Monday, 11 February 2019

A teaching moment

I was really pleased to see that my No Kidding menopause series - or for search engine purposes, my Childless menopause series - sparked a discussion around the internet. It wasn't my first foray into the subject, but it was my wordiest! Just to remind, here are my posts.

12 Things I wish I'd been told about the Big M (posted back in 2014)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Bloody Version
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 1)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 2)
A No Kidding Menopause: The Emotional Issues (Part 3) 
A No Kidding Menopause: Some Final Thoughts

Having written so many pieces on this issue, I've taken a break from thinking about other childless things. But there's always something, or someone, who reminds me. I was at a function over the weekend, filled with in-law relatives. I got chatting to a woman who was the wife of a cousin-in-law. I've heard about her for years and years - her many children, her personality, her relationship - via her mother-in-law and my mother-in-law - so although we didn't know each other, we knew about each other. Or so I thought. No, in a conversation about all the elderly relatives and getting them organised when they could no longer do so, and the general difficulty of decluttering their houses, she asked me if I had children. (An aside: given that I knew that she had six, I had assumed she would have known we had none. But apparently not. It shows that people are only really interested in themselves!)

"Well," she says, "you won't have nearly as much junk at home than if you had had children."

"No," I acknowledged, "that's probably true." And - thinking fast, deciding should I or shouldn't I? - I added, "but all our rooms that were intended for children have still ended up filled with junk too."

I said it without emotion, simply stating a fact. The message got through, I think, because she hesitated. I could see her thinking. I hope so anyway. One of many teaching moments?

Monday, 4 February 2019

A No Kidding menopause: Some final thoughts

My menopause series was not meant to be comprehensive, as far better writers have covered this issue. I know it is prompting others to share their experiences (see Bamberlambs’ post here), and I am thrilled about that. Starting the conversation has been important.

I rambled on with another post or two in draft only, and in the end, I don’t think that they say anything significant. I know there were things I didn’t really touch on, so maybe I’ll just wrap them up here:

Hormones and our emotions

I mentioned the hormonal changes post-hysterectomy that threw my emotions out of kilter, plunging me into full menopausal-symptom mode. The power of these emotions was surprising. Even though there is very obviously a chemical reason for them – given that now I am on HRT I am back on an even keel – this is still a taboo subject. Taboo because it is a mental health issue, taboo because it is a women’s issue surrounding menopause (literally the ending of menstruation, which is doubly taboo), and taboo because it is a women’s issue. It infuriates me.

Like PMS, men don’t understand it. I fully expect a study come out denying the existence of emotional fluctuations due to hormones around menopause, as there was around PMS. My husband, who was incredibly supportive during my pregnancy losses and the time of grief that followed the end of our family-building efforts, did not understand this. (Though his patience was, once again, exemplary. Most of the time.) I think many men have always struggled to differentiate between what might be a genuine reaction and what they can dismiss as “hormonal” reactions (ie, those that they think can be ignored). I knew when my hormones were distorting my emotions. And I knew when they weren't. He didn't. So once I had begun taking HRT and it was doing what it was supposed to do, if we were having an argument, or if I was upset at something, he would ask if I had taken my pills, implying that I was being over-emotional and irrational. (Sound familiar? Ever hear men suggest that women who are angry are suffering from PMS?) That infuriated me more than whatever we were arguing about in the first place. Don’t worry, he pretty soon learnt not to do that!

This dismissal of women’s views happens in the wider societal contexts too. The idea that our ideas, comments, complaints etc are irrelevant and trivial because they are hormonal and therefore “unstable” has been around for centuries, probably millennia. Likewise, women’s medical issues and pain have been and are still devalued and treated differently. All I can say is that in a one-on-one basis, I find it exasperating, and on a societal basis, even more enraging. And yes, I took my HRT this morning!

The Crone Age

I have real discomfort with this terminology, and have always disliked of the implication I am now in the “crone” age. I know that it really just refers to a third stage in the life of a woman, but I find it hard to reconcile with its many other, derogatory connotations. However, in just one search from writing those two sentences, I have learned new things. I’ve learned that the word “crone” actually comes from the word “crown” and refers instead to the crowning wisdom we reach in our post-menopausal years. Okay, I like that. I particularly like the definitions along the lines of a “woman with valuable experience, sound judgement, and wisdom.” This is more reflective of how I actually feel about myself now. (No, I’m not modest!)

But I have to say that I don’t feel that this has come on post-menopause. No, it is a result of my No Kidding life, of battling infertility, of accepting my No Kidding childless life, of working with many women during this time, and of learning from others. Most importantly, it is from learning more about who I am, what I value, and who I want to be.

Still, please, couldn’t we find a better term than “crone?”