The ’pause that refreshes?

‘Peri-’ and ‘-pausal’: two distinctly different experiences or one long, drawn-out holding cell and then you die? 

By Gail Forrest 

When it came to menopause, my girlfriends and I were confused. We were never sure which of us was “peri-” and which was “-pausal”. Are they two distinctly different experiences or one long, drawn-out holding cell and then you die? Would I ever remember my sister’s phone number again? Would I stop bursting into tears when my running shoes came untied?  According to my gynaecologist, my skin would be a sign I had moved on from the peri- part. His prophecy of a dry, lifeless complexion was mind-numbing. He swears he can tell every woman in his waiting room who has gone through menopause by her skin tone. I tested myself, stared around at the dewy complexions of the pregnant beauties, and burst into tears. I decided to get a new doctor. 

A good resource about how menopause will affect you is your mother, as genetic predisposition is a key factor. Since my mom and I never had the birds-and-the-bees talk, I really didn’t know how we were going to dig into menopause. She was from the generation of women who repressed everything related to sex and bodily functions. (I have noticed, however, much like Gandhi at the end of his life, she is now obsessed with bodily functions.)  

I decided to raise the topic over a casual dinner, somewhere between her complaining that the salmon smelt funny and that my sister never calls. I decided, since we were in conversational free fall, why not?  

“So, Mother, I was wondering, how old do you think you were when you went through menopause? How long did it take? What did you feel like? Did you feel anxious and totally forgetful like me? How about hot flashes? Sometimes? Never?” I know my rapid-fire questioning might have been overwhelming but I was on a roll. I was nervously tapping my knife on the table, keeping rhythm with my questions. Maybe I asked too many, for starters. 

I should mention that my mother is an overachiever and quite competitive. A college graduate long before women earned degrees, she speaks three languages, has been a guest on The Phil Donahue Show and has testified before the US Senate on vocational education. She doesn’t like to be upstaged by anyone.  

There we were at this defining moment in mother/daughter relations, passing-the-torch kind of stuff. She put down her fork, took the napkin from her lap and rested it on the table, and quite casually said: “I went through menopause in one afternoon. Dessert?” 

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