WHEN I WAS 48, I JOINED a new book club. At my first meeting, talk turned to an ex-member who’d been having a hard time with hot flashes. One evening, the women said, things got especially bad for her. She shifted uncomfortably all through the book talk, until finally she had to peel off her sweater for relief. When that wasn’t enough, she tore off her blouse. When that wasn’t enough, off came her tank top, too—until there she sat, red-faced and dripping, in just her bra.
Back then, the prospect of hot flashes terrified me; my mother’s had been ferocious. If you haven’t yet reached menopause, you might be terrified, too— and not just by the idea of turning into the incredible flaming woman, stripped to her skivvies in someone else’s living room. There are the hot flashes, the night sweats, the brain fog, the mood swings, the free-range rage, the bloating, the weight gain.
And on top of those miseries is the loss they’re supposed to portend: of sexiness, of fertility, of the best and juiciest part of your life, of femininity, of—if you take it far enough—your very womanness. You will become shrivelled and uninteresting, the story goes, a dried-up, barren husk of your former self, an old hag that no one lusts after anymore. And then you’ll die.
Here’s the truth: You probably will sweat the physical stuff. And possibly the mood stuff. Maybe a lot. Perhaps a ton. Y