The broken white lines zipper down the highway, our car hurling itself after them in pursuit of the beach. The children sleep in the back seat, one with a hand propped on his cheek, his brow furrowed as if contemplating a philosophical puzzle.t’s a ten hour drive from our regional town to the city. My husband’s hands rest on the wheel, his face creased in concentration. He looks old, yet we are the same age.
When many of our peers reached the other side of child rearing – edging the precipice of becoming empty nesters- my husband and I found ourselves with a second newborn, aged forty-three. As they inhaled peace and quiet, ours vanished under a truck load of single use plastic toys and baby clothes. Dutifully they’d visit, coo at my son and sigh about the halcyon days of early parenthood as I’d untangle the sticky cables of my breast pump. Multi-tasking is a key parenting skill, even during the ‘halcyon years’ of early parenthood.
Two years on, I began navigating uncharted waters of peri-menopause with two young kinetic noise machines. Two years after that; I passed through the twelfth month of menopause. I was on the other side. My sons were then four and eight.
But back at the beginning of this journey, I hadn’t a clue what was causing my symptoms. No one had told me. I turned to friends,
‘Sounds like peri-menopause,’ one friend chuckled, then spotting my son crawling between our legs on the floor, added, ‘but far better with a toddler than with a tween who’s going through puberty at the same time, right?’
Like puberty and pregnancy, menopause is another of the taboos women fuddle through, riding memory blanks and scanning every room they enter for cooling air vents – for who knows when a hot flush will surge? There is no pamphlet on what to expect. No elder to explain. Yet there is so much more to menopause than its physical manifestations. I was floored by lists of regrets which rear-ended my thoughts, felt struck by the craving for quiet and was brought to my knees by moments of inexplicable grief. Social media was awash with menopause support pages bursting with women blind-sided by first time experiences of depression and anxiety; women describing humiliation after a hot-flush surprised them during work; women in despair because love making had changed. Legions of women enraged at their bodies for letting them down. Enraged at society for never having been told.
The only way out was through. If I didn’t know, I’d learn I thought to myself. And so I began to read.
In Pre-Christian times, I discovered, indigenous societies elevated menopausal women to the status of oracles. I, on the other hand forgot daily where I put my keys or what I needed from the store. On Mother’s day my son’s pre-school held a ceremony celebrating their mothers. The children worked for weeks on a piece of art. They sang a song they’d rehearsed all week and then came the moment to gift their mothers their artwork. My son, so I was later told, proudly stepped up to the parents sitting on the tiny chairs, his gift held before him like a crown on a cushion. He scanned the room for me; but I wasn’t there. Not only had I overlooked the ceremony itself, I couldn’t even recall being told about it to begin with.
In 2015 researchers from Yale Medical School of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Health found that menopausal symptoms differ in every culture around the globe. Women in South East Asia don’t have hot flushes like women in the west do. They get neck and joint pain. According to a separate study conducted in 2011, over all menopausal symptoms in Asian women are lower. The correlation between countries where social status for aging is positively reflected and fewer menopausal symptoms is now a proven fact.
In Hindu tradition, for example, Vanaprastha is the third of four stages of life, indicating the time of life to hand over responsibilities of the home to the next generation; to share accrued wisdom. According to this philosophy, I’m bang on cue to transition from mid-life to late-life. Still, I crave someone who has trodden the path before me, to step in as a guide. But elders or spiritual guides don’t come with a Mental Health Plan.
But what of women who have children late in life? I am a ‘Geriatric mother’ as labelled by the hospital records. Yet, my husband and I are part of an increasing trend of late-in-life parents who bent our lives into knots in order to have these little people in them. Yet, when you bear children late in life two very different life stages collide; ones that aren’t normally supposed to intersect and although we are one of the first ever generations in history to bump early parenting up against midlife, there is little discussion about impacts of this on our lives. We are older parents, we fatigue faster where younger parents don’t, but often we are better parents. We’ve often done at least some work on ourselves.
The small seaside town, midway between home and the city, has changed little in the decades since I was last here. Back then, my family regularly drove seven hours in order to visit my grandmother. We arrive stiff and weary, to be enveloped into soft folds of her belly. My grandmother, with her mauve rinsed hair. My grandmother, who was like an old woman. My grandmother would have been no more than six years older than I am now.
We spend a night resting. In the morning we run the children ragged on the beach. They roll about like bear cubs in the sand as we blow on coffees. My husband gathers his small body up into his wide arms and presents him to me for comforting,
‘Wouldn’t change a thing, right?’
We say this to one another often; because we wouldn’t. He passes my whimpering child, who’s folded himself into a ball. I curl my body around my his slight frame, savouring his need still to regulate himself in arms of his mother. He is a blessed child; a beloved child, born of my body at forty-three years of age. His birth wore me out, the early years of parenting temporarily stubbed out my career at a time of life when my peers star’s rose high in the sky. But would I change a thing? Never.
Yes the early halcyon days of parenting these may be, but like life generally is, it’s complicated.
Image thanks to Adam Sherez