(Any male readers I might have, you are forewarned. This post is all about things men typically don't want to discuss.)
I'm 48 years old, and I had my last period in July 2010. That's nearly 2 years ago. Once a woman hasn't had her period for one year, she is considered to be menopausal. I've been busy thinking, "Man, was I lucky" when it comes to what I've always considered to be one of the worst parts of being a woman, because I didn't get my first period until I was 13 1/2 (I hear some poor kids are getting it as early as age 10 these days), and I wasn't even 50 when it ended. Sorry. I know there are those who celebrate that special time of the month, and more power to you. I wish I could have been one of those lucky ones who felt exhilarated and creative once a month, but no. That wasn't my fate, and when you are someone who frequently suffered from PMS-induced depression and migraines to be followed by debilitating cramps that made her wish she had a morphine drip by her bed, well, you might understand why I consider myself lucky to be rid of such a nuisance, terribly lucky to have found herself on the lower end of the age-range for the onset of menopause.
The funny thing is I expected, based on all the information that surrounds menopause in our society, that it was going to be something awful -- the worst PMS I ever experienced threefold. I had visions of suddenly becoming suicidal over the fact that I could no longer bear children and had never had a child, or of losing all interest in sex, or of doing something crazy like leaving Bob and selling everything I own to go live in a commune. I thought I'd be cranking up the air conditioning even in the dead of winter, suffering from constant hot flashes that left me miserable. I thought I'd be so tired I'd sleep 15 hours a day or that my insomnia would be worse than ever, and I'd only sleep 3. I will admit that some of this has happened to some degree or other, but, really, I will take menopause over PMS and periods any day. In fact. my worst symptoms have been hot flashes and achy joints, which, once I read the terrific book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause by John R. Lee and Virginia Hopkins and discovered natural progesterone (not to be confused with any sort of progesterone prescription) have all but disappeared.
My own experience with menopause has led me to question why this period in a woman's life has gotten such a bad reputation. I can only surmise that it's jealousy on the part of the men who rule a patriarchal society. I mean, what could any man want more than to reach an age at which he can have all the sex he wants without ever having to worry about 2 a.m. feedings at the age of 67, say, or paying child support at age 82? Forget Freud's so misguided theories of penis envy (only a man could think up the idea that women wished they had penises. What women have always envied are the rights and privileges men have over women in almost all societies. We couldn't give a damn about having penises of our own. I'm sure I'm not the only woman in the world who much prefers having her sexual organs hidden, thank you), I'm convinced men suffer from menopause envy. Because of that, the male scientists and doctors who ruled those professions for so long (and who still do, really, although women continue to make great strides when it comes to breaking into these fields), have convinced women that menopause is much worse than it actually is.
At my last physical, when my doctor and I were discussing menopause, he (who is a great guy who always likes to joke around with Bob and me) said to me, "Funny how I never hear woman complain about no longer having their periods." I mean, why have we come to think of menopause as a bad thing? Those of us who have always suffered with our periods are finally relieved of them. On top of that, we never have to worry about miscalculating the date in any given month and winding up at some special event sans tampons only to discover that we desperately need them. And as far as that goes, I was, just last week. thinking, "Maybe I ought, finally, to get rid of all that once-a-month underwear." I hope you women know what I mean -- that old underwear you keep around for once-a-month because you don't care if it gets "ruined." If you are so inclined (and I most definitely am), you can go out and splurge on all kinds of lovely things at your nearest lingerie shop and never have to put them away for 5-7 days a month, or worry that you might accidentally wear and ruin them at the wrong time. And need I mention the biggest plus of all? You can have sex without having to worry about contraception (and I promise you, especially if you use natural progesterone and read certain books and watch certain movies, your interest doesn't vanish). Please, though, don't tell me about your grandmother who had her only child at age 54, certain by then she didn't need any contraception. I don't want to hear it (and, yes, someone actually did once tell me about such a grandmother).
Speaking of that grandmother who thought she was menopausal and suddenly had a child, I have to tell you about my WTF experience. Here I've been thinking, "No period for a year. I'm safe!" I'm busy buying all kinds of lovely underwear. Never a thought about contraception (something that might be needed when you buy nice, new underwear, which husbands notice in a way they never seem to notice, say, nice, new shoes). Three days ago, I wake up, go to the bathroom, and find myself saying, "Ohmigod, What's that?" as I look at the toilet paper I used to wipe myself. It's an oh-so-familiar sight, and yet I've become so unused to seeing it, I couldn't believe it. Further investigation proved that, yes, I definitely had my period. After nearly two years? Damn! Damn! Damn! Did I even remember how to put in a tampon (from the reserve I kindly keep around the house in case I have any visiting friends who unexpectedly get a visitor of their own)? Yes (it's like riding a bicycle).
That, my friends, is the one great downside of menopause. It's a fickle friend. You never, apparently, do know exactly when you're safe. You can go nearly two years without a period and then suddenly have one. Be careful. My skepticism (so very strong when I was 27) when it comes to menopausal pregnancies is waning. My even bigger question: when can I finally get rid of that once-a-month underwear?