If menopause means I’ll be all dried up, why am I so euphoric?
Carol Hunt: My body will soon be returned to me, no longer the property of the State
“I’m nearly there. I can feel it in my ovaries.” Image: iStock
“Oh no, you’re not going to write your first ever column for The Irish Times on the bloody menopause, are you?” Despite the oxymoronic phrase “bloody menopause” (it’s one I shall use again) the tone of the question made the message clear: I’d find more fans if I wrote a piece confessing I was sexually attracted to Donald Trump.
This view was similar to the “concerned” advice I received before going public with the fact that I had suffered from a mental illness. If I talk about what should really remain a humiliating, private secret, this school of thought goes, I make myself at the very least an embarrassment, but more probably an unemployable social outcast.
And in the case of menopause, even worse – a dried up, unsexy, social outcast.
One in four of us will suffer from a mental issue at some stage in our lives; one in two of us will go through menopause. This ridiculous self-censorship has to stop.
Maybe because I’m now realising that all that stuff they tell you about the menopause being the worst event that happens to a woman in life, bar none, is absolute bollocks
Technically I have not actually reached the stage of full menopause – where, as Suzanne Moore so succinctly put it in the New Statesman: “There won’t be blood”, but I’m nearly there. I can feel it in my ovaries. One of these days my body will be returned to me – stamped “used and now useless” and no longer the property of the State. The chilling effects of the Eighth Amendment will not apply personally to me any more – though I will, of course, continue to campaign for its repeal. I haven’t completely lost my wits.
Actually, no matter what some people may think, I’ll still be human on the other side of the menopause; even though I’m supposed to feel sad and empty and less than female. I will become a “castrate” as the celebrated author of Feminine Forever, Dr Robert A Wilson, wrote in the 1960s. My body will not have enough of that womanly hormone, oestrogen, to qualify as a fully paid-up female citizen, ready to do my duty and reproduce for Ireland. My skin will start to dry out, my bones become brittle, my waist thicken and I should expect to be ignored as irrelevant for the remainder of my life.
So why, if I am on the brink of supposed invisibility, do I feel so euphoric? It’s as if the world is my oyster in a way I haven’t felt since I was a teenager, before I acquired the angry suspicion that I had suddenly become an object – a sexual, childbearing object.
Maybe it’s because, as Germaine Greer put it – a bit pompously – I can now look forward to “becoming the self I was before I became a tool of my sexual and reproductive destiny”. Or maybe because I’m now realising that all that stuff they tell you about the menopause being the worst event that happens to a woman in life, bar none, is absolute bollocks.
Women are one of the few mammals who live long after their child-bearing days are over. Another is the killer whale
Months of worry
Okay, I’m not going to lie. There have been months of worrying about no periods followed by what I’m convinced must be the evacuation of half my womb. On the upside, a packet of tampons can last me a year – take that, tampon tax! There have been mood swings and swearing and anger – but no more than from any man in a normal working day. The night sweats are beyond annoying, the day ones embarrassing. Or they would be if I hadn’t suddenly lost the ability to become embarrassed.
And at the same time I’ve experienced a huge increase in energy, confidence and sheer bloody-mindedness (yes, I’ll stop doing that soon). After years of working part-time from home, I got a “real” job, where I have responsibilities and go to meetings and get paid the same as all the men. I exercise more – why not? There’s no rule that insists I must let myself go and become an overweight, underachieving nonentity just because I am finally beyond the age of giving birth. But of course, we know that the rule is there, if unwritten.
My pubescent teen self was right to be angry. Finally, I can look forward to being “me”
Women are one of the few mammals who live long after their child-bearing days are over. Another is the killer whale. A recent peer-reviewed study, published in Current Biology, showed that postmenopausal whales become leaders of their groups. The report speculated that this also applied to hunter-gatherer groups and that women freed from the restraints of reproduction and child-rearing could get back to leading and caring for their entire communities.
“The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing,” said researcher Lauren Brent. Women are not just here to reproduce, or be sexual objects – far from it. The oestrogen-filled years in the middle of life? They’re the aberration. My pubescent teen self was right to be angry. Finally, I can look forward to being “me”. It’s been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait. Bloody well worth it.