I owe a small debt of gratitude to Mark Zuckerberg and his team of Facebookers, for their “On this Day” feature revealed the power of my prognostication skills.
It was January, some seven years ago, when I prophesied with a wry comment and unsettling suspicion— via Facebook status update — that my long journey into menopause had begun. Like Nostradamus before me, if you say enough shit, something is bound to come true.
It is likely I sounded as equally nuts to my limited Facebook audience as I did to my physician, who brushed off my concerns. His mouth said, “You’re too young,” but his eyes screamed, “hypochondriac!”
Second and third opinions didn’t confirm my suspicion, but like a good Italian woman, this feeling nagged relentlessly. It wasn’t the wildly irregular and infrequent periods that made me think menopause, that could’ve been amenorrhea, but the hot flashes that I had been quietly suffering from in the couple months prior to my public declaration.
Sometime within that year, I downloaded an app on my iPhone and doggedly tracked every period. I was determined to prove I was right, yet, I didn’t want it to be true.
My Costco pack of tampons moved with me from one Toronto apartment to another, literally collecting dust between visits to the cupboard. In three years I logged no more than seven entries into my iPeriod app — the last one, four years ago, on March 15.
Beware the fucking ides of March.
There was no middle ground; not a maybe but an absolute “no, you’re not going through menopause” straight to a polarising, “yes, you’ve gone through menopause.”
It was all hot flashes, night sweats, irritability and weight gain until one day you wake up with no sex drive and an urge to collect cats and start cross-stitching. I felt old, mean and ugly and while my doctor assured me that premature menopause meant neither premature ageing nor premature death, ultimately, my long shot prediction felt unlucky.
Many of my friends didn’t understand why I lamented Aunt Flo’s early departure — I certainly wasn’t going to miss the cramps, bloating and assured destruction of fine undergarments because you only get an early period when wearing your most expensive underwear. I didn’t want more children and since menopause is inevitable, my one friend actually questioned why it mattered that it came nearly two decades early for me.
Because it made me feel old. Because I didn’t want to think about my reproductive organs drying up and dying.
I suddenly began imagining a romantic partner asking if I had taken precautions against pregnancy and whispering, “Shhhh, don’t worry, I’m post-menopausal,” and then, in each other’s arms we’d hear the audible sound of his testicles recoiling right up into his body. No matter I guess, since with the end of ovulation so expired the yen for any physical human contact.
Menopause just isn’t sexy — it harkens the image of our grandmothers and great-aunts complaining about the aches, the pains, the spare tire and wild mood swings. They spoke of their hair, teeth, skin, weight and mood becoming something unfamiliar — it was downright Kafka-esque, so it’s no wonder they always referred to it as The Change.
And as soon as I became a changeling, I had a team of doctors at the ready — the finest gynaecologists Mount Sinai had to offer. They were all eager to get up into my business because, as I had learned, less than eight per cent of women worldwide go through menopause before 40 — a number that tapers off even more in women who, like me, are premenopausal at younger than 35.
I was to be a part of a medical study — the only one of its kind in Canada and one of the few worldwide. I felt like the belle of the ball, if the ball were bleak and dreary because DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME.
Through an extensive medical history, blood tests, genetic testing and physical examinations spread over numerous visits, this team of doctors hoped to understand why some women precipitously change — but they wouldn’t get that information from me. I also learned that the doctor who headed this team didn’t actually care about me as a patient, but only as a specimen.
As we began digging into my history — both personal and medical — I could hear derision in her voice. Yes, I used to smoke; yes, I am a single parent; yes, I am underemployed; yes, I can see you judging me.
I told myself to stop being paranoid and just answer the fucking questions.
“Did you attend university?”
“Yes, I studied philosophy at Queen’s University.”
“Practical,” the doctor grimaced.
I was seething with anger and before I could retort, “We can’t all be doctors,” her mild-mannered colleague recovered with, “you must be an incredible critical thinker.”
“I’m critical all right.” I responded through a forced smile.
I never went back. I wasn’t going to find any comfort being a part of this study. The answer as to why I suffer from premature ovarian failure mattered less to me than why it bothered me so much, something Dr. “Philosophy-Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me” wasn’t going to answer.
I walked out of the hospital with my hormone replacement therapy plan, took a deep breath and happily realized I’ll never have to ask my sister to spot check me again.