Is menopause always a noticeable issue? I asked “Mommy.” I'm 63 and she’s 87. Me asking her opinion is a change of life, right there. When I was a young student at Wellesley I sent her feminist articles with deep comments in the margins, “Free Your Mind!” “Fight the Patriarchy!” but I never asked her anything. I am old(er) now, more intentional, conscious, observant, and thoughtful.
I’ve observed how she’s moved through change. She retired as a Branch Chief in Contracting after 42 years in the federal government while sustaining a life-long marriage, raising four children and doing tons of community service. I observed her through the final illness and death of her husband of 64 years. I’ve also observed and thought about the fact that she’s still teaching the Sunday School class she joined as a young teenager. I’ve observed and thought about the physiological impact of consistent community that extends more than 70 years. That was the context in which I asked Mommy about menopause.
For one thing, I wasn't sure when I'd actually gone through menopause. May 20th marks the 5th anniversary of my husband’s death. I was 21 in 1976, just months from college graduation when Charles "CMadison" Nabrit and I married. I was 58 when he died in 2013. It was a truly massive and holistic change of life. CMadison was seriously ill for several years with vicious diabetic complications and his death at 60 was heartbreaking. My Daddy died the following year. I was his 'Princess' and the dual loss felt massive.
Grief is time consuming and exhausting. I think I just didn't notice my menopause. I asked Mommy if she’d experienced any significant issues around menopause and she couldn't think of any. And I don’t think that’s evidence of a memory lapse because she vividly remembers “fudging” her age so she could work as a Clerk/Typist at Lockbourne Air Force Base in 1947 under General Benjamin David.
So I'm wondering how, or if, our thoughts and expectations about menopause affect the experience. Does menopause alter how we see ourselves? I wonder if knowing conception foreclosed changes one's sense of self. Thirty years ago CMadison and I decided not to have any more children. But in the back of my mind I think I saw that as a position that could be altered. Now there is no possibility of conception and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I get that that uncertainty is personal, it's kinda like gray hair. Most of the time I'm more than tolerant of my own gray but I absolutely get how some bemoan each new silvery strand. Most of the time I really like my gray. I like looking "fully grown". I think my gray hair emits a sort of halo of confidence, an energy force field around my head. ... But every once in a while I think about how I looked (and how I was perceived) when my hair wasn't gray, when I was still young. I wonder if how one feels about menopause is shaped by how satisfied one feels about this leg of the journey, about moving through the world as a woman of a certain age.
I know menopause presents many biological challenges for a lot of women but I also wonder if menopause may also function as a mileage marker of satisfaction. At 63 I can do my own spreadsheet, review and reflect longitudinally on my choices, experiences and consequences to date.
In 2003, CMadison, our three sons and I embarked on a self-financed, cross-country, 2-car caravan, book tour/road trip to promote my book, Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League. Random House published it but wasn't aggressively promoting it, so we did. We drove from Columbus, OH to Sacramento, CA and back thru Texas on to the East Coast to drop our youngest at Amherst before heading back to Ohio. We stopped in over 20 cities and as we neared the halfway point we began planning the last, but still exciting segments of the trip. I remember thinking about how far we'd gone/come, how many miles we'd marked off that now wrinkled map, and what I'd learned about myself in the process. Menopause feels a bit like looking at my life's roadmap, realizing I'm more than halfway through the journey but knowing there are still tons of exciting things to see and do along the way, even if the car breaks down.
Menses and menopause, like birth and death are more than biological changes. They create spaces to stand back, breathe deeply, review, reflect and when necessary recalibrate. I think the degree of conscious satisfaction with the striving of one's life impacts the quality of the experience of birth, menstruation, menopause, death and everything life presents in between. I learned that from thoughtfully observing Mommy.
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