March 16, 2008

The Wonder Years are over

The day I sought medical help for my blurring eyes, I also saw my new internist. (There is little consistency in that part of my health care that involves insurance: every few years, I have to seek another gatekeeper to the magic kingdom.)

Body examined, hearing test performed, blood taken -- an ordinary annual check-up. This one, however, had a twist. Three pages of results, with everything from cholesterol to thyroid to liver enzymes to reproductive hormones tested, and, with a word, the world changes.

It seems I have reached menopause.

The tale of My Reproductive Years has effectively ended. My eggs have called it a day. I am somehow proud that I escaped those 35 years without an abortion, particularly because those years included some far from my finest.

My Reproductive Years completely coincided with the years abortion was legal: Roe v. Wade came into effect in December 1973, shortly before I got my period. The right to choose, as it's now called, is under grave scrutiny in the current administration, now that I am fertile no longer. It is a curious sociological serendipity.

(Would anyone on eBay care to buy Tampax by the hundred? I am considerably better stocked in the feminine hygiene department than I need to be. I would consider a trade, for a gift certificate for the expensive underwear I never wore when I knew it would be prone to getting stained.

That is one good thing: I don't have to wear cheap underwear purchased at the drugstore anymore. Say good-bye to Hanes; au revoir to Fruit of the Loom. From now on, I can wear more precious, pricey imported underwear: hello, Hanro.

Another good thing: the older I got, the less I bothered with birth control, which turned out to be a safe bet. My affairs with women obviated the need; in my affairs with men, I gambled and won.)

I never felt becoming a mother was part of my destiny. Any maternal urge I may have had has been absorbed in the parenting of my parents: when I was in my 20s, my dad needed parenting. These days, I feel my mother is a 71-year-old child, a naive in the so-called real world.

She doesn't know how, and won't learn, how to deal with a computer. I manage her money, make all her travel reservations, send and receive email on her behalf. She is disinterested in politics and much that is personal. In fact, she has appointed me to the role of grandmother where I am actually Kayanna's aunt.

I never experienced a need for a child of my own. Actually, I couldn't imagine inflicting my gene pool on another human being. A child with tendencies to depression, migraine, and addiction would replicate the child I was, and no one should have to feel that bad for reasons that escape her.

But I digress: at 47, I still consider myself young. Menopause makes me reconsider where exactly my place in the world is. While I am grateful not to be a teenager, or a girl of 30, I choke on the idea I am middle-aged.

The middle-aged are grown-ups: they have careers; they have families; they have responsibilities. I wouldn't call my work a career; my family is more by friends than my blood relatives, and, since I am single, I am relatively free of responsibilities.

When my mother was 47, both of her children had been launched: one had graduated from college; the other, from high school, she had yet to earn a paycheck, and she was married. My father, at 52, owned his own company and supported a family in a style to which we, alas, were accustomed. Clearly the resemblance is lacking.

Yet I have shown much maternal instinct, acted as parent to my parents, who rarely acted as one might expect given the roles each theoretically had.

When I got out of school, my father was reliving his adolescence. While our boat was docked, he would get high with my brother, and each confided in me, with the request that I not tell my mother. When I was in college and had a friend come to stay at my home, my dad supplied her with pot.

The year my favorite grandmother -- my father's mother -- was dying, my father came to my apartment one day after a hospital visit and asked, "Can I have a joint?" I replied, "Sorry. Wrong offspring." The generations were twisted: I was the responsible one and my dad the adolescent. I was in charge of paying my grandmother's nurses, because my father couldn't bring himself to do so.

I was the one preaching "just say no," and I'm a far cry from Nancy Reagan. In college, my Quaalude dealer took personal checks, and so did all the coke dealers. I knew my way around drugs -- for my generation.

Then came visiting my dad in rehab: in 1985, Hallmark made no greeting cards to mark the occasion. I remember the building was stone, and large, and on the Hudson River, where the sunset was beautiful. My father's room resembled a dorm room in size and decoration. What I felt, I don't know.

It was a weird twist on camp visiting days. Emotionally, I disconnected; to this day, I don't think I've processed that episode. The visuals are strong, the context a blank.

So it's not as if I haven't experienced parental-type care-taking. It's just that I've done it with the generation above mine, not the one below it.

Our society makes a huge fuss over girls starting to menstruate: I've never known a mother not to explain the process to her daughter. There's sex education in school. Some cultures celebrate the day a girl "becomes a woman."

What about the day the hormone tests say, we've had enough. Throw out the tampons. Time to research hormone replacement therapy. Have a bone density test. Take calcium and Fosomex to keep yourself from crumbling. Does this change the kind of woman you are? Do you celebrate or mourn?

For my part, I went straight from the doctor's to visit The Boy Next Door, whom I have known since I was 22 and he was 35. We've been having an on-again, off-again affair for 7 years or so, and like me, he's not tied up 9 to 5. These days the affair is on again. In The Boy Next Door's eyes, I will always be 22; in mine, he is 35. We are young and in amazing physical shape.

A former tri-athlete, he's still in incredible shape, while I am just starting a routine that involves weight-bearing exercise. Neither of us had much interest in My Reproductive Years. Still, it feels weird to me that they are gone, and I missed (probably due to my meds) any signs of their passing.


Blogger the only daughter said...

Mine are taking a pain-stakingly slow route to...done. When it is done, celebration, oh yes.

Bring on the good undies!

10:22 PM  

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