Menopausal Mojo: why being post-fertile is yet another taboo to bust!

From the archives of 2012

happy old women with cat

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.
“What situation?”
“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

19 Comments on Menopausal Mojo: why being post-fertile is yet another taboo to bust!

  1. I Googled “menopause” this evening and this article came up. After I got here, I double checked to confirm that this is a UK site. It never seems to fail that when I go looking for observations of other women regarding menopause and general life changes that come with age, etc., I inevitably find the best info and support on the UK sites.

  2. Jodie it is a Sunday morning – my time of the week for pondering life and all its variety, tradegy, joy and what not. I have just read this post and found it is so refreshing, honest and healing. I think that’s what most of us on here need to do with ourselves – we need to heal – but we don’t know how the hell to go about it. Letting go of the painful stereotypes is another thing. I’m currently in the tunnel – I’m not in it all the time – but I definitely do go in there. I really understand what you mean about the torture chamber and the assumption that if you look good on the outside that you must still be “fertile” and there is still a chance when there clearly isn’t. I’m really glad you have become our “spokeswoman” – you are a truly amazing, spiritual person. I’m in the menopause now and I don’t miss having periods! But there is this terrible taboo and no-one ever talks about it! It’s almost like you should be ashamed of it! Aging itself seems to be a miniature crime and we should do everything we can to combat it – even if we end up looking like a slightly unreal version of ourselves. Coming to terms with that lady in the mirror who has a couple of lines round her eyes and is not looking as fresh as she used to takes time also. Knowing that I will look slightly ridiculous if I wear a bow in my hair now and that I can no longer carry off certain looks take time. As someone who has previously worked in fashion I am sure you can recognise this! I really look forward to meeting you one day and coming to one of your weekends in a supportive, feminine atmosphere will be a real tonic in itself! Sue xx

  3. I wish I was 45. Being 40, single and childless doesn’t help come to terms with the situation when you keep thinking that your body might still give you children…or maybe not…..but there’s no man in my life anyway….etc. I have to reinvent myself and still be ready for the miracle…. or the regrets when I DO actually turn 45 and think “I shouldn’t have put my energy into reinventin myself”. 🙁

  4. So glad I found you – I have lived, and continue to live, with inner turmoil on this for ten years or so now.

    Thank you for plucking up the courage to be a voice for us. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  5. Jody, I have just discovered your organization and your blog and it is fantastic to find someone who is thinking and feeling the same things as I am, and who can express them so clearly. I am very up and down about not being able to have children. I am 46 so ‘post-fertile’ but the thought of children and not having them ricochets about in my head almost every waking moment and it is good to read your wise words and see that there might be light at the end of the tunnel.
    I also hope that leaving the fertile years behind will restore a sense of self which for many years seemed to be lost in a valley of doubt and deep lack of self-confidence. My role models are the fifty something women that I worked with when I was in my twenties who deeply impressed me with a combination of self-assurance and undimmed joie-de-vivre. My aim is to be like htem.
    Wonderful post

    • Hi Ariel,
      So glad the post hit home for you, and thank you for commenting.
      It’s interesting that you mention the ‘fifty something’ women you worked with in your twenties – one of the issues facing our generation is that there are so few women without children older than us who are prepared to talk about their situation (for good or bad). Now that we live in such a harsly ageist society, there is a real dearth of ‘menopausal’ role models to aspire to. I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of being a battle-axe, a cougar, a sad old spinster or any of the stereotypes currently on offer. However, I’m warming up to the idea of being a witch 🙂
      Welcome to Gateway Women – I look forward to hearing more from you.
      Jody x

  6. Wonderful, Jody!
    This post really resonates with me, I get the “no you aren’t middle-aged” (I’m 45 so oh yes I am…) and a lot of “but you look X years younger” – to the latter I’ve started to find myself saying “Thank you but I’m happy to be 45 so I’m happy to look 45.” Why is is a compliment to be told you look younger? Like younger is better? When I was 35 I was miserable as hell, -and in fact just about to start the perimenopause, a roller-coaster of adolescent emotions which managed to shake me out of my unsatisfactory life routine and give me the courage to move to another country and start again…

    I’ve also really reconnected with my 11 year old self. I love being absorbed in nature again, sports, science and music- the world of fact and doing rather than navel-gazing.

    I believe the menopause is technically the first whole year you spend without menstruation; I’m keeping a close watch as I can’t wait for that to happen.

  7. Hi Jody. I’m a fairly new reader – and I love love love this post!!! The idea of really getting in touch with who we are after “the 35 year reproductive detour” – so on point.

    Last night, spouse and I went to a concert, and completely cut loose. Went absolutely nuts – and this is quite something since we both lean toward introversion. (It helped that we found ourselves sitting among a particularly unhinged group.) Making our way home, I turned to J. and, with a big gigantic smile, said – “I love being middle aged.” Finding your voice, expressing yourself, embracing and loving who you are to the core – these are the gifts of menopause and middle age that I wouldn’t trade for any youth serum.

  8. Jodie, thank you so much for this blog and organisation. I’m a childfree 32 year old woman. It feels like every woman around me is either a mother, pregnant, or trying to become pregnant. I also work with children and parents so I’m confronted every day with what I’m ‘supposed’ to have. It doesn’t help that my hormones are screaming at me to have a baby – I just really don’t want the reality of parenthood, for many reasons!

    It’s a lonely place right now and I can’t tell you how much it helps to know that there are so many women around who are living happy, fulfilling, exciting, fun lives without children. I admire your strength so much

    • Hugs to you, Rosie. I’ve been where you are now and it can be incredibly lonely. If I had only known then how much things get better, and that one can find happiness… so please take heart, a life without children can be very satisfying.

  9. Jody, thank you for your organization and your blog. Great post. You are a pioneer. I’m an American and am so grateful to have found this community of strong women on-line. I am 46, always thought I’d have kids but it didn’t work out, and am just beginning the craziness of peri-menopause. I love your reference to the calm of pre-pubescence and how that awaits again on the other side of menopause. I’m looking forward to it!

    • Hi Becky

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s always lovely to hear from one of my readers. I love being called a pioneer (especially by an American, double compliment!) but I like to think that ALL Gateway Women are pioneers, you included. Being prepared to think about what the culture is currently not prepared to address, to talk about ‘taboo’ subjects… these are the actions of pioneers.

      Many Gateway Women have told me that thinking of the peri-menopause as ‘puberty in reverse’ makes a lot of sense, and helps them deal with the ‘craziness’ as you call it.

      I’m thinking of having some t-shirts made saying: “This is what a childless, menopausal woman looks like”. That should stir things up a bit!

  10. Having just had menopause brought forward for medical reasons, I have had time to consider the implications. Those same reasons meant that I was unable to have children so to have something which has caused me nothing but pain and grief since puberty halted, and ultimately, removed, is a source of relief to me.

    I’m viewing my time of flushes, having hormonally charged emotions, the attendant dryness (mainly humour at the moment), and other more subtle changes as a move into the time of wisdom. In many cultures, women of my age are viewed as the wise ones – I have chosen to view myself as one too!

    When I was 9, periods were discussed in hushed, reverent tones, and there was excitement and, sometimes, jealousy, when one of us started. I commented recently on Facebook that we are discouraged from speaking about menopause in the same way; I was a little taken aback when one of my friends suggested it was embarrassing for me to speak so openly and it was something best kept quiet about! Sorry, shan’t! I’m celebrating this change in my body and each flush is welcomed into my body fully (I have found the more it is welcomed and drawn around me, the less uncomfortable it can be).

    I cuddle up to my cool pillow at night, with my hottie on standby, but menopause is here, and I’m searching for my wisdom! I shall continue to cheer the changing body which I inhabit in this life. Thank you for this post Jody, you are an inspiration to many.

    • Hi Rachel

      Thanks for commenting – you’ve been a great supporter right from the get-go, for which I’m very grateful.

      Yes, the ‘taboo’ around talking about the menopause is pretty strict, isn’t it? It didn’t used to be, because it was much harder to deny it.

      An older woman who used to be a health visitor in the fifties and sixties told me that ‘the change’ used to be the first thing they talked about if a woman over 40 was feeling unwell, or having relationship problems. “Do you think it might be the change?” is what they used to ask. Back then, women in their 40s had grown up without the NHS, without free school lunches, and had probably been kids during the depression. They had no access to hair-dye in Boots (hair dye was only for movie stars). They had smokers skin, grey hair and bad teeth and so ‘getting older’ wasn’t something you could ‘pretend’ wasn’t happening. Many of them were exhausted from multiple pregnancies, with it being quite usual to have teenagers and toddlers on the go at once.

      Talking about the menopause is, in fact, talking about growing older. But I’m wholeheartedly with you on this one. I won’t be silenced by the cult of youth, or feel shamed by the taboo of ageing. I’m middle-aged and proud of it. I may not have the stretch marks on my stomach to show the passage of time, but I have scars on my soul that could tell you a thing or two!

      With a HUGE hug (and pass that cool pillow will you?!)

      Jody x

  11. Thank you Jody for another great post.

    I also wanted to write that I love the descriptions of your two upcoming workshops… we need something like that in the U.S.! The discussions must be fascinating.

    • Thanks – always a great compliment coming from such a great fellow traveller and writer.
      I’m planning to start online workshops later this year so that Gateway Women from all over the world can join in the courses and groups!
      The discussion are indeed fascinating… as well as healing and liberating. It’s an honour, an adventure and a great pleasure to host them.
      Jody x

      If anyone’s wondering which ‘courses’ these are:

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