Do you remember the first time a fresh-faced high school kid at the grocery store asked if you wanted paper or plastic, Maâ€™am? I do, and I was a little shocked. Ma’am? Me? That’s my mom or my grandma! Well, menopause is a bit like that too. In some ways it sneaks up on you and the world seems to view you in new ways. Unfortunately, that means it can also affect how we see ourselves.
I was on the hard edge of thirty-nine, a single mother of two vibrant children, and had been a dental assistant for many years. I began to feel restless. My income was never such that I could afford to travel, so I found it odd that I was craving an adventure for my fortieth birthday. Something different, something that took me out of my comfort zone, something I was to do alone. I idly checked to see how much it would cost to go to Las Vegas the weekend of my birthday. As it turned out I began dating the man who is now my husband instead. While not Vegas, it has been its own wonderful adventure that does indeed take me out of my comfort zone. 🙂 He invited me out for a birthday picnic on my 40th, and weâ€™ve been together ever since.
However this new relationship, just as I was building steam on my perimenopause transition, created a unique set of circumstances. Having someone in my life after so many years as the head of the household meant sharing things I wasnâ€™t used to sharingâ€¦like decision-making. Even basic purchases such as groceries became a conversation. I found myself stubbornly resisting when I felt myself defaulting to his wishes to make him happy. It was an old pattern I didnâ€™t want to replicate at this phase of my life.
One discussion we had early on was about having a child together. My husband is somewhat older than me, and the proud father of three adult children. My son and daughter were still in high school at the time. Were we done? I mean really done? We cautiously agreed we were happy with the children we had. And yet, for me, there was a lingering sadness in knowing my childbearing years were over. Others might feel much, much, differently, but I was sad.
There were also increasing moments where my mind realized, at forty, half my life was potentially over. Where was I on that long-imagined life scale? How many goals from my younger days had I met? Did I want to be a dental assistant until I retired? What would it mean to me when my children graduated from high school and embarked on their own lives? How did I envision my second half of life, and what role models for that was I using? Did my husband see me differently–less feminine and motherly–since we would not have children together? What were his expectations of me as we grew older together?
Many women Iâ€™ve interviewed have told me that reaching menopause created havoc in their personal lives. Changing moods, goals, appearance, and behaviors can upset the status quo between couples. Dr. Northrup puts it this way:
â€œWhat is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them.â€ â€œIf it does not find an outletâ€”if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home and/or at work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges, the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: something has to give.â€
Or, consider this…
The divorce rate doubled between 1990 and 2009 among adults 50 and older in the U.S., according to a working paper released in March by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Ohioâ€™s Bowling Green State University.
The often-heard lament from husbands and partners is that the woman they once knew is gone. Sex has become a memory. With the decline in estrogen production, the vaginal walls become thin and dry. Intercourse can become painful. And, with low to no testosterone levels, the desire for intimacy wanes sharply. Which brings me to the topic of body changes. See you next week!