….but we are all fabulous.
This week’s blog has been hijacked by increasingly unavoidable signs (menstrual cycle length, acne, flushing) that I am entering the phase known as perimenopause: the years leading up to the menopause when one’s hormonal balance starts shifting.
This is challenging on several levels – the symptoms are problematic as they are often nebulous and it is too easy to attribute every moment of forgetfulness to the menopause, whilst simultaneously concerned that something more sinister is at play. It also gives me the sense that I no longer know my own body; old routines that would have worked on my skin for example, are no longer effective, whilst my cycle, once regular as clockwork, is unpredictable.
Another challenge is that the menopause signals the end of reproductive ability. Many women, even those with children, mourn this loss with all the implications for female identity it can carry. I have never had children and this latest ‘change’ in my life forces me to confront this sadness anew. My lack of children was never a conscious choice, but rather something that I once read a brilliant description for: “a creeping non-choice”. A situation that evolved by having a husband of 12 months leave me for another woman when I was 30, by persisting with a toxic relationship in my late 30s in the hope he would change (he didn’t) and by not meeting the wonderful man I hope to spend the rest of my life with until I was in my 40s.
Some thoughts for the child I never had
I wanted to say that I’m sorry I never got to meet you and to explain why.
Some people think women like me are too selfish to be a mother, too engrossed in my career to take time out to have you, or perhaps deficient in some other way – lacking a maternal instinct or hiding some deviant personality trait. Some people think I have chosen to be without you, that I wanted a life without you in it.
In truth, I never met anyone who was right for you until a few years ago. By then it was too late and I, we, won’t get to meet you now. You will always be a part of us – a shared bond that other people won’t understand – a hidden sadness and the whispered imagination of a life we might have led.
Some people say that I am lucky not to have children, that I don’t understand how much work it is and that I should think of all that time/money/career that I have. Some people change the subject or suggest we get a pet.
I think we would have been ok parents, even good parents – not perfect of course, but no one is. We would have loved you and you would have enriched our lives. Even talking about the possibility of trying to meet you has brought us closer. But it was not to be.
You should know that I am happy with my life, with who I am, with where I am and who I’m there with, with all the choices I have made.
Just know that I never chose not to have you.
I don’t like the words ‘childless’ or ‘childfree’ for my situation; they imply the wrong things – a victim of misfortune or a deliberate choice. They also imply that having children is how things should be – there is no adjective for having children, no ‘childful’, as if that is the default position.
If it is challenging being without children in our pronatalist society prior to the menopause, it is not hard to see why women who have come out the other side often refer to themselves as being invisible. Whilst this is often meant in a sexual sense, it is not hard to imagine that one must feel as if ones relevance in society has past.
The Chinese, who traditionally value older adults as being wise, have a beautiful phrase for the menopause: the Second Spring. This is seen as a time to reflect, to renew your relationship with yourself and to enter a new phase of your life characterised by wisdom and potential. Diet and lifestyle are thought to explain why Asian women suffer less in menopause than women in western countries. However, it is possible that society’s and consequently our own internalised view of menopause, characterised mainly by loss rather than by renewal, also contribute to the negative experience of many women, such as anxiety and depression.
Landscape after Night Rain Shower (1660) by Kuncan