Tag Archives: menopause

What 50 Looks Like

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And why it does and doesn’t matter…

Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem once responded to a reporter who kindly remarked that she did not look 40, “This is what 40 looks like.”  Now, whatever your thoughts and opinions about Ms. Steinem may be, her response to that reporter has always resonated with me. As a woman who has always felt judged by my appearance (not by age as much as by shape and size) I love it when appearance-based stereotypes get shattered.  But this post isn’t really about physical appearances as much as what my life looks like today, as I turn The Big 5-0.

In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit to being a little freaked-out by the prospect of turning 50.  It’s a milestone different from any other birthday that happens to have a zero at the end of it.  A woman turning 50 often finds herself subject to the slings and arrows of menopause and all the changes associated with the end of the childbearing years.  And I am so there.  I am relieved that my new GYN actually listened to my concerns during our initial visit and started me on treatment that I hope will help me feel better soon.

I went today and renewed my drivers’ license, and I was pleasantly surprised by how similar my photo today looked when compared to the one from my last license 10 years ago.  Aside from a marked decrease in weight, I don’t look too different, or too much older.  That was a big relief!

The biggest surprise about this birthday is how much more content and comfortable I am in my life and in my own skin than I’ve probably ever been before.  I remember other birthdays with zeroes on them, and the various kinds of angst I was experiencing with each of them.  My life is in a better place now.  God has blessed me with a husband who still loves me after all these years, makes me laugh, warms my heart, has been a wonderful dog dad, and makes me feel safe.Image

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I have several longtime friendships like that as well. Those relationships are priceless.  My friend Mary K. and I spent the weekend between our birthdays together.  Her birthday is May 15 and was also a milestone.  We first met at a Methodist youth assembly when we were 13 or 14 years old.  Living in different states, we were pen-pals for decades but didn’t actually see each other again until 2009 when, after about a decade of being out of touch, we reconnected via Facebook.

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Over the years we have shared everything from braces and boyfriend stories to college, marriage, the births of her children to the deaths of our parents.  This friendship and a few other cherished ones like it sustain me, nourish my soul and, again, make me feel safe.  Above is the picture from our initial reunion in 2009, and below is from our most recent get-together this past weekend.  It just dawned on me that she is wearing the same top in both pictures, and I am wearing yellow in both.  (My sweater from 2009 would swallow me now since weight loss surgery!)

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The losses of so many loved ones have all affected me in different ways, but that old adage, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” is one I believe in.  Yes, the deaths hurt terribly…but I am so incredibly grateful that I have known and loved these precious family members and friends.  My life without them would be unimaginable.  And they’re not gone forever.  They’re just in a place where I can’t see them right now, except when they visit in dreams.  The relationships with living family members are all works in progress, just as they’ve always been.  I’m grateful for the ones still here who make me feel safe, valued and loved.

So I guess my life turning 50 is looking pretty good after all.  God has been so faithful and brought me through more sadness, disasters and changes than I ever could have imagined experiencing by the time I turned 50.  He has also brought me more wonderful surprises, happiness and joy than I could ever hope to deserve.  So, what does 50 look like?  

Sometimes it looks hazy and crazy.

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Sometimes it looks goofy and spoofy.Image

 

 Mostly, though,  it just looks…Blessed.

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The Change

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Changes, changes, everywhere…

A couple of years ago I took a ministry class that required me to put together a genogram.  A genogram is basically an expanded family tree of sorts, with the standard names, birth and death dates, but also including other relevant family information such as marriages, divorces, patterns of disease and addiction and other such family skeletons.  It is a tool to help figure out why our family relationships and dynamics are the way they are, and in turn, why we are the way we are.  In putting my own genogram together it dawned on me how little I know about my family history beyond my grandparents.

And as I realized how little of this information I knew, I began to miss my departed loved ones in a whole new way.  Now that I am in the throes of menopause, I can’t help thinking what I’d give to have 15 minutes to talk to Mama and my grandmothers and ask every question I could blurt out in that quick amount of time, to find out more of our “female” history.  I know it’s a natural part of life, but it sure would be nice to get some answers from my female forbears about how their experiences might be influencing my own.  As it is, I have to rely on my memory of the stories that circulated around the women in my family going through The Change.

Granny’s last period nearly killed her, apparently.  Aunt Ruby was living in the little house on Wynn Street, just down the road and around the corner from Granny’s place on Arnold.  Granny was in the habit of walking down to visit with Aunt Ruby every afternoon, but one day she didn’t show up.  Aunt Ruby told me that Uncle Otto got ahold of her and said, “You should probably get to Mama’s house, she’s up there bleedin’ like a stuck hog.”  Before it was all over, the doctor had to come and pack her to get the bleeding to subside, and that was the very last of it.  In those days such things were not discussed, other than to say in hushed tones that someone was suffering from “female trouble”.  Which could mean anything from having her period to cancer.

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Mama’s menopause did not come on gradually, either.  I remember being at home with her when she started saying that she felt funny and sick, hot and weak.  She paced the floor and eventually laid down on the living room floor and put her feet up on the couch.  I got cold compresses for her and prayed hard.  I thought she was having a stroke or worse, and it scared me to death.  It scared her too.  She said she had never had such an awful feeling in her life before.  When she went to the doctor, he did some blood tests and something startling showed up.  She was producing no estrogen at all.  Like, yesterday she had some and today she had none.  NONE.  He said that would definitely explain her strange symptoms, and they went about formulating a treatment plan to get her feeling better.  For a while she went in for monthly hormone injections.  ”I go in on Tuesday for my Hot Shot,” she would joke.  Her traumatic entry into The Change was brought on, in part, by emotional stress due to some drastic economic changes.  She and Dad had 2 kids in college when Dad’s company demoted him and several other senior managers (Dad suspected possibly due to age), resulting in a severe drop in income.  Dad said he got demoted while Mama was having a period and she never bled another streak again.

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Aunt Mary and Aunt Martha both seemed to have some trouble during The Change as well, from what I can remember.  I was a kid and Aunt Mary was always hot, and Aunt Martha was always nervous.  Aunt Martha’s recollections of her experience with The Change could be funny.  ”They Lord, I felt like my nipples was on fire, so I stuck ice cubes down my brassiere!”   She also suffered from headaches later in life and would rub Icy Hot arthritis gel on her forehead.  I have never tried this and I don’t intend to…but I also never say never.

Aunt Ruby and Aunt Elaine both had hysterectomies, so their Changes weren’t typical.  I exchanged messages recently with “Aunt” Helen, who is actually my first cousin, and with Debbie, another first cousin, to pry into their experiences.  Both of them were very sweet in sharing what they could with me, and offered encouragement and love as I navigate the waters of my own Change.

Not having to worry about periods and birth control anymore will be a wonderful relief.  But the night sweats are disrupting my sleep enough now that I think I am losing IQ points.  I’ve joked that every time I wake up sweating, I can hear brain cells screaming as they die.  My Change may also be more challenging because I’ve never borne a child.  I just hope and pray that my transition through this stage of my life will be…wait for it… A Change for the Better!

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