Out the other side: On becoming ‘post-menopausal’

Image by Flickr user BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives, and used under Creative Commons License

Image by Flickr user BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives, and used under Creative Commons License

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Yeah, I know. But actually, it is, really. How it is today is how it will be right till the end. Because I’m officially “post-menopausal”.

If you think that sentence is difficult to read – massively over-sharing, not the kind of thing people want to talk about – you should see how difficult it is to write. Not because being post-menopausal is much different from being menopausal. But because it’s barely OK talking about your periods. We’re only just getting our heads round ads for incontinence pads on TV. This menopause talk is taking taboo-smashing TOO FAR. Post menopausal? Are you dead? If you’re not, at least have the courtesy to keep the noise down.

What is post-menopausal? Basically, it means I haven’t had a period for a year – I’m out the other side of my fertile life, which has been going since I was 15. That’s 36 years of periods (with time off for two babies). Through this year, I’ve packed the same box of Tampax over and again; they’re now so well-travelled they’re writing up their gap year for the Independent. I might pack them one more time, commemoratively.

Life on the other side

I’m not just on the other side of being fertile, I’m also out the other side of my menopause. It’s been fabulous, thanks, a bit hot. The thing that makes me sad is that I’ve missed the opportunity to live-blog it, but I know that someone somewhere will be doing that for theirs. I think the best and worst thing to know I got from a friend who, having seen me (cough) ‘interact’ with my children, sent me an article on how your nurturing hormones disappear with menopause. It was such a relief to have “not giving a shit” medically sanctioned: “I’m so sorry darling, I’d love to help you look for your phone, but I have no nurturing hormones so I literally couldn’t care less.”

Are you still reading? Well done, I know it’s difficult. I’m not even being patronising or sarcastic, it IS. It’s way too personal, private even – yet of course as guaranteed as ageing itself. But who wants to think about things ending, when things are mid-flow? (Hmm, flow, nice.) When I was 21 my dad died and I viewed my mum, age 51, as an old widow woman. Then, age 24 I drove the tour van round Europe for a punk band called Poison Girls, fronted by Vi Subversa, who was in her early forties. So old, I thought, but such an amazing woman; ten years younger than my mum, but a political and cultural planet apart. Age is a fucker, I concluded; you can’t trust that it will mean anything about a person, only the number of years they’ve been alive. Now I’m 51, and I’m post-menopausal, so what are you going to conclude about me? What am I going to conclude about me?

Menopausal role models

So I’m standing, with all that fertility behind me, looking over the next bit. It’s not a cliff, that’s tiringly dramatic – it’s a plain. A dusty plain, but as we’ve already established, I don’t give a shit, I ain’t gonna dust it. I’m casting around, seeing who’s out here on the plain with me. Can’t see a soul. Can think of some women my age but don’t know the state of their wombs. It’s not something anyone ever discusses beyond the odd, “Are you warm? Can we open a window?” In Clapham, where I live, it’s impossible to ask another woman if they “have the decorators in”, because the answer is always yes. (Plus I’m not generally drawn to a euphemism.)

So I’m out here on my euphemistic dusty plain without many visible role models. I bet Susan Sarandon is post-menopausal, I think to myself. I bet she was menopausal when she kicked thingy out, I bet he was too needy. But it’s not exactly enlightening, this twilight world of guesswork and supposition and I bet.

Am I a post-menopausal cliché?

Without role models, I run the danger of being susceptible to old fashioned cliché. But I don’t FEEL whatever cliché “post-menopausal” is meant to bring to mind. Bitter, twisted, over-aggressive, uncaring, dried up shrieky. Except, I do. But – ha ha HA – my very clever trick has been to be that way ALL ALONG, so it’s not such a life change. I recommend it. If you set your goal to be bitter and twisted by the time you’re 35, fifteen-odd years later you can segue seamlessly into the menopause and out again with nary a blip on your emotional timeline. For the same reason, I’ve been doing sudoku and ordering comfort shoes from the Sunday Express magazine for years.

What am I going to do with my left-over tampons, though? As I finish my periods, my girl child starts hers. Even though I’m without the nurturing hormones, something tells me that a handed-down bag of unused Tampax might not be the “welcome to womanhood” gift that a blossoming teenager needs. But I’m not completely without empathy. I’ll free-cycle them.



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8 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I am 50 and post-menopausal too, but mine was enforced after a complete hysterectomy two days before my 40th birthday. I’ve even gone passed the 10 years allowance for being on HRT. Than ended in January 2012, so I’m now flying without the aid of a net so to speak. After HRT I was in fear of crumbling to dust or developing a dowager’s hump, or getting the urge for a purple rinse – but NOTHING happened. I no longer get the hot flushes either which is a blessing in itself. I feel much healthier and happier than I did through all my menstruating (from age 11) and HRT years, and can heartily recommend it. I left my unused sanitary items in a pretty box on the windowsill of the ladies loo at my workplace with a sign saying ‘help yourself. They were all gone in 2 hours! Good luck and thanks for breaking the taboo with this great article.

  2. I’m here on the dusty plain too and I ain’t gonna dust it either. Might to a bit of guerrilla gardening if I can be bothered… Thanks for this. You’re right, it is so hard to talk about this stuff – but why should it be? I wanted to tell Twitter when I reached that momentous date but didn’t dare. Let’s have more role models who are honest. PS Another thing they don’t tell you is the hot flushes carry on for a while longer.

  3. I’m here on the dusty plain too and I ain’t gonna dust it either. Might do a bit of guerrilla gardening if I can be bothered… Thanks for this. You’re right, it is so hard to talk about this stuff – but why should it be? I wanted to tell Twitter when I reached that momentous date but didn’t dare. Let’s have more role models who are honest. PS Another thing they don’t tell you is the hot flushes carry on for a while longer.

  4. Thanks for writing this. There are so many changes in a woman’s life, from childhood to pubery to pregnancy and back, but so often it’s not talked about and we have to find our own ways through it. Noone told me my periods would go haywire after breastfeeding, for instance. Articles like this give those of us further behind a hint of what’s ahead.

  5. Great article – and I’m also happy to have reached that point – though I do think you got off lightly – only 36 years – it took me 43!

    Just a note of caution as well – hang on to the tampax, I had a mini period 14 months after my last one.

    I was also advised to check it out – and was a bit shocked to get sent post haste to the gynae ward as it can be a cancer warning. In my case it wasn’t – but always worth asking!

  6. Lucky you! I can’t wait to be post-menopausal. In my book that’s when the real fun begins. Who knew that peri-menopause could be so long and so hellish? But I have found that when I do try speaking to friends about peri-menopause there’s a sense of relief that someone has been brave enough to bring up the subject and women are very eager to share and find out more information about HRT and diet etc. So, thanks for a great, amusing article, and let’s keep on talking about it!

  7. Don’t think your attitude of non-caring, bitter etc has anything to do with the menopause. I know so many women in their 50s and 60s who are still caring and nurturing. Thankful to them too, who wants to become like many men, selfish and with no empathy.
    Your personality and attitude doesn’t change due to the fact that you no longer ovulate once a month. I’m not looking forward to the menopause at all but I never looked forward to menstruating either. Being a woman is no fun.

  8. I have not yet reached the dusty plain, but I think I can see it from here. Late last year I announced to my 16 year old that I was no longer getting up with her in the morning. Sleep is a precious commodiy and more important to me than the half eaten pancacke is to her. And, its about time that she bagan to learn to look after her own needs.

    There is a wonderful book entitlted ‘The Crone’ that gives you a pseudo-historical view of post menopausal women in a pre-christian society. According to the book, post menopausal woman took to the forest and lived alone in small cabins in the woods. (Does it sound like a Grimm fairy tale to you?). They were the wise women and if you needed to be healed (not eaten silly!), that is where you would go for advice. They also, apparently, moved away so their families could get used to living without their daily guidance – before the women actually died. Let’s face it, who hasn’t dreamed of having a bit of space of ones own apart from the daily (sometimes hourly) interuptions of requests, emergencies and requirements of those we love so dearly. It makes sence. No more nuturing hormones. Huh. I think I like it. Sounds better than I just don’t give a shit anymore. And I did for a long time, really I did.

    So thanks. Its good to know I am not alone and that we are all pretty much going through the same thing, albeit in our own ways. For me the overwheling personal response is a nagging voice in my head that keeps repeating the same thing -’times a wasting Fran, get on it! Time to get to that list of things YOU want to do.’

    I will take menopause as my permission to do so.

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