Now that I am well past menopause and no longer at the mercy of fluctuating hormones, I can look back at some 50 years of the female cycle with detachment. From my present vantage point, I am stunned to realize how something completely out of my control ruled my life, and I don’t think I’m overstating the case. Those hormones exerted enormous power over my body, my mind, and my circumstances. It knocks me out that all women (with certain exceptions) are ruled by these invisible forces, some to a lesser extent perhaps than I, but, based on anecdotal evidence, most of us are strongly affected. And I’m referring only to the menstrual cycle, never mind the havoc wreaked by the onset of puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and singular circumstances such as illness or tubal ligation. The monthly cycle of menstruation, ovulation, and the rise and fall of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are nothing less than a roller coaster (no metaphor intended). My hormones lifted me up and dropped me down, up and down, up and down, over and over with frightening regularity for most of my life. Being free now for a decade has provided me a glimpse into the relatively carefree existence of the male of the species. As the Old World gals say, “Who’d want to be a woman?”
When I think of all the energy my generation spent trying to change the way the world treats women, it seems to me that energy might have been better spent studying chemistry – for it now appears that hormones are much more powerful than society’s shenanigans. I made major life decisions without taking into account my position at the moment in my menstrual cycle. When the estrogen spiked, I fell in love and set up house with someone. When the hormones plunged, I walked out the door. Every month like clockwork PMS drove me mad for three or four days, and though I knew my murderous rages were a hormonal by-product, I went right on living as if my brilliant mind was running the show. I wandered in and out of relationships, in and out of jobs and even professions, into small towns and out of big cities, not taking into account the real reasons for my choices. If I got to do what I wanted sometimes, what did it matter, if what I thought I wanted was based on something as ephemeral as tissue paper?
It’s a vast relief to be free. Now, even if my mood changes according to the weather or events, compared to the way I used to be then I’m a study in tranquility. The passage into menopausal zest, as Margaret Mead called this stage of a woman’s life, is a genuine benefit of aging. Unfortunately, the benefit is tinged with regret, since it comes with a host of less pleasant aspects of aging. Ya just can’t win. Still, given the trap nature’s placed us in, I wouldn’t trade the absence of hormonal crazies for my youth even if it were possible. So take heart, young women: new life awaits at the end of the roller coaster.