I am deep in the claws of menopause. I have frequent hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and weight gain around my middle. I am certain that this bumpy ride through midlife is due to at least two reasons.
I always had easy periods. Growing up I rarely had cramps; I had light periods that barely lasted three, maybe four days. I saw my friends doubled over in pain, running to the bathroom every hour to change their tampons, spending an inordinate amount of money on Midol and Tampax. I am getting my comeuppance for sailing through life having had trouble-free menstruation.
I developed late; I didn’t get my period until I was about thirteen and my mother slapped me across the face. I looked up at her astonished. “You’re a woman now,” she said as she explained that the slap is an old Jewish tradition. My breasts seemed to make up for lost time shooting out from my chest overnight from mere buds to a DD cup. All of the women on my mother’s side of the family have enormous breasts – we fondly refer to them as the “Bernstein (my mother’s maiden name) boobs.” If you can believe it, even at a DD, I was among the smallest and at 5’6″ I was also the tallest. My poor cousin Elaine is a mere 5’1″ and an F cup (yes, they make F cups).
When I was 25 my mother asked me if I would like to have breast reduction surgery and without hesitation I agreed. The surgeon reduced my ponderous DD’s to perky C’s and I healed with no complications. In 1986, insurance still paid for the surgery. After I was declared well by my doctor, my mother and I went to Bloomingdale’s and bought hundred’s of dollars worth of pretty, lacy, feminine bras to celebrate – the kind that I could never wear before.
Another reason I’m certain I’m having a challenging menopause is because as my mother fanned herself during her hot flashes, sweat dripping down her face, her glasses sliding down the bridge of her nose, I shamelessly laughed at her and mocked her. Yes, I am being punished for making fun of my dear sweet mother.
I sit in my office with a patient (I am a psychotherapist) and I feel the hot flash begin. I remove the outer layer of clothing – a light sweater perhaps – I always dress in layers these days, and the sweat begins to drip down the back of my neck, and down my forehead. I get up to to turn on the air conditioning while still maintaining the appearance of listening to my patient.
“Yes, you say your husband works too much. Have you tried telling him how you feel?”
How could my patients not notice that their therapist is sweating bullets and is turning beet red?
The worst is the weight gain. I’m not exactly sure now much I have gained because when I started gaining last April, I was underweight, just having begun to recover from a relapse of anorexia. I don’t have a scale at home; numbers are a trigger for me. I see a nutritionist every two weeks and she weighs me with my back to the numbers on the scale. I do know that my pants are tight around my waist, something that I am having a great deal of trouble tolerating. I like my clothes fairly loose with some give room. I like to be able to breathe.
“They’re only clothes,” says my nutritionist Miranda. “Do you know how awful you looked last spring? You looked ten years older, you were so depressed, and you cried every time you saw me.”
“No I don’t remember,” I answer stubbornly. “And besides, I like the clothes I have now.”
Surviving menopause continues to be a challenge; the search for answers on how to deal with the quandries that this particular time of life presents persists. I have no doubt that I’ll survive this predicament just as millions of other women have. I think I’ll tie a ribbon around the half-filled box of Playtex tampons I haven’t used and give it to my sister-in-law. She’s a mere babe at thirty-seven and pity her – she still has plenty of periods to go.