Period. Full Stop.
It happened all of a sudden: I missed a period. Once upon a time—okay, a very long time ago—I used to get pregnant quite easily. (In fact, a friend of mine joked that she and I almost didn’t need sexual contact, that a visual contact would do.) All joking aside, I seriously wondered if I was pregnant and bought a pregnancy test, not telling anyone as I was a bit embarrassed because of my age, which came up negative. Then a few days later I got my period.
After a time of some normalcy, I missed one month completely. I feared it was because it was a crazy period I was going through in my life that I missed my period. Again, I tried a pregnancy test. This time I asked a friend if it could be possible that I might be pregnant. She answered, unexpectedly candidly, “more likely you’re going through menopause”. To which I replied, “You’re crazy! I am too young for menopause. I am Gen-X, we are not menopausal yet! And no woman in my family had it this early.” Needless to say, I thought the chances of having something bad happening to my body was likelier than menopause. I know crazy.. Yet thinking about it I realized I actually didn’t mind that I was going into a new period in my life, namely, menopause.
This was also because I didn’t mind getting old either. I accept all the things that come with age, all the things that make life harder, like I can’t drink two days in a row. And, yes, I want to look good always, that is, always look my best. But I never want to look younger than I actually am, which is impossible anyway. You can only look very good for your age. Just so you know, everybody knows your age.
What I wanted regarding menopause, I realized, was that I wanted to glorify this event, not like a sad ending but as a happy farewell. Another thing was that I didn’t want to associate this important milestone in my life with the crazy events that were going on around that time. I didn’t ever want to think that my reproductive system was being triggered to shut down through the hurt and sadness I was experiencing. Truly, I wanted to know my last period being the last one ever I was to have, and I didn’t want that to have passed already. My wish came true, and I went back to my cycle albeit a bit irregularly, until again in my crazy travel schedule I noticed I missed it again. I went to my OBGYN/Endocrinologist who told me that while I was peri-menopausal for sure, menopause is not considered menopause unless you had 12 consecutive months without menses. Still, I said, is there anything to indicate now that I had my last period already? Puzzled, she said, “No, we don’t know”, and then she couldn’t help but ask why I wanted to know the exact last one. I said that I was not sad, because I don’t take menopause as something that was bad, but that I wanted to know because I wanted to celebrate the last one the same way my very first period was celebrated: in another century, in another continent, so long ago…
I don’t remember the exact date, I have to find my diaries from those years to know, but I remember it was Winter because I remember just like I do with all events, by the clothes I was wearing. I came home from school in my school uniform, and it happened. I told my Mom with whom I had a stressful relationship at the time, who got very sentimental and was very sweet, who later told my Dad when he came home, as I heard them talking downstairs while I was changing my clothes in my room upstairs. I wore the kilt I loved so much that I had bought the past Summer from Harrods, on a day trip to London from the Summer School I was attending, with an N. Peal Cashmere sweater I had bought that same day. I probably also wore navy tights and my favorite penny loafers. I came down, my father got very emotional, he hugged me, and I said sarcastically, “I hope we’re not going to call my brother at boarding school to share the news, too,” to lighten up the mood. My dad said, “We have to celebrate this”. And we had what we had on all special occasions, champagne and caviar. I had a glass of champagne and felt good and loved.
I have lost that kilt over the years. My mother had the very same one, too. That one is long gone too. The sweater I think I saw about 10 years ago in storage, long lost its color to a lighter shade and is the size of a baby with a stiff texture like felt, probably due to someone having washed it in hot water. Then a few years ago, I saw a kilt in the very same pattern and color in a designer’s Men’s Collection, to be worn by men, and I bought it for myself. It is very different than the one I had years ago: the fabric is thicker, I think my original was cashmere and this is wool, it weighs a ton, and even though it is in the smallest size available for men, it is still big. I love it that it has beautiful black sequins on the front. And now I wanted to wear that kilt, and drink champagne and celebrate.
So, when the doctor told me we can’t know if I already had my last period that there might be more, I purchased champagne on the way home and made sure there was always a bottle ready in the fridge. Fortunately for me, it was not the last time, I had three more periods after that one. Each time I dressed up, celebrated. Welcoming this new period in my life, thinking of how things were different, and not just that my mother was long gone, that my father could not remember my name, that I still missed my brother living afar...
So, on this International Women’s Day, I would like to celebrate womanhood, for always. The first period, the period in between, the last period and the infinite possibilities of the rest of my life. In fact, I actually now find myself coming up with the greatest of ideas. My creativity is coming through in different ways.
And when I say to celebrate each and every stage, I don’t necessarily mean to celebrate your first period in a very public way. That would most probably be undesirable. (I remember that age as a tall, skinny girl, at times weird and awkward, rebellious, and thinking the craziest of things and I was embarrassed about what my parents did then). But definitely celebrate your last period, your menopause. I don’t know, maybe it is because I am more mature, feel more secure in my thought structure and ideologies, or maybe because I am a covid survivor and having faced death, a plague in fact, feeling reborn, having my very own renaissance I decided to stop second guessing myself or doubt myself or shy away at the last second, and just go ahead and do, and take that first step; because nothing will ever be ready, nothing is ever perfect. And when this time of lockdowns and social distancing is over, I imagine throwing an all-women menopause party. And why not? Afterall, with age comes the realization that I never cared what judgmental people thought of me anyway. It is such a waste of a life to do so. I hope all women everywhere have the courage, the opportunity, the support, of all women, to take charge of their lives too.
Happy International Women’s Day...
Post Script (Rx):
It is weird writing about menopause. I realized nobody talked about this issue, or how menopause actually starts. When I had my first period in the 80s, I remember there were a lot of movies with girls having their first periods, and lots of Young Adult books with the subject being broached but there isn’t much about menopause. Because there is that stigma that you are getting old and that you stop being desirable.
There was one time when Dani told me, “You are being irrational. This must be menopause”, another version of “Your period must be coming”. To which I replied, “Yes, I may be going through menopause. So, after all these years, you are going to have to support me. Now it is your turn to stay quiet just to keep the peace and be understanding”. This shut him up. He hates it when I turn situations around :) Living with a feminist is a learning experience for him. And he never said anything about it ever again.
It was always hot. And being in Miami didn’t help it either. So, in cars, taxis, I always asked the driver to turn the A/C on high, and said, “I am on menopause’. It shocks them a bit, especially since I don’t look or dress old. But it brings the conversation of menopause to being a normal event.
Yes, I am talking about hot flashes. They are real. I think I had it worse because I am usually warm and don’t get cold easily. I knew this was something natural, and that it was going to pass. An older friend told me of some breathing techniques, I tried some natural herbs which really helped for a while until they didn’t. And I finally decided that I didn’t have to torture myself with this hot/cold/hot/cold existence unnecessarily, not sleeping through the night, and I started natural HRT, Hormone Replacement Therapy. Finally, I am back to being myself like that, effortlessly, without having to starve myself either.
Not all girls and women are the same. Everybody is different. I had very easy periods all my life but some of my friends had to go through agony each time. Some women get pregnant easily while a lot of them have problems with getting pregnant. Some women love being pregnant and have very easy ones while some like me have a hard time of it. Some women have an easy menopause while others like me have it hard. What we should do for sure, is never to minimize what another woman is going through. We should be understanding, and seriously suggest medical help. Because let me remind you, no man who ever tells a male buddy that he has erection problems or doesn’t have rock hard erections anymore, is ever told to accept it as part of life, ever! He will be offered pharmacological or hormonal support in addition to a whole lifestyle change. So, please do not hesitate to do the same.
More importantly, talk about it. Make menopause part of the conversation. Ask women. Be supportive when asked. Talk about it, to people older and younger. It is not anything bad. And you can make it all good. In fact, I hope you do.
In solidarity... With love…