From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Menopause, Mommy, and Me

Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.

Oscar Wilde

At family gatherings many years ago, “the change” was spoken of in hushed whispers among my aging aunts. While literally dozens of first, second, and third cousins whooped, hollered, ran, skipped, and rolled upon the sweet grass at Aunt Blanche’s farm, many of the women fanned their red, perspiring faces with handkerchiefs, fans, or papers, whatever would generate a bit of refreshing breeze. Discreetly, they commiserated with each other.

Totally unsympathetic, we teenaged girls cast veiled, smug smirks at our older female relatives. Not one of us believed that we would become “mature.” We were positive that we would always be young, firm-fleshed, and vibrant. At that time, anyone over the age of thirty had already passed into the nether regions of “old.”

Time passed. Suddenly I was in my twenties, married, and the mother of a daughter and a son. I’m still not sure how it happened so quickly, but then overnight, I was in my late thirties, the mother of two teenagers. Ten more years galloped by, and something horrendous began going awry in my body.

The first night I awoke drenched in sweat, I thought that I had wet the bed! Horrors! Upon consideration, I realized that it was predominantly my head, neck, and upper body that were soaked. I changed my gown, turned over the pillow, punched it, and tried to go back to sleep, certain that some terrible disease was about to pounce upon me.

Over the course of the next two years, I had to admit that “the change” had taken over my life, and I didn’t like it! On Sunday mornings I had refused to fan myself with the church bulletin until I saw other choir members do so. Unlike the Southern ladies who “glow,” I didn’t get dewy, or glow, or perspire. I would sweat! Rivulets ran down my cheeks, my neck, my back, and every other place where there was fabric that could stick to skin.

My daughter, who was close to thirty at that time, often teased me about my sudden red face, the beads of sweat above my upper lip, how I often pulled my blouse away from my body. “Just wait!” I told her, knowing that the menopause monster would attack her all too soon. I smiled at her. Except for a short period during her teens, she and I had always been good friends.

When she was a child, I often made matching dresses for both of us, real “mommy and me” garments, but that was before she was old enough to realize dressing like your mother wasn’t cool. As adults, my daughter and I shared the same taste in clothing, furniture, and food. We have even chosen the same pieces of jewelry on separate shopping trips, and we often finish each other’s sentences and answer questions at the same time using the same words.

At the age of fifty-five, I underwent a total hysterectomy. The ovarian tumor was benign, thankfully, and the doctor wanted me to start hormone replacement in the form of an estrogen patch. The majority of menopausal symptoms had disappeared, but he wanted me to benefit from all the other supposedly good things that hormone replacement offers. It was wonderful!

I faithfully applied a new little patch every week, except for a period of about a month when I kept forgetting to get the prescription refilled. When I told the druggist all of my old symptoms had returned, such as irritability, night sweats, hot flashes, and chills, he wanted to know how many people had sent me in to get the prescription filled!

All was well until early last autumn. At my biannual checkup, the doctor told me that I should discontinue using the patch; I had been wearing them for ten years, which was too long. “Let’s see how you do,” he said. Well, I didn’t do well. Without the estrogen patch, I was drop-kicked back into the briar patch of full-blown menopause!

Then suddenly it dawned on me that my lovely daughter, who was now forty-five, had begun to fan, pull her blouse away from her body, use a sleeve, a napkin, a towel, a tablecloth, whatever fabric was available, to wipe her beautiful red face. We were sitting across from each other at a restaurant, both of us surreptitiously using a napkin to wipe sweat from our upper lips. Our eyes locked, and we both burst into laughter at the same time.

There we sat, the kindred spirit of menopause between us. Whoever would have thought that a mother and daughter, with twenty years difference in age, could share such a monumental experience? She was not yet to the stage that hormone replacement is recommended, but I had an edge. That very week I called my doctor and told him that I wanted my patch back.

He renewed the prescription, and I fully intend to continue wearing one of those little miracle workers for as long as I am able to slap it somewhere on my body. When the day comes that I am given my final bath, I can guarantee that the undertaker will find a little clear, oval patch on my abdomen or a hip, placed there tenderly by an arthritic hand—either mine or my husband’s!

Barbara Elliott Carpenter

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