“[O]ne day, without clear warning, I’ll transform into the old crone, living alone in a small cabin in the woods, with only the crows to keep me company"
The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.
My body is going to change.
I wasn’t scared, but neither was I prepared, and not for want of trying. I started scouring medical and health websites. The information I read was disappointingly vague, contradictory, or incomplete. This was the digital age. I could learn about almost anything in the blink of an eye, but I guess some subjects are even too taboo for the internet.
I tried the old-fashioned research technique of talking to people who’d experienced a similar change. It was equally inconclusive. If anything, it seems this subject was even more taboo before the internet.
Taboo, inevitable, and simultaneously common. It was a life event shrouded in secrecy, so feared it warranted a Stephen King style title.
One day I would be going through The Change.
That’s right, readers, I’m talking about menopause.
While this wouldn’t be the first time my body physically changed (babyhood in its entirety, adrenarche, puberty), pop culture tells me I’m supposed to dread this one. Right now, I’m fertile and desirable like a fairy tale princess. But one day, without clear warning, I’ll transform into the old crone, living alone in a small cabin in the woods, with only the crows to keep me company.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that this doesn’t sound all that bad to me.
Still, I wanted some clear warning.
Then I found information the other old-fashioned way. Yes, I’m talking about reading a book.
I was reading about vaginas.
No other way to put that, really.
I’m not talking about light reading, either, but Dr. Jen Gunter’s in-depth book about vaginas, aptly named The Vagina Bible. I found it immensely interesting because I happen to have one.
Believe it or not, she touches on menopause in the book. And it gets better. She wrote the stand alone book The Menopause Manifesto which I quickly pre-ordered and eventually owned.
I felt relieved at having found a solution to my uncertainty from a logistical and anatomical perspective. Surprisingly, I also found a sense of meaning and empowerment.
Perhaps I wouldn’t end up alone in the woods after all.
The common menopausal narrative distilled a woman’s worth down to her utility as a sexual object, as though contribution to society started at puberty and tragically ended with menopause. I knew I had internalized some of this, despite knowing I have so much more to give than a fertile body.
Evolutionary science has a rebuttal. The Grandmother Hypothesis is the idea that human women live far past their fertile lifespan in order to help increase the fitness of grandchildren and allow mothers to have children closer together. In other words, mom takes care of the baby, and nana helps make sure the other kiddos are well fed; the family grows bigger, and the genes carry-on. While the first hard evidence supporting this theory came from studies of the Hadza, hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, it is also supported by data from “… two preindustrial populations, one in what is now Quebec and the other in Finland.” While living long past fertility is rare in nature, we’re not alone. Like us, killer whale grandmothers too increase the survival of their grandkids. Cool.
The Grandmother Hypothesis flips the common narrative on its head. It frames post-menopausal women as valuable, essential, and wise—continuing to giving life when their baby making days are over.
I felt more empowered about The Change. Granted, it still brings with it an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and weight gain, particularly around the midsection. That all sounds like a whole lot of managing what I eat and how much I exercise.
And I don’t want to. I don’t want to diet or run or buy new pants.
But fit that into the story of the helpful grandmother, and my mind felt more at ease. Instead of lifting weights to maintain bone density, maybe I’ll be lifting kids. The ability to store extra weight around my waistline might even prove to be a valuable asset. In his interview with Dr. Rhonda Patrick about the Fasting Mimicking Diet, longevity researcher Valter Longo discussed some benefits of prolonged fasting for health and life span. Namely, prolonged fasting resulted in decreased blood pressure, autophagy, regeneration of healthy cells, and the burning visceral fat for energy. A grandma belly might just be the body’s way of saving up for a rainy day.
This created a more romantic view of the post-menopausal body. During times of abundance, the mature woman easily stores belly fat. In times of food scarcity, she has plenty stored up to sustain her, leaving more food available for her younger family members. Her sacrifice is rewarded with renewed health, longevity, and a thriving family.
I guess buying new pants isn’t too high a price to pay in exchange for a superpower that may have furthered human evolution. I’ll wear my super pants with pride.
I feel more prepared. Not only do I have an idea of what’s going to happen, but I feel it is something worth celebrating. It’s like people always say: The Change is good. Or at least they should start saying that. Now if only I can figure out an optimistic perspective on the benefits of hot flashes. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
Check out more from Down the Rabbit Hole by going to www.bookinterruped.com/blog/categoriges/down-the-rabbit-hole