Hilary Fannin: Is the menopause looming or has it been and gone?
‘When you’re lying face down on the bathroom floor, trying to cool the raging thermostat inside you by clutching at the cold floor tiles, you’ll know,’ my friend assured me
I read with interest recently about a woman in Massachusetts, in her late 40s, married for many years, childless, who went into hospital with severe abdominal pains, only to be told that she was in labour. The woman, doubtless a little dazed and confused, proceeded, there and then, to give birth to a healthy 8lb baby girl, whom the couple named That’s-a-Surprisia.
All right, they didn’t. The parents actually named her Carolyn Rose, after both of their mothers, and baby and flabbergasted mother are both doing awfully well, apparently. I saw a picture of the new family: astonished and elated mother, shellshocked father, and a sweet newborn in a little knitted hat and pink babygro, looking deeply relaxed. And why wouldn’t she, having been calmly lying around in her bath of amniotic fluid, reading her Facebook feed and counting her toes, oblivious of her capacity for making global headlines?
The 47-year-old thought that the bump protruding from her abdomen, the growth that eventually persuaded her to go to the emergency room, was something to do with the menopause. Okay.
The point of existence
The menopause is certainly a useful culprit in a fortysomething/ fiftysomething life. Every time I crash through an amber light, burn the pork chops, forget to pay the television licence or lie awake half the night, staring long and hard at the pale, swollen moon, wondering what exactly the point of existence is, and how, in the name of the divine Jesus, someone had the gall to invent doggy popsicles, I blame the menopause too.
But lying around in one’s twisted pyjamas, wondering if iced doggy treats (no, I’m not making this stuff up) really could start a revolution among the well-moisturised proletariat, is a far cry from thinking that the menopause could produce quite that much bloating.
To be fair, Mrs Massachusetts, what about the elbow-shaped elbow shapes, and the little kicking heels, and the pointy knee imprints protruding from that large swelling slap-bang in the middle of your body? Call me old-fashioned, but swollen ankles, weeping over power ballads and a latent desire to clean the grouting with a toothbrush and reconfigure the laundry press might be a bit of a giveaway.
I’m a bit confused about the menopause, actually. I’m quite prepared to accept that, at 53, it’s either looming or been and gone without my actually having noticed.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other night. I hadn’t seen her for more than a year. We’re old mates. We used to sit beside each other in school, sharing our smoky bacon crisps, our chewed-up biros, our tips on how to make a boy swoon (they never worked). Thirty-five years later, we were sitting opposite each other across a small table, drinking big bowls of gin, laced with ribbons of cucumber (far more fun than imbibing a flask of lukewarm Cup-a-Soup).
She showed me photographs on her mobile of her son’s graduation; she told me about her father’s recent fall. We discussed slashed pensions and professional disappointments; we spoke about old friends, about lives perforated by illness and divorce, about others with new loves and second chances. There were so many stories from girls we once ran around a playground with. Girls we shared sneaky fags with and passed flagons of cider to on a wet beach, shivering in cheesecloth shirts. Girls who, like us, perched on the back of growling motorbikes. Girls who drew on eyeliner, in cracked mirrors, in the packed toilets of sweaty-walled youth clubs. Girls, women now, who are all grown up and blowing the fairy dust off their 50s.
It was lovely to see her, poignant and oddly sobering, despite the vats of gin.
“Are you menopausal yet?” she asked.
“I’ve no idea,” I replied.
“Oh, you’d know. You’d know. When you’re lying face down on the bathroom floor, trying to cool the raging thermostat inside you by clutching at the cold floor tiles, you’ll know. Or when you find yourself pinned to the glass shower door to cool yourself down. Or you’re standing in a cold shower at 2am. Or you wake up in the terminus, as you’ve missed your stop on the way home from work, because you haven’t slept properly for a week . You’ll know.”
She sipped her gin darkly, smiling slowly, like a woman with her lips soldered to a particularly satisfying cauldron.
On second thoughts, Mrs Massachusetts, maybe I will take the astonishing, unexpected infant.