The groundbreaking All in the Family episode about Edith Bunker going through “the change” aired in 1972. I was a tender 13 at the time, yet “Edith’s Problem” really struck me—and came back to me four decades later when menopause loomed.
I wondered if my experience would be similar to that of my own mother.
I wondered if my experience would be similar to that of my own mother, who had been virtually symptom-free, insisting this was her due because she “prepaid” with years of painful period cramps. Would I follow in her footsteps, breezily bidding ta-ta to tampons and the heating pad? Or would I be more like the unhinged, overheated and hysterical Edith? I was filled with trepidation—much of which, I can, in retrospect, report was unfounded.
But at the time, I feared I would:
1. Lose interest in sex
I discovered my nether regions’ pleasure center at an early age (let’s just say Mighty Mouse cartoons were a turn-on), so the notion that I might ever utter “Not tonight…” was anathema to me. When my hormones first started going haywire, I’d get in the mood at odd moments (good thing I work from home, huh?). Could this be a final surge, a last orgasmic gasp? Nope! Eventually my desire balanced out, my enjoyment never waned, and while I may not be as naturally juicy as I once was, there’s a hack for that: It’s called coconut oil, and it comes in a tub.
2. Grow a mustache
My grandma sported a ‘stache, and I sure didn’t want one. In researching this article, I discovered that hers was probably caused by heightened testosterone and could have been resolved. Hormonal shifts at this stage can also prompt hair loss, and that’s what happened in my case. I woke up one day wondering where have all my eyebrows gone? These days I pencil, powder, and fluff with a spoolie brush to frame my peepers. No biggie!
3. Lose my mind
Okay, going through menopause did give me mental-pause: A novel-in-progress spun out of control, involving my contemporary characters with voodoo in 18th-century Haiti. Fortunately, I figured my way out of plot-twist purgatory and have since taken action against the slide into senility. I still balance my checkbook manually and punch in phone numbers rather than rely on speed-dial, hoping to rosin up my memory. I also strive to learn new things, every few months taking a crack at something else—currently, it’s guitar. And I write, daily, even if not on assignment—a journal entry, haiku, whatever.
4. Gain weight
My regimen has changed—more Pilates, less kickboxing—and I no longer pound a pint of Haagen Dazs in one sitting.
One cool thing about being a Boomer was coming of age in the exercise era. Somewhere between Jack LaLanne and Richard Simmons, I caught the fitness bug, and it stuck. I can only assume this saved me from acquiring the dreaded menopause middle. My regimen has changed—more Pilates, less kickboxing—and I no longer pound a pint of Haagen Dazs in one sitting, but I still pretty much eat what I want and fit into jeans I bought in the 90s.
5. Turn into a frail old lady
Due to lower estrogen levels, postmenopausal women are at greater risk for osteoporosis and heart disease. So far I’ve maintained the bone density and ticker of a teenager, thanks to the aforementioned daily exercise and reduction in ice-cream consumption. It’s not that I have no health challenges, but they’re largely the same ones I had when I was younger: some pesky, intermittent back pain and the occasional acid-reflux attack that feels like an icepick to the sternum. They suck, these devils I know, but I can’t blame them on the M word.
6. Become invisible
Sorry, 30-somethings, I’m not trying to compete with you, but I refuse to disappear, to get quieter or less badass in any way. So I still wear my hair several inches longer than my brassiere band, and my Brooklyn brogue continues to attract attention. That said, the change did change me: No more nude makeup or basic black attire. I put on red lipstick and own coats of many colors, including one in such a bright shade of green you could see me from space.
I wear red lipstick and coats of many colors, including one in such a bright shade of green you could see me from space.
7. Not get everything I want out of life
I realized I already have everything I want—good health, a loving marriage, true friends, creative fulfilment. Even if I wrote a bestseller that got turned into a major motion picture that resulted in millions of dollars, it really wouldn’t change my life much. I’d still try to rescue every stray cat I see; I’d still shop in thrift stores; I’d still try to fingerpick “Freight Train” without hitting a sour note. Menopause can’t rob me of any of the things that make me who I am and my life so good.
So what scary reality did strike a brutal blow? The fact that mean old menopause itself happened. That I actually reached that post-fertility milestone of midlife. I couldn’t outsmart it, postpone it, or prevent it. And it wasn’t the hot flashes (never had one) or night sweats (by the bucketful) that bothered me, it was the figurative flashing neon sign to my own mortality that read: GIRL, YOU’RE AGING AND YOU’RE GONNA DIE ONE DAY!!!
It wasn’t the hot flashes or night sweats that bothered me, it was the figurative flashing neon sign to my own mortality.
Me? Dead? Really? Crap!!! I’m not sure what I believe, afterlife-wise, but I kinda doubt I’ll be hanging out on a cloud with my dearly departed. So the only thing to do is to consider menopause a reminder that right now I am alive. It’s up to me to live, every day, as much and as well, as kindly and truly and as lovingly and humorously as I possibly can. Just like my mom, now 88, still does, and just like Jean Stapleton, who portrayed Edith Bunker to perfection, no doubt did till the ripe age of 90.
“Stifle yourself,” as Archie used to say to her? Never!
A native Brooklynite, Nina Malkin has written for everyone from hoity-toity fashion magazines to trashy tabloids to The New York Times. She’s the author of six books, including the paranormal romance novel Swoon and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle.
A version of this article was originally published in May 2018.