From childbirth to menopause: why do women keep quiet about these most profound of life experiences?
“Why does no one tell you what it’s like?” exclaimed one of my more literary friends and colleagues in North Oxford one sunny morning.
Over instant coffee in odd chipped mugs in my modern square patch of townhouse garden we sat, clutching our newborn babies, our skin pulled tight over our facial bone structures, our pallid cheeks sunk, our minds fuzzy, flapping at flies hovering all around. Did our babies need feeding AGAIN? Were they asleep? Why weren’t we asleep? When would we ever sleep?
Those were fleetingly the best of times but more often the worst of times – elation and exhaustion in unequal measure. I resolved then in that moment, in that immature steamy, symmetrical garden, to tell others, those unsuspecting innocents, still fresh-faced and beautiful and yearning for babies, just exactly what it is like: how your life changes irredeemably, reduced down to a lonely vacuum of overwhelming responsibility and indescribable mundanity. Yet, and here’s the thing, 15 years on I have never told anyone, I mean not really told, not in any totally, open and honest relaying of the bold facts, and now, with the memory faded, I know I never will. After all why would I?
In a curious way though here I am again wondering why no one ever tells you what it’s like. I have lost touch with my literary friend and have long since left North Oxford and the self-esteem of paid employment and I now live in a rural county in the west of England with two teenage children, and a large overrun garden and yet …the conspiracy goes on. I’ve gone through peri-menopause (I think), menopause (I think), and now I am struck down by an irresistible, all-consuming, restlessness to…well, to be me. I am not sleeping but I do not have a baby to point to, just a gently snoring, occasionally snorting, heavy-breathing husband. At least he can be banished to his blow-up bed downstairs so it is not for him to shoulder the blame – rather it is the fault of my active, alert, uncontrolled mind.
I know all about the hot sweats from my poor mum and the forgetfulness and general drying up of oneself from friends, books, and magazines, but this restless drive to find oneself, that’s what has taken me by surprise. So now I am telling all those other women what it’s like – my friends, my nieces, and, in time, my daughter. You will not be the first to feel like this and you will not be the last; it’s ok, it’s natural, and it’s to be expected, so rejoice, ditch the guilt, BE YOU and enjoy your time. You may not get another.