Embracing The Changing Seasons Of Life

by Christine Kouwenhoven
Originally Published: 
ericmichaud / iStock

In my 49th year, I am sweating the small stuff and the big stuff. In fact, I’m just sweating, all the time.

The first “wave” of this affliction hit me on a business trip with my husband to California a few years ago. “It’s strange,” I told him, looking out the hotel window at the sunset. “I think I have a fever, but I don’t really feel that sick. Maybe a virus is coming on. Maybe my body will fight it off.”

Not a virus, and not something my body can fight off.

The change.

This thing called menopause. Something that I thought only happened to “older” women. Something I thought was a long way off. Because at 49, I’m certainly not old, right? I don’t feel ready for this change.

But here comes another hot flash. They’re as relentless as that Pacific surf, crashing over me, causing me to stop what I’m doing and take a deep breath, to resist the urge to rip off my clothes, causing strange looks from my younger colleagues and knowing nods from the older ones.

Who named this “menopause,” anyhow?

It’s not a pause. It’s the end—of some things, anyway.

It’s the end of those dreaded yet now-familiar moon-like cycles of my life since I turned 13, with the exception of a few years during pregnancies and breastfeeding.

It’s the end of dependence on estrogen. Years ago, I was a smoker. I managed to quit before I had kids, but it took me a few years. It wasn’t an easy addiction to kick, but nicotine has nothing on estrogen. I could play a drug addict in a movie. I’ve got the sweating and the shaking down pat.

It’s the end of the regular rhythm of my metabolism, knowing what causes me to gain weight and how to drop it again within a few weeks. No easy melting techniques these days!

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Menopause is also a beginning.

It’s the beginning of things like, surprise, rapidly growing facial hairs and insomnia, that “meno-pot,” moodiness, and other fabulous things I don’t yet know about or don’t want to write about.

I guess some things are just on pause, or at least, I hope. Like wearing scarves (my favorite fashion item) or really anything without a zipper that can be removed and put back on in short order.

The other day while I was shopping at the mall for new hot-flash friendly clothes, I was waylaid by a beautiful young woman selling salts from the Dead Sea. As she massaged my hand, sloughing off the old skin, she asked my age. “Forty-nine,” I told her. In her thick accent, she said, “Ah, you look pretty good.”

I blushed, which brought on a hot flash. “How will I look when I’m no longer hydrated by sweat?” I wanted to ask. “Do your magical salts also slough off extra pounds?” But I thanked her and walked on, without buying any of her potions. Instead, I purchased pants in the next size up and some more clothes in wicking fabric that I can layer and that hang loose around the middle.

I thought about life. It’s what you do when you’re experiencing the change. You ponder things.

My kids used to love a song called “100 Years” by Five for Fighting. “You only got a hundred years to live” was the song’s refrain. Most of us will probably not make it quite that long, but let’s just say I am at about the middle, at a change in seasons.

When I was 19, I met my husband. It was near the end of the “springtime” of my life—childhood and education, delight and discovery, maturing and turning outward to the world.

At 29, in the early “summer” of life, I bore the first of my three kids, and at 39, later that same season, I re-entered the workforce. The summer of life, so busy with long days of child-rearing and career-building, of vigor and ambition, of nesting and exploration.

Now at 49, I have stopped menstruating. The long days of tending my family are over now, with two of my three kids in college and the third shortly on his way. I won’t have another child. There is some sadness in that, even though I didn’t really expect I would. The finality of it still stings a little—estrogen withdrawal.

But hey, I look “pretty good” according to the lady at the mall. And when I can shake off the doom that sometimes comes with the hot flashes, I think like this:

I met my own mother-in-law when she was 49. In the intervening years, she got an advanced degree, met new friends, and traveled the world. She welcomed three grandchildren. We’ve just celebrated her 79th birthday. She, along with my parents, are bundling up with optimism for the “winter.” I hope it is long and mild.

And here I am, at the cusp of “autumn.” It’s always been my favorite season, glorious and golden, rich with its harvest of the good things that have been cultivated in the spring and summer. The air is crisp, the sky is blue, and although the days are shorter, the nights are long and cozy and peaceful.

I look forward with curiosity to 59 and 69. “There’s never a wish better than this when you only got a hundred years to live.”

Except for these sweats—let’s just call those an Indian summer.

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