She laughed at me when I called her and said, “Well, I’m having my period; I guess I’m not pregnant.”
It wasn’t her laugh that bothered me so much as the patronizing tone.
“Oh, sweetie, that’s not going to happen.”
My friend Michelle had worked as a health professional for Planned Parenthood for a long time. She knew what she was talking about, but a big part of me didn’t want to accept it. My periods had become sporadic – a bit of blood one month, then nothing for three months. Then four months of regular periods, sort of on time. Then a five month gap. When that happened, I jokingly said, “Maybe I should take a pregnancy test.”
Michelle and I both knew I wasn’t interested in having a baby, but even so, I felt defensive. “It’s still possible!”
“Well, technically, yes, but it’s verrrry unlikely.”
But Having a Baby Is Easy!
I got married right out of college and, as soon as the words “well maybe we could start thinking about it” were out of my mouth, I was pregnant. Two years later, right on schedule, I had baby number two. Having children was never a question; it was all part of the plan. I would get married, have babies, be a grown up. Even a divorce after 25 years didn’t shake me from the conviction that I could control my path.
Now that my sons were grown and on their own, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Why would I want to go back to diapers and babysitters and being at someone’s beck and call? In my 50s? No, I didn’t want it, but I liked dreaming about it.
Post-divorce, I was sleeping with someone tall and strong and handsome. I imagined our baby would be beautiful. I imagined she would have my blonde hair and his hazel eyes. I imagined putting a little chubby girl in my guy’s arms and seeing his face light up at the child he’d never been able to have in his previous relationship.
When Michele laughed at the idea of my being pregnant, all those fun fantasies vanished as I hit reality head on. I felt angry – angry at knowing a choice was gone. No amount of wishing, planning or denial would allow me to have an easy, normal pregnancy again if I wanted one.
This is where all the older moms who have chosen frozen embryos, IVF, new technologies or adoption will tell the stories of women in their 50s choosing to become mothers. 50 is the new 40. Janet Jackson did it, right? There are some interesting stories out there about reversing time or changing the nature of nature. But this isn’t about finding a way to get what we want – it’s about finding out something that used to be easy has become difficult, simply because of aging. What if your body won’t let you be who you think you truly are?
Knowing It Is Different Than Feeling It
Menopause was a stunner for me. Even though perimenopause covers a long period of time and symptoms come and go, it was that one conversation that grabbed me. Logically, intellectually, I knew I wouldn’t go on forever being able to have a baby anytime I wanted, but it wasn’t until I hit a hard physical reality that logic came up against my emotion. Losing the ability to easily become pregnant opened the door to the other limitations of aging. Could it be that someday I really would get weaker? That my joints might start to ache? That my eyesight would grow dim? That I would become an old woman?
That was my crossroads. I spent a few days feeling like I was starting the slippery descent into old age before catching myself and shaking off all the self-pity and anticipatory gloom. Someday I might need help getting around. Someday I would attend funerals of friends the way I used to attend weddings and graduations. Someday my body might dictate a more serious health consequence than not being able to have a baby I didn’t want anyway. But not today.
Letting Go and Moving On
Menopause is no different than any other life circumstance, big or small. It happens, you deal with it, you go on. I’m a big believer in going after your dreams. I always liked that quote about adjusting your sails to get where you want to go, but I used to say you can even cause the wind to blow the way you want it to if you try hard enough. And yet, there is something about a physical transition like menopause that makes you see that, no matter how many vision boards I put together, the limitations of my body won’t let me be a classical ballet dancer, or an extreme rock climber or a new mother at 56 – at least not without a major redefinition.
And so I’ll let go of the idea of celebrating a relationship by creating a new life built out of the two of us. We’ll create other things together – experiences, art, circles of friends. I’ll focus on something else. Because there is always something else, as long as I’m still here.
Patti Hall has made a career of non-fiction magazine writing, journalism, and corporate communications, but is starting down the fiction path with recent stories of love, sailing and adventure. She’s lived in Texas – currently in Dallas – North Carolina and West Virginia, but will always be a Pittsburgh girl at heart.
Photo Credit: Chicagonow.com