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A Big Confession From A Menopausal Mother

Why does this upset me so much?

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illustration of mother and daughter looking at uterus constellation at night
Cynthia Kittler
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For the past several months — without incident or illness — my mood has been less predictable and my attention span brittle. I am no stranger to the malaise, yet something is different this time around. I also periodically wake hours before the alarm is due to go off, seemingly only to ruminate the extent of my insomnia. I experience light-headedness when getting up too fast and my left hip aches when I sit for too long. And, the pesky bladder-related dribbles have become a real drag. As a 49-year-old, these occurrences are less of a surprise and more like the arrival of a long-lost relative whom I have heard so much about. Still, I don’t know what to do with her.

So, I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician, who confirmed: Auntie Menopause has taken up residence. After a lengthy discussion, my doctor prescribed two herbs, Black Cohosh and Shatavari, to counter the nebulous symptoms. If things don’t improve in three months, I’ll go back for something stronger.

Some women lament the impending loss of their periods, and its association with youth. Until recently, I have felt indifferent. My husband and I — without regret — are done having children, and I don’t link my femininity to menstruation or being able to procreate. Between the inconvenience and discomfort, after 35 years, I am ready to part ways with my period.

I am not crazy about the lumps around my waistline and unruly gray strands, but, generally speaking, I do not wish to be young again. In many aspects of my life, I feel I am just getting started. I have taken up running and have been excited to discover a competitive edge. I parent with less intensity and still really like my husband. I am happier now than two decades ago and for that, I just don’t spend a ton of time examining that which is heading south.

My daughter, on the other hand, has always been obsessed with age: “How old will you be when I am 10?” “How old will you be when I am in high school?” I eventually taught her to add 40 to her hypothetical age to calculate mine. She turned 9 in December and is competent now at figuring out how old I will be at every point in her life — we are aging in tandem. Nine and 49.

But as I picked up those prescribed natural remedies, I was struck with the realization that Indira and I will never share a box of tampons.

And, well, that upset me.

Completing menopause before she reaches puberty means that I won’t get to reach into my supply of personal care products under the bathroom sink and make them ours, a rite of passage I lament more than taut skin. It won’t be a commonality, ever. Menopause has made me feel like I am accelerating toward old age as she remains twirling around in childhood, widening the chasm between us and our time together. It no longer feels like we are aging in tandem.

My daughter and I refer to ourselves as “us ladies.” When we make our way down our long apartment hallway, she puts her arms around my waist and we walk in step. “Look at us ladies.” Her older brother invited two middle school friends over for the first time, and she and I conspired for excuses to peek in on them, because we were equally delighted to finally catch a glimpse of these new pals. Indira still commands, “Watch this, Mommy!” I cherish those requests, because I know in 10 years she won’t be perfecting her cartwheel.

I had been with the realization for a few days when my daughter came into my bedroom as I was tearing off a sweaty running shirt. Indira recently inherited a bag of hand-me-downs from a teenage girl in our building and was thrilled to discover a collection of bralettes. She has worn one every day since, even though the undergarment is empty. When she saw me standing in my sports bra, she pulled the sleeve off her shoulder to reveal a purple strap. “Look at us ladies.”

That day, I went ahead and showed Indira where the pads and tampons are kept — reviewing what she had learned about her body years earlier — and explained how things work. It was the perfect moment. I preemptively answered that I would be around 55 when she gets her period, and that it was something special for just “us ladies.”