The Sudden Change
Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age
Days before my 51st birthday, I received an unexpected gift.
By Carrie McConkey
My primary care physician’s office was calling my cell; when I answered, it was his nurse, Linda.
“Dr. Chaudhuri is out of town, but he wanted me to call you with your bloodwork results from last week’s physical,” she said. “He told me to tell you you’re in menopause.”
Then, after a beat, “Congratulations!”
After I hung up with her, I thought, “Finally. Here’s the topic for the blog.”
When I decided to start Decade №5, my plan was to document my 50th year with monthly observations. I didn’t map out any topics; I figured I’d let things occur organically. When the year was completed, I would have it all figured out.
What exactly would be figured out? I’m not sure. Life? Middle age? The answer to happiness? Certainly, the subject would make itself clear by the time twelve months had passed.
But, seeing as I’m a planner, from the beginning I kept a brain file open for inspiration about this final tome. Should I do a recap of the year? Do I need to pen a heartwarming story, with a satisfying “The End!” at its conclusion? Or just write a random tale that leaves the rest to the reader’s imagination, like an artsy movie?
Now, I had my answer.
Ummm…. yeah. After the initial delight about my suddenly-solved writing dilemma, Linda’s words repeated in my mind.
In menopause? How in the world had this happened, and why didn’t I experience perimenopause? I had friends who had mentioned perimenopause years before, in their early forties. I kept waiting. But now… had I gone through this significant transition of life completely unaware?
I told my husband John the news. I will never forget the flashes of confusion and worry on his face. He admitted he really didn’t know much about it — after all, what cause was there for him to be up on the topic? I tried explaining, stumbling through how I can no longer get pregnant… the cycle of a woman’s life… but realized I didn’t know much about it myself. Except that I felt old.
I sensed a chasm widening and pictured my younger, still-fertile friends on the other side. A weird sort of shame came over me. The same feeling I had when I first choked on the words: “I’m 50”.
It was as if I’d just walked out of a raucous party of women who were busily rearing children, fully immersed in the daily drama of their families, and had entered a room of women who were…. well, what were they doing, anyway? What did this time bring, besides a reminder of our own mortality?
I’d never wanted to have kids, so I didn’t know what I was so upset about. This would mean freedom from birth control — no more packing my pills in my purse when taking a flight just in case my luggage got lost… or accidentally taking two in one day because I was so paranoid about getting pregnant. I had spent 60% of my life on birth control. It might be exciting to get to know my body again in its natural state.
But still, somehow I mourned my lack of awareness about this meaningful transition. I worried that, along with the months of COVID, another part of my life had passed in a blur. An important stage of aging, that gives you a heads-up so your mental state can keep up with the physical. Was it yet another milestone that had been lost?
As it so happened, Nurse Linda had called me on the day I was scheduled to start my birth control placebo pills. I pushed the first pill out of the blister pack, wondering if, after these were gone, I should stop taking them.
After a few days, I had a puzzling hint that maybe I should not. Was it? No! The slightest of periods?
I was baffled and upset, exacerbated by the fact that the weekend had just begun and the only answers I could seek were through Google. What was going on? What now?
After a Saturday and Sunday of pleasant summer weather barely noticed due to the never-ending dialogue in my head, early Monday morning I called Dr. McCollum, my gynecologist, for a consultation. Thank you, God — there had been a cancellation — I could book an appointment the very next morning. I would only have to wait 24 more hours to get some answers, and relief.
When I arrived, the gentle ladies’ doctor welcomed me into his office. He offered one of a pair of chairs thoughtfully arranged apart from his desk, which allowed him to sit with his patients and attentively listen. A very tall man with a basketball player’s reach, the physician barely had to raise from his seat to grab a box of Kleenex as I began to cry. He reassured me that this was not the beginning of the end. In fact, there was a lot more sleuthing we could do to determine exactly where I was in my feminine journey.
I got my answer about the birth control pills — he released me to better gauge where my body stood on its own. We would do further bloodwork. And due to my signs of a period, he concluded that I was indeed in perimenopause.
I hadn’t missed it after all.
One of my non-reproductively-challenged friends gave me a call, to whom I had divulged the original news of the sudden menopause diagnosis. I was relieved to give her the update.
“Well, you’ve got blog material right there,” she said.
I told her I’d actually been second-guessing myself about penning my experience. Was it oversharing? Was I being too dramatic? I had been too embarrassed to mention it to anyone but her and John, and I was certainly hesitant about announcing it to the entire virtual world.
Without hesitation, she said, “No, women need to know about these things.”
As I turned the issue over in my mind, I remembered a classmate from an online NYU writing course I had taken during the months of COVID. Jenn McKee had the enviable achievement of a published article in Good Housekeeping about “Period Positivity”. In the piece, she discusses a new generation of pre-teen girls, including her own 12-year-old daughter, who were openly talking about menstruation with their families, male classmates, and each other.
I pondered this group of girls, fearlessly entering into womanhood, no embarrassment or shame among them. If they could be trailblazers in bringing this part of a female’s life out into the open, why couldn’t I? What was keeping me from being a 21st Century member of my age group, embracing this time with pride and curiosity rather than dread?
Why couldn’t I start a “Menopause Dialogue”?
Instinctively, I thought of the value of encouraging and giving advice to friends of my junior as they inevitably reached this juncture in their lives. Hopefully, I could allay some of their fears because I knew, at least for me, there had been plenty — including the near-miss of the start of the entire process. Surely I can let them know it’s going to be okay… life will continue. Each year — each chapter — is precious and should be cherished. And I’ll have entered the room with menopausal-and-beyond women to discover what exciting things they are doing with the time and energy saved not having to deal with the reproducing years.
Tomorrow is my 51st birthday. I’m relieved — I don’t know if anything else could have been packed into the past 12 months. I’ll definitely be starting off with a lot to think about, but God willing, the year and continuing 50th decade will bring more clarity and peace.
And, I can finally identify with Molly Shannon’s Sally O’Malley. I can kick (against it)… stretch (my mind and my spirit)… aaaaand kick (with sass)!