On the 14th April I celebrated one full year without my period. This means that I am now officially in menopause. Yay! The period (haha) leading up to this momentous occasion is known as peri-menopause and can last anywhere between a few months and ten years! Mine lasted about three years and the first time I became aware of it was when my period, which has always had atomic-clock precision regularity, was three months late. Even then, it wasn’t the first thing I suspected. I bought a home pregnancy kit, not for the first time but hopefully for the last, and was surprised and enormously relieved that it was negative. But my period remained conspicuously absent, so I went to the doctor to get some answers about what was going on down there.
When the lab test came back negative as well, the doctor said to me, somewhat tenderly, “Well, you are 46.” Of course!!! It was a lightbulb moment. And one of mixed emotions. “Yay”, I’m not preggers. “Boo”, I’m getting old. And “Duh”, because menopause is genetic and my Mum was also in her forties when she went through it. I’m a woman of a certain age, so menopause was always kind of hovering in the background. I had just been so preoccupied with the horrific notion of baby fixin’s growing inside of me that I’d forgotten to consider it.
After that my periods started fucking around even more. They went from being super light to super heavy. From regular as clockwork to extremely unpredictable (once every three months, once every six days, whenever it goddamn felt like it). And they went from lasting just two or three days to dragging out over a week, ten days, more. Worst of all, they became excruciatingly painful. There were several days I couldn’t go to work because I was physically unable to unfurl myself from a foetal position. And I wouldn’t have been able to work a two hour stint in the tower without bleeding all over myself and the furniture anyway.
So when my period stopped coming, it was a welcome respite from all the bloody drama. The last twelve months have passed without a single drop of blood being shed from my uterus. That’s one of the perks of menopause. Some of the downsides? Insomnia, physical and mental exhaustion, having to go to the toilet all the time, itchy skin (it’s called formication – no, FORMICATION), a pudgy belly and intense joint discomfort in my entire skeleton. I do feel pretty lucky to not suffer any of the emotional and depressive symptoms which are pretty common in menopausal women. And so far I’ve also managed to dodge the vaginal dryness and sexy-time problems. Can I get a high five!!
The hot flushes though. Fuck me, they are not a joke. They come on like an actual volcanic eruption. From somewhere very deep inside my body, from my very core, an intense heat starts radiating out like rising lava until my organs, my muscles, my bones and my skin are all ablaze. It feels like I’m actually heating the air around me. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It is a total body clusterfuck, and it’s extraordinarily uncomfortable. During particularly intense flushes my skin breaks out in sweat, rivulets of which pour down my face and upper body. And the night sweats are even worse. We’re talking full body saturation and drenched sheets. This happens almost every night while David sleeps beside me, shivering because I need to have the air-conditioning set to cold.
So, why am I telling you all this? Let me try to explain. When it comes to being a woman, sometimes it can feel like we are all alone. We’re made to feel shame for our bodies and what happens to them, especially as we get older. It might seem that there are no more taboos left, and that we can talk about almost anything these days. But watch what happens when women want to talk about having miscarriages or abortions, or being raped. Watch what happens when women want to talk about sex work or birth control or incontinence or sexual harrassment. Watch what happens when women want to breastfeed in public. Or when we talk about menopause or periods or vaginal discharges or the other (somehow worse) taboo of vaginal dryness. We’re made to feel disgusting, and that talking about our bodies is dirty. That it’s wrong to talk about the things that happen in between our legs. That it’s Too Much Information and we should keep it to ourselves.
I’m not thrilled to be discussing this shit with you. Why not? Because it feels wrong, and somehow dirty. Do you see what I mean?? And that, precisely, is the reason that I am writing about it. The concept of privacy here can be a double-edged sword. It can be protective, sure, but it can also be used as a means of repression or censorship. I’m prepared to sacrifice my right to “privacy” in the hope of making some positive impact. Every woman’s experience of this stuff is different, but if I can do something to smash the taboo (or at least chip away at it, even just a little bit) by putting my private bits out there, then I’mma do it. If one woman reads this and feels seen, I’m cool with whatever stigma comes along for the ride. If one woman reads this and feels less alone, then it’s totally worth it.
So, if for some reason you feel uncomfortable reading this, then of course feel free to drop out here. But I do urge you to confront your discomfort and keep on reading. It certainly wasn’t easy or comfortable for me to write it, but I pushed through. Because I sincerely feel that it’s important to have this conversation. To make it OK to talk about it. Whether you decide to keep reading or not is completely up to you. But you’ve been warned. Shit’s about to get real.
The first time I became pregnant I was living in the US, working as an au pair. The upper age limit for the job was 26, and I barely scraped in, turning 27 three days after starting work. So I was “old” for an au pair. But in many ways I was still very innocent, naïve and young. I was not a worldly 27 year old. I was a baby. Before starting the job I had held some loosely conceived, vague notions of one day becoming a mother. Nothing that I would call an urge, though. More like a pre-programmed setting that hazily loomed in the far distance. I always used to say that my biological clock must have been digital, because I never heard it tick. But during my time away in the US, I came face to face with motherhood. And I realised I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.
Long story short. The year was 1998, and I was a wide-eyed ingénue, living in a small town in Connecticut. I met a guy, I liked him, we had a lot of sex, the condom broke, I got pregnant. I did not enjoy being impregnated. I was absolutely appalled that my body had allowed itself to be implanted with the ingredients of a human being. I physically hated it too. The embryo would only have grown to the size of a kidney bean (I’ve blown out boogers that were bigger), but it physically felt as if my body had been occupied by some powerfully evil force. I was relentlessly unsettled and nauseous. I felt consumed, colonised, like my life was being sucked out of my body by a greedy parasite. I hated this creature growing inside of me, using me, without my permission. I punched myself in my stomach 15 times a day, hoping to dislodge my unwanted passenger. Every morning I’d walk Daniel and Holly to the bottom of the driveway to wait for the school bus. After waving them off, I would climb up a large boulder near the mailbox and jump off repeatedly in the hopes of jarring the little fucker out of my uterus. I nearly broke my ankle slipping on the frozen ground. When my period still didn’t come I scheduled an abortion.
Afterwards, my boyfriend and I went out for lunch. Even though I was fuzzy from the sedative, I can still remember feeling absolutely fucking great. A malignant growth had been excised from my body, and I was reborn. I had escaped a future I was incapable of living, and everything around me seemed beautiful. I felt peace for the first time in ten weeks. That night I had a babysitting job with the family across the street. As I patiently tucked the clingy little girl into bed and soothed the whiny toddler to sleep, I knew I had made the right decision. I waited for the regret to come, I was ready to face it. But it never did. And it never has.
People have asked me why I never wanted children. They’ve wondered if perhaps there was some trauma in my childhood that prevented me from wanting to create a family of my own. But nothing could be further from the truth. My childhood was idyllic. There were ups and downs, of course, but I look back on those years as being as close to a perfect childhood as you can get. I don’t mind being asked why I haven’t had kids. But the more pertinent question to me is why people do choose to have them. To be brutally honest, I’m confused by all the babymaking. I don’t understand the urge to breed. Maybe I’m missing a gene, or something.
Nearly all my friends have had kids, and I love (most of) them. So I don’t want to offend anyone here, but having children seems like the most basic thing you can do. Algae reproduces sexually. Having offspring feels like the default evolutionary option. Like a stage in a life cycle that people go through without stopping to question why they’re doing it. Why they want it so much. The instinct to procreate, to reproduce, to spawn is a primitive one. It is an animalistic drive. Is it judgemental to feel that I am above that primal urge? I guess it is (sorry, not sorry). Pardon me, but I’m proud of the fact that I haven’t mindlessly added another human being to an already overpopulated world. I’m proud of the fact that I chose the road less travelled. That I didn’t have children simply because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do in order to be fulfilled.
So am I a more complete human being, for not having the imperative to pass on my DNA? Or am I incomplete? Nature designed us to survive and multiply. Does my choice make me superior to nature? Or am I one of nature’s mistakes? Thinking of myself as being more evolved, because I’ve chosen not to have kids is actually fucking hilarious. Because my “evolved” genes are gonna die with me. Nature wins. Nature always wins. Brava nature. Fucking slow clap, bitch.
My next two abortions (minor wins against nature) were performed in Australia. I feel very lucky to have had such easy access to terminations when I desperately needed them. I always had a safe and legal way to exercise my right to choose what happens to my body. All three of my abortions were excellent decisions. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of them, but I’m certainly not ashamed. And if I were to become pregnant today, I would have another abortion. Because, when I tell you that I don’t want to be a mother, when I say that I don’t want children, I really mean it. I’m thankful to be childless, and I love my life just the way it is. Nearly three months before my 50th birthday, I am thrilled to not have to worry about any more “accidents”. No longer being so goddamn fertile is definitely a perk of menopause and almost makes the rest of the shitshow worth it. But, I’ll be getting David to pop on a condom for a little while longer. Just in case.