This article was written in 2012
Perhaps one of the things that’s surprised me most about coming to terms with my childlessness is how it’s impacted every area of my life: my identity, my dreams and my hopes. And one of the most unexpected shifts has been in my ideas about intimate relationships.
I was with my ex-husband for 16 years, and both before and after that had serious, long-term relationships. Really, from the ages of 15-45 I had sex and heteosexual relationships on the brain. And now, aged 48, and four years into accepting that my quest for motherhood is over, I’m not anymore.
It’s not that I don’t want an intimate relationship anymore, that would be untrue. It’s just that I’ve outgrown what I used to want, and what I now want hasn’t fully come into focus yet. I find that I’m clearer on what I don’t want than what I do. Now that I’m no longer wondering whether someone would make a good father, a whole lot of other stuff seems to need thinking through. It’s not that I’ve become anti-relationship, but I guess I’m just a bit more pro-me than I’ve ever been before.
Well, that’s not entirely true…
The fact is, the way I feel is quite familiar to me. It’s how I felt before puberty.
The unMentionable M word
Menopause has become a word more unmentionable than ‘period’ these days. Periods are what young, fertile women have. Whereas the menopause… well, we just don’t talk about that darling! Get some work done, work out more, stop eating carbs, hate your body and lie about your age but don’t talk about that darling!
I quite often describe myself as ‘middle-aged’ and I can guarantee that the first response from others is nearly always a shocked, “But you’re not middle-aged!”
I’m 48. If I’m not middle-aged now, what am I? And just because in a good light, on a good day and after a good night’s sleep I can ‘pass’ for 40, why should I bother trying?
About a year ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine. Back in the day, when I was married, there was always a ‘vibe’ between us. He asked me what I was working on (I was sitting in a cafe, typing, just like I am now) and I told him about Gateway Women and about an upcoming talk I was giving – asked him to spread the word. He’s a major social butterfly, well-known about town, very popular with women (and already a father).
“I’m sure you must know loads of women in this situation,” I said.
“Oh, you know, late 30s to mid-40s, coming to the end of their fertile window and freaking out about not having kids.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I do know a few… but why are you giving this talk?… you’ve still got loads of time left!”
“Don’t be silly”, I said, “I’m post-fertile”
The look on his face was as if I’d just crapped in my pants and he could smell it.
“How can you even say that!?” he said, absolutely horrified and made his excuses to get away from me as quickly as possible.
I think we can safely say that I killed that vibe!
Puberty in Reverse
Before puberty, I didn’t really give a damn what boys thought about anything, except useful stuff like the best way to climb a tree. I felt complete and whole in myself mentally and emotionally and had a sense of integrity and trust in my body. I had a mystical connection with nature and the universe and felt up to any challenge that life had in store for me (and it was already dishing them out at quite a pace). I didn’t call it my ‘mojo’ in those days, because I didn’t need a name for it. It would have been like asking a fish how the water is: ‘what’s water?’ says the fish.
Strangely enough, even the word ‘menopause’ is misunderstood. Menopause is the actually the endpoint, the welcome ‘thank god it’s over’ destination after the 5-8 years of turbulence leading up to that point, known as ‘peri-menopause’. Defining the menopause by its end-point is crazy – it’s like defining puberty as ‘turning 18’.
In some ways, I consider peri-menopause to be puberty in reverse: the dramas, the emotional lability, the fluidity of identity, the crashing highs and lows, the new ideas about relationships, the painful self-consciousness, the skin and body changes.
And through this process, we are returned to ourselves after a decades-long reproductive detour. Some of us with a biological child, some without.
Being peri or post-menopausal is a time of reunion with a deeper part of ourselves. It’s a time when our dreams for the kind of person we wanted to be, the kind of adventures we wanted to have, come back to us. And, if we allow it, the courage and confidence to follow them.
We are wiser than we know, braver than we think and this can be a truly magnificent flowering for our consciousness. We need to give ourselves permission, individually and culturally, to do so.
A Death we Survive
Menopause may be the end of Youth with a capital ‘Y’, but it’s not the end of life. And actually, once you get used to the idea, letting go of capital ‘Y’ youth is a bit of a relief. The menopause is a kind of death, one which we survive. It transforms us, whether we like it or not, whether we’re in denial about it or are prepared to face it. Childless women are perhaps more acutely aware of the ‘death in life’ nature of the menopause because they know that they’re not going to ‘live on’ in their children. They are the endpoint of millions of years of evolution.
That shit is sobering to ponder on and you can either run from it or let it transform you.
Knowing that we are the ‘endpoint’ we can either feel crushed by the weight of history or released to live the rest of our lives in a way that brings us joy. We have a choice, if we’re prepared to go against the youth-obsessed messages of our culture. We’re going to be old a long-time, and so are all those young women coming up after us. We really need to change this record.
Human beings are ‘meaning-making machines’. We seek to understand the chaotic dance of life, and to impose a sense of order on that chaos. The joy and the challenge of our life as post-fertile childless women living in a pro-natalist, mummy-mad culture is to create that meaning for ourselves. And not to be defined by the M-word – whether it stands for ‘motherhood’ or ‘menopause’.
Looks like I’m on the fast track to being one of those old ladies living alone with cats. Bring it on! Looks like fun to me!
If you're childless and dealing with the menopause, you might find these resources helpful too:
- For single childless women, please join live or watch later our webinar on ‘Owning Your Single & Childless Identity‘
- If you are interested in Jody’s project on becoming a ‘Conscious Childless Elder’ you might like to check it out here. We also have a ‘Conscious Childless Elderwomen’ subgroup in the GW membership community here.
- The private Gateway Women membership community on MightyNetworks has a “Peri-Menopause & Menopause” topic where you can share privately how this (and everything else!) is going for you! The first month is free; reduced/donation memberships available for those who need them. Click here for more information and to access/join.
- Jody’s interview in ‘Still Hot: 42 Brilliantly Honest Menopause Stories” (2020) by Kaye Adams and Vicky Allen. Click here for more info.
- An article of Jody’s from 2014 on ‘The Childless Menopause’ here