Writing

Forget small talk, I want to tell you about the menopause and why I feel like a slug lost in fog

It’s incredible how women feel this major life change should be dealt with in utter privacy

Written by Shaparak Khorsandi in The Independent 4 months ago (Friday, June 4th, 2021)

It’s my birthday next week and I want to spend it on my own, wrapped in a duvet all day, only leaving my bed to have a bubble bath and a cry. I am not feeling it this year. I imagine it’s something to do with the fact that I’m perimenopausal. My hormones are dramatically reminding me that I’m getting older, so I don’t feel like marking the occasion with cake (at my age, just writing the word “cake” immediately expanded my backside by half an inch).

In the park the other day, a fellow dog walker, just an acquaintance, enquired how I was. It was nothing more than a polite, “How’ve you been?”. I was meant to reply, “Fine thanks! You OK? Great!” and then move on. But 10 minutes later I was still going on about how “my period is coming every two weeks now! Honestly, I feel like a blobby slug in a fog”. This poor woman, much younger than me, nodded politely before she eventually made her escape.

I never learned the art of small talk, but then talking about the menopause should be small talk. It’s incredible how women feel this major life change should be dealt with in utter privacy from which we finally emerge, experts in cross stitch and quilting. I never had a clue about what it was going to be like until I read Jenny Eclair’s wonderful book Older and Wider (hence knowing about the quilting part, which no doctor will ever tell you).

Davina McCall did an excellent documentary about going through the menopause recently, too. It’s taken us so long to start talking about it openly and it’s a relief, I can tell you. I explain to my children exactly what’s going on with me so they are less bewildered by my bouts of crying “because I just love you so much!”, followed by howling with rage because I can’t find a shoe.

Someone remarked to my son that, despite being 13 and a half, he remains laid back and calm, displaying no signs of “Kevin the Teenager”. My son kept his hands in his pockets, nodded his head in my direction and said, “I don’t get a chance.”

I am an older mother. My second-born, my daughter, was born on 7 June, the day before my 40th. I spent my birthday that year in a maternity ward, drinking champagne, watching Pretty Woman, with a newborn slung across my shoulder. It was more fun than any birthday I’d had in my youth – and the drugs were much better. I’m thankful her birthday now overshadows mine. It’s a relief and after organising extravaganzas for her, it’s quite justified that mine becomes a day of rest.

I used to love my birthdays. Geminis usually love a party, especially their own. And before you scoff that all star sign stuff is rubbish, let me tell you that I agree with you. That said, those born in June, or as it’s known when you are at school “exam time”, DO often tend to have the “typical Gemini” trait of being extremely sociable attention lovers who very often have “good communicator” as their primary skill. Why? Because we are the summer babies. We were alway the youngest in the class and had to try and keep up with our uber confident autumn baby classmates who frequently thought us immature, but dammit, we were just younger because someone decided the start of the academic year would be September and not May.

Us summer babies spend our early years having to punch above our weight and keep up with kids who are sometimes almost a year older than us, so no wonder we know how to make friends with all sorts of different people and will cartwheel naked into a room if that’s what it takes to get your attention.

I don’t have a problem with getting older (the alternative looks no fun) but while my hormones and emotions are dancing a ceilidh inside me, my birthdays are a chore. An ex-boyfriend of mine, who I have remained good friends with, asked me the other day, during a chat about the menopause, “Does it bother you knowing that it’s the end of men finding you as attractive as they did when you looked like you can bear children?” His candour is hugely why we remain friends and partly why we broke up.

The answer to his question is a big fat “nope”. Hard as it is for some to believe, we women don’t go through our entire lives hoping men will admire our skin’s elasticity or the shape of our bums. The worry I have isn’t that men don’t fancy me, but that every new lump, bump or twinge might be something serious. It’s just the start of coming down the other side of the mountain. So if you ask me, “how’ve you been?”, be prepared for me to tell you.

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