“Honey,” I said to my husband, “did you know that a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have.”
He looked up from his coffee. “Yes,” he said, nodding.
“I think my last egg just dropped,” I told him. “I’m sure it was an old and stale egg, so it’s a good thing it didn’t get fertilized.” I laughed and walked over to the window. We were spending the holidays at a cabin in the mountains. Outside, I could see white trees, mountains, and cars, like a wedding, a marshmallow world, or a white shroud over a body.
My husband put his around me. “I don’t think that’s how menopause works,” he said. “I know,” I told him, “I’m just being funny.”
The month passed, and I missed my period
I was about to turn 53. I’d had a period every month since I was twelve years old, not including the three times I was pregnant. Then, in December, it happened. The month passed, and I missed my period — it was like barely there. I knew it had to happen sometime.
My doctor told me that, at 52, I would start missing periods soon. I knew it was normal and natural and nothing to fear. And I felt sad that the last egg I was ever going to have was gone.
It’s not like I needed that old egg. It could not have been fertilized anyway since my husband had a vasectomy a decade ago. I would’ve had a heart attack if somehow something had gone wrong, and I’d gotten pregnant. I was devoted to my career; my youngest was seventeen and a senior in high school. Every year the light at the end of the tunnel got a little bit brighter.
As a child, I asked my mother why the Change of Life was sad
I loved watching Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid. I remembered the episode where Caroline Ingalls went to see Doc Baker because she missed her period. Laura had married Almanzo and was pregnant, and Caroline thought they could have babies together until Doc Baker entered the room. He was wearing the same face he used in the episode where he told their widow friend she was dying of cancer.
Doc tells Caroline that she isn’t pregnant; it’s her Change of Life. Caroline bursts into tears and tells Charles she is useless now. She’s nothing but a worn-out shoe. When I asked my mother why Caroline was so sad and what a Change of Life was and what it had to do with crying and being worn out, my mother said, “I have no idea. The Change of Life is menopause, when a woman stops getting her period. I think it’s great.”
My mother is gone now, so I can’t ask her about menopause
That’s all my mother ever told me about menopause. She had no idea why Caroline was crying; she didn’t know why Caroline felt worn out; she thought menopause was great. My mother is gone now, so I can’t ask her for more thoughts on that episode. I can’t ask her if she cared when her last egg went down the drain, whether she had hot flashes, mood swings, or meno-fog. I can’t ask her if she was happy to be done with periods, if she had mixed feelings, or how she felt about herself when her period was a thing of the past. We never talked about it.
“Are you okay?” my husband asked me. “I’m fine,” I told him, and I was. It was no big deal that I missed a period for the first time. I did not feel like a worn-out shoe. I had my last baby seventeen years ago. I still awoke from nightmares in which I discovered myself to be eight months pregnant. I did not want more children. I did not need more periods. And yet…
I wanted to find that episode of Little House on YouTube, but the reception in the cabin was spotty. I wanted to call my mother to talk about it, but she was gone. I remembered Caroline running out of Doc Baker’s exam room, hand pressed to her chest, sobbing. I was not pressing my hand to my chest. I was not sobbing. I was not running anywhere. I didn’t have ski boots on, and the snow was falling outside.
The absence of my period created a storm of loss inside me
Inside, something was falling, too. Swirling, spraying little torpedoes that I didn’t understand and wasn’t prepared for. I did not define myself by my menstrual cycle. In my early fifties, I had lots of friends well into menopause who were enjoying their lives. My young adults were thriving; my marriage was strong, and my health was excellent. I’d hit the bunny slopes on this trip and had a blast.
I wasn’t sure why those wonky last eggs created a storm of loss inside me. There was nothing lost that I wanted or yearned for. And yet I wished my mother had talked to me about menopause. As I stood there wishing she had left me something to hold onto, some matriarchal wisdom or advice about how to feel when the Change of Life came, I again remembered that Little House episode and asked her why Caroline took it so hard. I remember her saying, “I have no idea. I think menopause is great.” That was the message my mother left me with.
As I stood at the window looking out at the snow, my husband asked me again, “Are you sure you’re okay?” I was lost in thought, but I nodded. “That was my last egg,” I told him. Just then, our 19-year-old son walked into the kitchen. “What?” he asked, “You’re not eating eggs anymore?”
I had to laugh. I wasn’t about to explain to my son that I wasn’t not eating eggs; I wasn’t dropping eggs. I wasn’t about to launch into how I was born with all the eggs I’d ever have and how three of them got fertilized and grew into fetuses and became babies and then toddlers and then two skiers and a snowboarder. I wasn’t going to explain why, years later, I was sitting in a cabin in the mountains thinking about Caroline Ingalls.
I wanted to stare out the window, drink my coffee, and mourn my eggless self, even if I did not know what I was mourning.
More Great Reading: