Mondays: M is for Mondays and May and Menopause
May is my birth month. I would love to continue writing about light things like my son's Easter basket and my expanding hips. Those are safe laughs. But, I turn 48 on the 17th, and I'm tired. I don't want to wait until I turn 50 to stop giving any fucks. I want to stop giving any fucks right now, and I want to talk about menopause. I want to talk about it for the whole damn month. There it is. I said it just like that.
By the way, do not ever believe me if I say that I don't give any fucks. That is what I say when I do, and I'm trying not to. If I truly don't give any fucks, I probably won't say so. It will just be so. Isn't that something?
I took a natural birthing class when I was pregnant. I remember in that process, and after, being encouraged to tell my "birthing story" -- to process the simultaneous beauty and trauma of it. Well, I think we need menopause stories, too. Why do I (and so many others) find it so hard to talk about?
I had a lovely childhood. I have been safe and cared for my whole life.
Also: To my recollection, we didn't talk about sex in any kinds of terms, biological or otherwise, other than "don't do it unless you're married." This relative silence included reproductive biology. The only thing I ever recall learning about menstruation was from school when they separated the boys and girls and we watched embarrassing movies on a loud projector. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I got the talk, but it was too traumatic to hold onto. Maybe I didn't because I was the youngest of 3 girls. Maybe my older sisters got the talk, and it was supposed to trickle down to me like a rumor. It didn't. When I had my first period, I was horrified and ashamed and tried to hide it from everyone as long as I could.
I remember believing that only women who had sex (who were married, obviously) could use tampons. I believed this for a longer time than I'd care to admit, thanks. Long after, as a grown ass woman, when I needed tampons, I'd write "fems" on my shopping list. At the store, I hid them between boxes of cereal and loaves of bread. Bless my heart. It's no mystery that talking about menopause makes me nervous.
There's a lot more to say about all of that, but I'd rather fast forward to last week when I listened to Glennon Doyle and Amanda Doyle interview Dr. Jen Gunter about menopause. They took questions phoned in from listeners. A woman called in and mentioned "burning mouth syndrome" in her list of strange menopause symptoms.
Burning Mouth Syndrome?! WHAT IS BURNING MOUTH SYNDROME? I desperately needed to know.
Why? Because: From about Summer 2016 through the first part of 2017, I was 42-ish, and my lips were on fire. They had become alien. Mysteriously, they turned raw and burned from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. They peeled and scabbed. I got an expensive allergy test that told me I was allergic to apples, acetaminophen, quinoa, and hazelnuts. I ate bland gruel for weeks trying to expel whatever toxin in my body had exploded from my lips. When diet elimination didn't work, I decided I had grown addicted to lip balm and Aquaphor, so I stopped using it. Everything got worse. For a while, it hurt to open my mouth. I chugged fish oil. The only things that helped were ice cubes and raw honey.
I never got any answers. After almost a year, it just went away.
So... Burning mouth syndrome? I looked it up while waiting for my son in the school parking lot. It's a chronic condition of burning or scalding on any part of the mouth, including the lips. And it can be linked to auto-immune disorders and menopause.
Six years after-the-fact, I had my answer. Duh.
I've mentioned it in this blog before in passing, but I hit menopause at the age of 43, meaning, I had my last real period at the age of 43. In case you didn't know, the typical age is 50-52. So... 43 is pretty damn early. It's only now that I'm piecing it all together. My body is still morphing and adjusting and spinning. Sometimes I don't even recognize it. Sometimes I feel absolutely out of my skin. And I want to talk about it. And I want to not care if it bugs you that I'm talking about it.
I'm reading Dr. Gunter's book The Menopause Manifesto. She explains the terminology:
MENOPAUSE = The whole transition: pre, peri-, FMP, post-.
PRE-MENO = The time period leading up to the Final Menstrual Period (FMP).
PERI-MENO = The time period leading up to the FMP + the 12 months after the FMP.
POST-MENO = The time period after the FMP.
She points out that the length of time any of this takes varies widely from woman to woman, and also, that we don't know the FMP is the FMP until 12 months later. She also points out studies that show the more educated women are about what is happening in their bodies, the less they tend to suffer when it all goes whack.
I wish we'd been talking about The Whack six years ago when my lips were on fire.
My last period (which, at the time, I didn't know was my last period) was at the end of August /first part of September 2017. First of all, this means that I'd been in pre-menopause for the years leading up. Secondly, a few weeks after what I later learned would be my FMP, the relationship I was in ended. Shortly after the FMP and the relationship end I suddenly realized that I had missed my period. My head exploded. Was it a horribly ill-timed pregnancy? A giant belly-laugh from the universe? Confirmation that women who followed desire would indeed be punished? It took a few negative pregnancy tests to feel confident that I wasn't pregnant. But then... was the reality worse?
I never liked having a period -- the cramps and the hassle of it? No, thanks. But month after month that it didn't return, I felt older and older and older, and less and less... vital. Was my body just nodding YES to the suspicion that my time of desirability was over? And... where the hell did THAT twisted belief come from -- that my worth and desirability was linked to my ability to make babies?
In some churches, women are not allowed to teach boys older than a certain age, or hold leadership positions except in the areas of children's education, women's groups, and/or hospitality. Hmmm... maybe that connects.
From Dr. Gunter's book, I've also learned that the term "menopause" is only about 200 years old and comes from a dissertation written in 1812 by Dr. De Gardanne. Menopause from Greek to French to English translates loosely to "I stop." The end. A few years later, De Gardanne wrote a book of advice for women that, among other things, advised ladies over 50 to stop wearing blush and to keep their bare arms covered.
In comparison, Gunter introduces other cultures (Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Japanese) whose terms for what we call "I stop" are more about transition and change. This vocabulary suggests that life keeps going and that women don't just wait for death once our wombs shrivel up: "I go differently, but I sure as shit still go."
It reminds me of the idea of "maiden, mother, crone" -- the phases of femininity and the moon. The maiden (waxing moon) is young, enchanted, and enthusiastic. The mother is fertile. She nurtures and grows. She is abundance (full moon). The crone is wise and of her own (the waning moon).
I'm cool with the crone for now, but why "waning"? And why do we have to use a word like "crone"?
I'd prefer "oracle" -- like the wise woman in The Matrix who smoked a cigarette in the kitchen and gave Neo a cookie. She told him he'd feel "right as rain" by the time he finished eating it, and I believed her.
And... that is where I will abruptly stop this week.
So to celebrate myself for the whole damn month, it's a non-stop menopause party here. Future Mondays may include such exciting topics as:
- Maiden, Mother, Crone (continued)
- "Clammy Pat" (who shows up with the hot blooms)
- heart palpitations;
- life as perpetual change;
- a cervical cancer scare (that turned out just fine); and
- "the dodge".
It's gonna be fine.