Perimenopause is Not a Place in Thailand
I woke up at five in the morning to my three-year-old daughter’s foot in my scapula. She found the exact spot where I am in the most pain. Tension. The awareness of morning crept in. My low back was aching. It felt like three in the morning, but with all the wiggling, I cannot sleep, and, finally, I am just awake. Gosh, she wiggles. My lower back, particularly on the left side, has been gnawing in dull throbs of pain. My neck is tight to the point of cutting off circulation to my left hand, and my entire body is twisted into some weird contortion. I wonder why I ever insisted on attachment parenting. I could never put any one of my three children to bed in another room, or allow them to (horror!) “cry it out”. And now, due to my insistence on “attachment parenting” and having them glued to my side, I am not sleeping. Add in a dash of perimenopausal insomnia. No wonder I am tired.
I have this nagging urge to get away. For eleven years I have been a mother. Dedicated, to the insane point of obsessive-compulsive motherhood. I have also been a single mother twice. Each one of my children has a different father. I call us “The Benetton Family” for all of our nationalities combined.
My youngest daughter is glommed onto me like a barnacle. I cannot sleep, I’m sweating at night. My Victoria’s Secret fuchsia satin and lace nightie is like wet saran wrap to my abdomen, and I am dreaming about running off to Barcelona, or Thailand. “Just a week,” I tell myself, pangs of guilt already thumping through my soul. “Just one week of being alone. No demands of me to do anything for anyone. No waking up with feet pressed into various parts of my body, no child’s head pressing into my spine, shoulder or main artery, no achy back from sleeping positions.” I imagine it restlessly. It will be all yoga, vegetarian food, lots of lemon and parsley. Sleep. Lots of sleep. Walks on the beach. A nap in the shade. Coconut water. Writing. Maybe I will remember what my inner voice sounds like? Dare I journal? I will get to write an entire sentence without having to get up and get something for somebody. Or read a book. That would be lovely.
Over the past year, it’s been coming on. I don’t want to be nice to anyone anymore. I want quiet, no whining. Don’t ask me for anything, because I’ll either tell you “I am only one person with two hands,” or “just a moment…” and cringe while I give in to doing something for you. My two girls, ages three and six, demand. My six-year-old daughter whines, whinges, and bursts into hysterical tears if I do something she doesn’t like. Such as drizzle syrup on her pancakes. The wrong way. I have learned not to drizzle the syrup the wrong way anymore.
For three years since my last child was born, I haven’t had a regular period. It’s been every three months at random. For awhile, I kept buying pregnancy tests. The last test I did came out completely blank. Instead of one window having a line, and one empty, both were empty. The first time in my forty years of life, both windows of the pee test stick are empty. Two blank eyes. Two blank windows. Is this freedom? Or am I turning into a man? Not even one line existed to direct my thoughts of whether or not I am pregnant. I am just not female, perhaps. All the child bearing I’ve done, it’s just over. I mean, I did push three children out of my body. I remember this distinctly, the sensation, as if it were yesterday. And the blood. Oceanic buckets. I know I have a womb. The two windows were making me doubt my female existence entirely.
Welcome to perimenopause: the sweating, the itching, the constant PMS symptoms, headaches, unexplained blank pregnancy tests and periods every three months. You could be wearing white pants and never know it’s coming. It’s as if your period decides, like an annoying family member, to just, you know, show up, unannounced. You would think, here in Los Angeles, it would at least have the Hollywood etiquette to pencil itself in for two weeks from now and then cancel last minute complaining of traffic.
“Your blood work is excellent.” My doctor beams. “And you have begun perimenopause.” He says it like this: per-ee-men-o-pause. “I will give you some black cohosh, maybe some hormone cream to put on your arms to help balance you.” Great. I’m like a car that needs its tires rotated and balanced. I don’t know what to think of this peri-menopause. It’s like being halfway into something for a mysterious amount of time. Halfway sleep, years of it, from babies, young children, the kicking, the wiggling, the crying. Then,unkindly, the waking up from deep sleep, the demands, the responsibility to another. Perimenopause? So early? Maybe it was starting birth control pills at fourteen? Why, me at forty? Oh, right. Forty-one.
My belly. The belly I have learned to love. My six-year-old likes to squish it up with her little hands, calling it pizza dough. “Yes, it is,” I say lovingly, “and you are my little pizza, fresh out of the oven.” So I did a raw vegan diet for eight months after my third child was born. Nothing worked. I did spinning classes, core classes, rode my bike miles as my main source of transportation. Bus exhaust in my face, I wondered how healthy could this be? I craved cooked brown rice and hot soup. I ate collard green wraps and kale. I did planks. I squeezed and burned. My legs shook. I grasped the theraband for dear life. My core class instructor says, “C’mon, pull that belly button in toward your spine, pull it in!” I’m sucking, pulling, but my belly won’t go any further. “Pull it in?” I gasp. “How about having someone just come here and vacuum it all out?”
The other thing. I can’t tolerate wine anymore. At first I thought I just had too many glasses, or I shouldn’t have had three glasses of that delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe if I had cheese instead, it would help me assimilate the wine better. But after several bouts of heart palpitations and night sweats, the perimenopausal symptoms have forced me to realize, that I cannot even enjoy my only pleasure: a good glass of wine. So there is no comfort. Forget rich foods and celebratory glasses of Pinot Noir, Cabernet, or Champagne. Perimenopause is here. Now when I dare have a glass of wine with my kale and avocado salad, I dread the heart palpitations. Chamomile tea is my new best friend.
“It’s Chianti that does it to me,” another perimenopausal friend admits. Chianti? Who would think that Italian grapes could cause such awfulness? But, yes, I have noticed, and recollect with detail, several nights of horrid heart thunking, tachycardiac no-rest. It was the Chianti. I lay in bed, awake. I think, maybe I should wake my (thirty-four-year-old-young) husband for sex. He’s got boundless energy. I count the hours until we have to get up and get the kids off to school. A good orgasm and sleep is my waking desire as I try to grab the fleeting hours of morning before the mad dash out the door.
I’ve changed nine years worth of diapers in total. My son, eleven, rolls his eyes at me. He stands five foot four, plays baseball, and won’t let me in his room while he is changing. He now has body odor. His baseball whites look like someone washed and dried their dirty car with them. Or, in our family’s case, someone washed our dirty minivan with his uniform. Baseball clothes, car chamois, what is the difference? But he won’t let me near him with a washcloth and soap.
I wonder,goodness,does he wash his butt? I’ve threatened, wielding the washcloth and soap at the bathroom door, the sound of his shower rushing, “If you don’t wash yourself, I will.” His voice cracking with pubescent horror at the thought, echoing against the shower stall, “No, Mom!” The idea of his mother seeing his body, much less washing his butt, is suddenly appalling to epic proportions. And he showers. And showers. I wonder, no, I know what he is doing, he is discovering himself. And the thought of his mother washing him is the last thing he wants.
Three years ago, when I was pregnant with my last child, my son asked me at the dinner table, “Do you… master bath?” A smile crept over my face, but I stayed calm. “Mastur-bate, you mean?” I paused. He was squirming. “Oh, yes. I masturbate. It’s natural. Completely healthy.Normal.” He writhed in his chair. “Never mind.” He said quickly, uncomfortable. “Oh, honey,” I soothed, “it’s oookay… I mean everyone does it.” Suddenly I was wise. “Look, if you need, just take a shower. Have your privacy. I won’t bother you.” Sage advice from a thoughtful, compassionate mother. But now, he’s eleven, and the showering. I hear the squeaking of his feet in the tub. The water goes on and on, and with every minute, sometimes twenty minutes, I wonder if I will ever get hot water anytime in the next week for my own shower.
Mornings are stumbling into the bathroom to relive my aching bladder, tripping upon my three-year-old that follows. Then my six-year-old girl comes in. I am sitting on the toilet, and my two girls are staring at me. I want space, to be alone. I’m perimenopausal. My three-year-old climbs into my lap. Thailand? How can I go to Thailand? Alone, with not a care in the world, just handsome Thai men giving me my daily massage. How?
I need a complete makeover, I think. So I began cleaning out my messy closet. Banana Republic blouses from last year, jeans that used to fit, and high heels, rows of them. The dresses and evening gowns I don’t wear for any function. All I seem to live in are several pairs of compression biking spandex Capri pants and yoga attire.
Then the red box came down from the shelf. My vibrators. A motley collection of dildoes, vibrators, and lingerie. Just as I placed it down on the floor and focused on clearing the shelves, my six-year-old daughter came in. I forgot about the red box. I was busy revamping my closet; my new ‘cougar’ look. My six-year-old has the purple g-spot vibe in her hand, giggling. I tried not to look shocked. I won’t react, I tell myself. I am always hyper-conscious of being natural about things.
“Maaa-meee,” she says with a giddy laugh, “What is thiiis?” Alright. Stay cool. I reply calmly, “Oh, it’s a, um. It’s uh… massager.”
“For your shoulders?” she smiles, rubbing the purple plastic tip on her six-year-old shoulder.
“Yes,” I stayed casual. “But, this one never worked very well. Let me have it?” She won’t. She’s fascinated. Oh, goodness. Let me handle this properly. No hang-ups. I won’t give my children any ridiculous hang-ups about sex.
Finally, I wrench the purple g-spot vibe from my daughter’s sweaty hand. She’s curious and rightfully so, and I’m thankful that it isn’t penis-shaped or realistic. That would take some explaining, and I would not know how to go there. She knows, more or less, how babies are made. She says things like “gross” and “eew” respectively. But how to explain that Mommy puts this thing that vibrates inside of her “china” for pleasure? There really should be a guidebook for parents that address such subjects. Maybe, just maybe, I will find the time to write one. It may not be written on the beach in Thailand, however.
I will be forty-one years old in four days from now. It comes up all too fast. Rapidly, my life has flashed by, and all this time I thought it would be forever until I was “middle aged” and going through perimenopause but… here it is. And here I am.
Guest post courtesy of Butterfly du Jour, an erotica writer and creator of Erotica du Jour. She is an artist, an epicurean, chef, sensualist, essayist, poet, former burlesque dancer, and mother of three children. Her Nom de Plume “Butterfly”describes her lifelong power to transform, imagine, and reinvent herself.