I recall only two instances from my childhood when I was instructed about mature womanhood. The first was a presentation by the school nurse when I was ten. She parceled out a few tidbits of interesting news, may have presented a general graphic of women’s insides, and ended by reminding us to always brush our tongues when we brushed our teeth. The dental advice is what stuck with me.
Eventually I got more information, but it was quite a while before I learned that menstruation was temporary. The heart of my knowledge about menopause became that on one blessed day I would no longer get my period.
As the blessed day approached, I gained 50 intractable pounds and established my tether to pharmacies as my cholesterol and blood pressure were brought under control. Fortunately, I didn’t have hot flashes, sleepless nights, irritability, or depression. The fibromyalgia that hobbled me for 18 years seemed to have other causes, though I suppose it might have been related.
These were serious bumps in the road, and I don’t want to minimize the struggles that many women have related to menopause, but for most, a sustained push to lose weight and establish a new set of good habits can re-establish balance.
In centuries past, far fewer women had those opportunities.
One colonial American woman wrote a friend about her upcoming childbirth, calling it “the greatest of earthly miserys,” another wrote of “that evel hour I loock forward to with dread.” One woman wrote a farewell letter to a friend: “How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend, How soon’t be thy lot to lose thy friend.”
Three women on the Mayflower were pregnant: Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White, and Mary Norris Allerton. Mary Allerton and her baby both died in childbirth shortly after landing, Elizabeth Hopkins’s child died before his second birthday, and Peregrine White lived into his 80s. This distribution of death was not unusual; one in ten children didn’t make it to adulthood. One in eight women died in childbirth, suffering exhaustion, dehydration, infection, hemorrhage, or convulsions.
Today, we can celebrate our good fortune in living longer, and also the liberating aspects of post-menopausal life.
A post-menopausal woman can go anywhere at any time, without fearing discomfort, kinks in the supply chain of menstrual materials, or consulting a calendar.
Without fear of pregnancy, a woman can approach sex the way men do. She can have sex with whomever she pleases, limited only by her chosen vows, her moral compass, and STD risk. I regret never having a long marriage, but can imagine what it must be like after decades of discipline and restraint to throw off the habitual fear of pregnancy and have sex at will. On a sailboat or the beach, the porch, in the pool, morning, noon, or night, near home or far away, planned or unexpected.
It’s a second chance at life. Long live menopause!