’s a life lived together as children of immigrant parents. That’s what is a top of “experiences” for us and dealing with outfall of all that.

    The only exception was when a friend fainted on me when we were walking in Toronto on a hot summer day ….I found out she had severe menstruation cramps that had her in bed. She was a tough (Mennonite) woman who seldom saw doctors. I told her see the physician, etc. In the end, they discovered endometriosis.

    Sometimes it seems the overemphasis on menopause is a way for women of very diverse backgrounds to bond together, the biological things….if it weren’t for that, with some women, we would not even choose actively bond with some women at all. Nothing wrong with that…but in the end, it’s not deep. We don’t sustain friendships based on horrible menopause or menstrual experiences.

    I grew up in a household with overflowing bathroom garbage can with used feminine products..I was surrounded by womenliness…and there was my father and brother in the midst of all this. So some of this was not “hidden”, secret.

    I guess I’ll chat up about menopause with friends and sisters…if they want to. After all the topic gets…humdrum.

  3. May I add this is what aging has done for me so far also: I no longer have to shave my pits and legs…I’ve lost my hair there over 6 yrs. ago. I inherited this from my mother. It is not shared amongst all my sisters.

  4. Sam, you and I are on the same “where is MY menopause” timeline, but I’m more batted about by hormones generally I think. I’ve had peri-menopausal symptoms for about 7 years (mostly bad sleeping, night sweats in the week before my period, weird temperature regulation, and sadder sadness in the PMS time).

    That said, i love the notion that the experience is socially constructed, and how we experience it is up to us. I particularly like the resistance to the idea that our body subjects us to micro-aggressions.

    I don’t find it helpful to “fight” with my body on the changes — and I do think it’s important to frame the transition as a generative one. I sort of see this point in my life — this interstitial space between young and old — as an opportunity for reflection and priority-setting. Making peace with what is (slower running times, a need for more sleep, greater introversion) and embracing it rather than fighting it. Finding a new version of my athletic self that doesn’t feel less than because I can’t run as fast as I did when I was 32.

    1. To be clear, I did not say our body subjects us to microaggressions, or even that that is an ‘idea’ out there in need of resisting. I don’t actually think that makes any sense – the body is not an agent, and only agents can engage in microaggressions. Nor do I think it is a good or a helpful metaphor; our bodies are not our enemies, and even when they don’t do what we want, thinking of them as out to harm us or against us strikes me as counterproductive as well as inaccurate. They ARE us.

      What I said was that everyone around me, individuals and media, were assaulting me with microaggressions, trying to make me distrust and fear my body. That’s importantly different.

      1. Also I don’t think our experience is ‘up to us.’ That’s a weirdly voluntarist, individualist, and anti-materialist way of thinking about experience. I do think it is importantly socially constructed, though, of course.

      2. Yes, I got that Rebecca — sorry if that wasn’t clear — was quickly replying. I meant to say that I really like the idea that we have to resist the construction that our body is subjecting us to micro-aggressions.

  5. I don’t feel any shame talking about periods or menopause. I have an 11 year old daughter who gets her period and being matter of fact about it has been freeing. Of course, she hates it and wishes she were a boy. The unfairness.
    In my late 30s my period stopped. I thought early menopause.

    It lasted for 4 years, then I stopped starving and drinking and being generally depressed and anxious.

    Since then my period has returned and is unbelievably normal. My severe Pms is now non existent. I take a SSRI so maybe it’s helped with that. Thank god.

    My biggest issue now is birth control. I went off the pill and feel good, but, at 45, we are using withdrawal as birth control.

    I like to think I’m too old to get pregnant, but I do know better.

    I wish people had talked more about periods when I was younger. Those years of mood swings, despair and suicidal thoughts scared me. Now I know I’m not the only one.

  6. For me, the fear around menopause I inherited socially makes me want to talk about it matter-of-factly when I feel like it; I refuse to let another part of my ‘femaleness’ be something to be ashamed of or denied. That’s also a big reason I WILL NOT hide my silver hair! I am proud to be 50, fit & healthy, loving my body & my sexuality & my online dating adventures; the ‘change’ of life is just one more change in being alive

  7. I’m currently in a sex differences in exercise physiology class right now, and let me tell you, from a physiological stand point menopause is anything but boring.

  8. I’ve been in peri-menopause for 6 or so years… periods getting less periodic and predictable. No more convenient warning signs or calendar. Sometimes I go through stretches of time where I sweat at night and it interrupts my sleep. Weird hairs are growing on my chin and I’m having breakouts again. Sigh.

    Maybe because I work for myself and do contract work, I don’t talk with a lot of women about it and my clients don’t mention it to me. I certainly have never heard friends blame lapses of judgement or memory on menopause (although I have heard about pregnancy brain)… I have always thought it inappropriate to blame stupidity on hormones (or blonde hair).

    I did notice that when I had my annual physical this year, my doctor was less than knowledgeable about symptom management and birth control options… that concerns me. This is a standard medical transition. It happens to 50% of the population. It has a variety of predictable symptoms and the medical establishment should at least be able to talk about it and offer a few suggestions.

  9. Interestingly, the very day this was posted, I was at the gym and eavesdropping on the woman changing next to me who was talking loudly to her friend who was one row of lockers over. The conversation went something like “I’m going to the doctor tomorrow to have a menopause test — I think I’m having the menopause. It’s been terrible for like a MONTH! I’m hot all the time and sweating at night! If the doctor says I have the menopause I’m going to have to talk about taking some time off because I don’t know if I can handle working and this.”

    I kept quiet about my so far 5 years of night sweats and insane personal climate control. It did make me note that a) she had not trouble talking about it loudly (in a women’s locker room, to be fair); and b) despite that, she didn’t seem to have any landscape about other people’s symptoms and how her experience is “normal”

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