This was not how it was supposed to be. I should have been in my fifties, at the top of my career, accomplished and full of poise, my partner and I either settled in companionship or amicably separated, our children having flown the nest. Instead I am 42, precariously self-employed, and in a relatively young relationship with a younger partner with whom I have a two-year-old daughter. Which is to say that, when my gynecologist told me that I was perimenopausal a few weeks ago, my first reaction to what seemed like hyper-accelerated aging was a shocked, “Oh my god, I am old!”
My doctor, the picture of youth to my lack of luster (I saw dewdrops glistening on her skin), kept reassuring me that this was not the case. I wanted to cry. I had an immediate need to cut my hair. This, then, was it. Reverse puberty (it’s been called, ridiculously). PMS all the time (as I say to my friends).
At least now I have a name for the unfamiliar transformation that took hold of my body some time last year; at least now I can make sense of what I had (not) been sensing. At least now I know that the estrogen that was already sketchy after I gave birth, though it might still show up for birthdays and Christmas, will never return for good. At least I can empathize with my toddler, having on occasion flung myself to the ground, pounding my fists, kicking and screaming (yes, it’s that bad).
But these comforts register more like consolations when I feel like I am becoming less, fading. Years ago I wrote a story about a woman whose body is erased so that only her outline remains. Now it feels like an opposite erasure: My contours, stretched and substantially altered during and after pregnancy only recently, have been obliterated. I feel like a blur — and in more than one sense: confused, all over the place, vague, smudged. The call to tend to myself, which I’ve tried to muffle due to the demand for attention by my family, is sounding. But how do I clarify myself, how do I draw myself into being?
I am starting to understand why some women decide to go bright and bold with their hair and makeup and clothing choices when they reach this era in their lives: the so-called “second spring” feels more like a perpetual autumn. So why not embrace it, standing ablaze and glowing? (And I don’t mean you, hot flashes.)
Through all this I’ve been reminded that I have never quite followed conventional ways. Growing up as a woman of color in South Africa was an exercise in consistent protest and shape-shifting, and other border-crossings — from moving countries to belated motherhood — have helped me hold my identity as migrant, surprising, unfinished. My current approach then, as always, is one of defiance: this is another path I will forge by marching on, and no, I will not go gently.
Image by Florilegius/SSPL via Getty Images.