I am pretty sure I had my first hot flash about two years ago during breakfast at my In Laws’ house. I wasn’t sure, but I felt prickles of heat up and down my neck and beads of sweat around the hairline at the top of my forehead. A flush. It was gone as quick as it came. I asked my MIL. She called it ‘the change’. A few weeks later I asked my Gynecologist if it was possible I was in perimenopause. She said, ‘doubtful, your cycle is still regular.’
“The Change”. Feels 19th Century to me. A turn. A turning point. A pivot. My mother called my first period “the change.” I remember how mortified I was when I bled through my underwear in 7th grade. I had a long black band jacket (I played clarinet) and I wore it every day as it fell below my bum, covering any potential embarrassments. In the days before tampons. In the days of thick, wide pads that made me walk a bit like a pigeon. I hated my period. Never thought of it as a “beautiful, wonderful open door to womanhood.” The last thing I wanted to be was a woman. I wanted to stay as I was in that space before I had my first kiss. In the space where I rushed home after 7th grade to the waiting arms of my Mommy (still calling her that at 12) after being mocked for not having feathered hair and swearing. Yet.
Cycle. Beginning and end. Strange word. So is Period. An ending. Full stop. Which is what a period is definitely not. At least in terms of menstruation. A shedding. No stopping. We do this from the time we are around 11 or 13 to around 45-50. That’s a long time to call something a Full Stop Period.
Two years now since that hot flash and about a month ago they started coming in like a tsunami. When I lie down to sleep they roll in, one after another. The slowly creeping prickle of heat starts in my leg, up my back, to my neck and forehead and I’m lightly sweating. Same thing happens in the morning. A few, then they disappear during the day.
Then there are the night sweats. I had them when I was pregnant, but clearly I wasn’t anywhere near menopause with a baby inside me. That was just pregnancy stuff. About a year ago they started, but sporadically. I’d wake up wet all over, a sheen of sweat on my arms and legs. My nightgown or tank top sticking to me. It didn’t happen often, but I started asking my Gyn again: Am I in menopause? She said, no. You still have your cycle.
About a month ago things ramped up. Now every single night I get hot flashes as I fall to sleep, aided by Melatonin because I can never fall asleep lately. I wake frequently, bathed in sweat. Throw the comforter off my legs. Lay there spinning in anxiety. It’s always 1am or 3am. I have a journal by my bed now so in these bouts of insomnia, I write out my spinning thoughts to release them, then my legs are cold, my body, still damp, chilly now, I throw the covers back on and back to sleep. Every night.
Tonight it’s 11:42pm. I’m usually in bed by 9:30, reading a few pages of whatever I’m reading, then I fall asleep. I should have done that tonight because Huck is here and he will crawl into my bed at around 6am saying “Mommy, Mommy, the sun is up!” I have the coffee pot programmed. Even when he’s not here I can’t sleep past 6:30am. But I’m hoping, by writing this late, to avoid the hot flashes that precede the night sweats. Besides, it’s the first really chilly Autumn night and I’m enjoying being cold. I won’t dare turn the heat on as I know what fresh hell that would be waking up drowning in a pool of my own sweat.
I think I stretched out the Maiden phase of my womanness longer than normal. Till I was 49. Then Mother, obviously, at 50. The Mother is nurturing but is also self destructive. Enter my Year of the Trauma Trigger (oooh, what if I just called it the Year of the Tigger?). I spent much of the last three years fighting my desire to not give a shit and my desire to really give a shit what you think about me.
I know about The Crone. The Crone is my grandmother. The Crone is a Halloween costume. The Hag. The bag of bones. The desexualized old woman with droopy sacs for breasts, a hollowed out chest cavity, long spindly arms and no teeth. I’m afraid of The Crone as I creep toward her daily. What I didn’t know about The Crone is how powerful she is. The Crone don’t give a shit at all. The Crone is ego-less. The Crone is happy in solitude. Is at the height of her powers. In fact, I recently heard a story teller/therapist talk about how the menses (period, cycle, blood-shedding) is really a stealing of the power of women and when menses stops (meno PAUSE – full stop), the woman regains her lost power, not being of her body anymore.
But The Queen? I didn’t know. She’s the later phase of the Mother. A woman owning her own power, highly creative, renegotiating boundaries and energies. It is a powerful stage in a woman’s life.
Before I knew about The Queen, I thought that since I had Huck at 50, I had kind of smashed the Trinity together: Maiden, Mother, Crone all at once.
But I see now I’m in The Queen phase. I haven’t lost my menstrual cycle. I actually don’t look forward to that. Mine came on like a bulldozer at 12, heavy clotted bleeding, major cramps and the kind of PMS that sent me to Geisinger Medical Center for testing. I do remember I’d have brown out rage fits in the week before my period came. I was probably 14 or 15. I wish I remembered that time. Now that I understand my own rage, that it emerged when I first got my period interests me now.
My whole life I’ve had such bad PMS that even my guitar player in my band years ago said he kept a calendar of my cycle to know when to say no to a tour (I know, that sounds really misogynist, and it may be, but he is one of the funniest guys I know, and very sensitive, and I was not offended at all. I did a spit take. And then knew he was right – I was a nightmare to be around in the days prior). I tried to go off caffeine the weeks before. Did nothing. I took some herbal shit. Did nothing. Then I just learned to ride the wave.
In the past year, I’ve skipped one period. The rest are shorter than they used to be. I don’t get cramps anymore. My breasts don’t get swollen and hurt. My PMS isn’t aggravation now. It’s more like a heavy malaise. And, like I always have my whole adult life, I forget the tie in and get really depressed and wonder why I feel that way, and then a day later – ! – and I think, why do I NEVER remember when I get despondent.
So, it’s waning. I’ve been waning for 4 years now. I wrote this blog, I wrote a book called “Menopausal Mommy” but I’m not in menopause yet. I’m hanging onto the hem of The Queen for dear life. Any day I expect a huge shift. My period will stop. Full stop. I’ll gain that 15 pounds everyone talks about. My hair will thin. I’m waiting on the tremors of old age to start. While I take care of a 3 year old. And wrestle with my ego in a young person’s career. Hot flashes get in the way of the life of a touring musician still waiting for it to get easier. It never does. And this perimenopausal mother of a toddler is about at the end of caring.
That feels like a freedom. To let go of it all. To try something new. I’m writing poetry. That’s new. But that won’t pay the bills and to be worried about paying the bills at my age is a tad embarrassing. I almost wrote shameful then deleted it. I’m making a boundary with Shame and handing Shame it’s eviction notice.
Maybe I’m the Mother/Queen now? Maybe, at 53 on the verge of losing my period, I’m the Mother/Queen/Crone. I’m way past Maiden.
In my career, the Maiden is all around me, breathy beautiful voices, vintage dresses, softly lit 70’s era photography for women who were born 20 years after Tapestry was released. While I, with my big, dark voice, no breathiness at all, sit on a ledge out past the zeitgeist, knowing I was born a few decades too late. The Maidens are lovely and enticing and their soft whispery voices comfort. I can’t do that. And that’s ok. I do my own thing. The Queen/The Mother/The Crone. I was born on the cusp of the 70’s. When women still wore pads and ‘belts’. No tampons. And I remember the first Tampax ads on tv with Brenda Vaccaro and her raspy voice.
I think Maude was in her early 50’s in that TV show. Holy cow. That’s a slap in the face. Maude looked ancient to me.
I sit on the cusp of these women archetypes, a mismatch type, grateful for every minute I have with my son, remembering how short life is. I sit on the cusp of Mother and Queen with a knowing in my skin of my story like no previous time in my life, a grieving of time lost, a stillness in owning my demons. I sit on the cusp of The Queen and The Crone with my greying hair and non-Botoxed face, my 5 pounds I can’t lose around my middle where a baby was pulled out through a slice in my belly. With my hot flashes and night sweats and vitamins and prescriptions for high cholesterol and mood disorders, anti depressants and antacid. I sleep alone worried that I will always sleep alone. Well, not counting the dog that takes up half the bed when my son is not in that half.
It’s 12:12am and my son will shake me awake before I’m allowed 7 hours of sleep. But the coffee pot is programmed and it’s a cool night, so I’m hoping for a dry sleep.
I read this somewhere:
“Life is a thread of single moments woven together, side by side, creating one continuous experience, each moment separate but connected to the whole.”
It’s only when moving forward can we look back and understand how the pieces line up to create our stories.
As I wrote that, the skin on the back of my neck prickled, my scalp got hot, there’s a bead of sweat forming on my upper lip. There it is. Here it comes, up my back, down my neck, a bit like an orgasm but less enjoyable. No climax, all foreplay. But it’s not as unpleasant as I’d been told. If I sit with it, allow it to move through me, the heat, the tingling, there’s a strange joy to knowing my body has it’s own agenda. I have no control over this.
All I can do is let it happen and choose whether to fight it or embrace it.