The (meno) Pause that Refreshes

The (meno) Pause that Refreshes

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by Dottie LeMieux

I have recently had a curse lifted from my body. It's a curse that afflicted fully one half of all the people in my generation and now it's being lifted from us, one by one, and we are thrilled. Well, we're partly thrilled, and partly discombobulated. This "curse" was also known as a "friend," a friend who brought us monthly reminders of our fertility and youth. Is it any wonder we're of mixed minds about getting rid of it at last?

By now, you know the curse I'm talking about is the menstrual cycle, and the reason we're out from under it is that we Baby Boomers, the generation that brought you sex drugs and rock and roll, has turned fifty. For millions of American women, that means menopause. Yes, we've traded in our monthly "friend" for hot flashes, those daily, sometimes even hourly reminders of impending old age, infertility, wrinkles and worse. Let's face it; nobody wants to get old.  Nobody wants to face brittle bones, senior moments and, ultimately, the approach of the grim reaper.

How do today's menopausal women cope? An informal survey of a handful of my friends yields the following:

  •     Daphne swallows herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements by the handful
  •     Barbara takes evening primrose, soy and testosterone
  •     Joan has become addicted to hormones
  •     Margaret calls it her own personal summer and has learned to live with it.

One thing all these women have in common is they're not at all reticent about talking about their changing bodies. This is a rite of passage to many, not the end of femininity but the start of a new and exciting phase of life. When my friend Sallyanne, who is a few years ahead of us Boomers, was named chair of the  "Older Womens Caucus" of the National Women's Political Caucus, her first official act was to change the name to  "The Wiser Women's Caucus." We are looking forward to being "wiser women."

But for now, the process itself is shaping up to be one hell of a ride, complete with rapid temperature changes and mood swings.  But not without its sense of humor. My favorite bumper sticker reads: "Don't call them Hot Flashes. They're  Power Surges." Go, Mama! When we were adolescents and our mothers took us aside for one of "those little talks" they were so concerned with their daughters getting into cars with boys and all that could lead to, they never mentioned what happened to you when the boys were bald and cars were only a threat if you were trying to cross the street in San Francisco. We learned all about getting our period (the curse we tried to tame by calling it our "friend"; some friend, I'm glad to say sayanora to that relationship!) and the use of bulky pads (anyone remember sanitary belts. Thank god for  tampons) and how it might make us cranky (now we call it PMS) but we were becoming women and we just had to put up with it.

But probably no one had talked to them about it either.  This is when the grandmothers should have stepped in: "Sweetheart, you think this is bad? Wait until you're my age, PMS, I wish!" Not that we'd have listened. Not that their information was likely to have been that useful back then. We were never going to be as old as our mothers, never mind our grandmothers.

Today's fifty somethings want to remain vibrant, healthy and sexually active. Hot flashes sure put a crimp in fun. And night sweats. Night sweats are the pits. There you are asleep in your bed when you jolt awake soaked in sweat. You have to change clothes. You're flapping the top of your pajamas trying to fan cool air to your chest, your partner snoring next to you.  Then two hours later you wake up freezing to death, and search for your discarded leggings and sweatshirt. You're afraid of catching pneumonia and you fret away the remainder of the night.

I go on the net to find the latest information and advice for today's hip young hot flasher: Wear layers of clothing, preferably in 
lightweight cotton. Don't drink alcohol or coffee, eat red meat sugar or dairy products. Thanks a lot. I already know the joys of peeling off my outerwear in public places. Might as well wear a sign around my neck: Menopausal Woman. On and off go the clothes in restaurants, meetings and movies.

And no, I'm not giving up Chardonnay or dry cappuccinos from my favorite espresso place.  I'm not ready to trade in red meat for soy burgers. But I have discovered chocolate soy milk. Not bad taken along with raspberry granola and cream, or with brandy at bedtime. And I'll try evening primrose and black cohosh and I know I really should get more exercise. And what about HRT?

My doctor handed me a pamphlet and said, you can take hormones if you want. It's your decision. Thanks Doc. What am I paying you for? Then there's all that genetics to consider. Mom's heart condition, diabetes and osteoporosis. Makes you practically scream for the chemicals. I'm still studying up on it. I don't want to get all bent and dead at an early age. I need a definitive answer if these herbs really do have any beneficial effect.  I don't want to stop the aging process, just control it a little. I'm looking forward to being wise and dignified in my old age.

Margaret and I go to the Giants game at the new Pac Bell Park. It's one of the few places actually suited to hot flashes, with its chill winds and Bay fog. We take turns wearing the one pair of gloves I've brought with me. As the cold winds pick up, we wait anxiously for the first signs of flush. As Margaret throws off her hood,  triumphant, unbuttons her coat saying: "Here it comes!" and the total stranger next to her, a woman of about our own age, turns suddenly and flashes us a knowing grin, we realize we are in the forefront of a new and powerful women's empowerment movement.

Copyright by Dotty LeMieux........Printed with Permission

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