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Menopause Journal: Am I pregnant or is it menopause?

My period is late and I'm worried. I tend to be regular. I've never missed a period except when I was pregnant or nursing. In fact, developmentally speaking, I tend to be predictable. Even my eye doctor noted this a few years back when he said, "You're right on time. Forty-two is when it hits, presbyopia ..." It was depressing ? I could no longer read the small print of the phone book ? and right on time at that. I'd hoped I wouldn't be that predictable, that I could beat the odds.

At 47, I thought I'd beat other odds. My sex life had been difficult in the early years of my marriage, plagued with yeast infections and garden-variety vaginal irritations. With the birth of my first child, I had a hematoma of the perineum. Between nursing babies and pain with intercourse, I felt that my body no longer belonged to me. Sex lost its charm. In my early 40s I'd been divorced for a while and assumed I was doomed to the celibate life. I remember one Thanksgiving gathering of friends during which we each proclaimed our gratitude for something. I said I was grateful that I'd had a sex life. The nubile 15-year-old daughter of my friend said that she was grateful she was going to.

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Within a year, however, I felt like the teen. Timid at first, in a new relationship, I discovered that sex was no longer painful. In fact, it was better than ever! I had a born-again sex life ? making love in romantic bed-and-breakfasts, in dew-covered grass and wrapped in the sail on the deck of a boat. Certain that I was the exception, I was surprised to read that women hit their sexual peak at age 47. Right on time again.

I'd wanted to take birth control pills, but my doctor advised against it because I have a slightly elevated risk for breast cancer. So, in my midlife sexual exuberance, I may have been a little lax in the birth control department. My period is late, very late.

Age 51 is not the predictable time for pregnancy. I guess it happens, but certainly I wouldn't be "right on time." I'm trying to remember the earliest signs of pregnancy. My breast are not terribly tender, nor do I have to pee all the time. Weren't those some of the signs?

However, 51 is the average age for menopause. I can't imagine having a baby at this time of life. There were years when I couldn't even look at newborns because I was so envious. But I'm beyond that. I've just survived the emptying of the nest and enjoy doing what I want. I can't imagine being a "Menopausal Mama." I don't even want the responsibility of a dog.

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I have a friend who had a chaotic childhood and attributes it to being a menopause baby. She said her mother was crazy and would lock herself in her room for days. I think I understand.

For years when I went for my yearly gynecological exam and mammogram, my doctor, who's about my age, asked if I was going through "the change." I answered, "No, at least I don't think so." The fact that I still had a monthly period seemed to say to me that I was not. Her secretary, in the same age ballpark, confided that the entire office staff was early, but everyone is different ? some women go crazy, some hardly notice. Since that time, my gynecologist has adopted a baby and left her practice, perhaps as an act of menopausal madness.

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If I'm not pregnant, it might be menopause. Right on time. But isn't there supposed to be some warning? Aren't periods supposed to get irregular or trickle down, or something?

My mother never said much about menopause. She was always too busy taking care of us kids and teaching violin. She'd had a hysterectomy so maybe she didn't have menopause. I'll have to ask her. All I can remember about that time was my dad seeming a little melancholy about no more babies. My god, what will my mother say if I'm pregnant?

I can't be pregnant. My children are in their early 20s. What would they say? They'd have to face the fact that I've had sexual relations since their conceptions. And, worse yet, I'd be almost 70 when the new kid graduates from high school. What an embarrassment I'd be.

But for some reason I don't want to do a pregnancy test. I don't want to know that I'm pregnant, but I'm also not sure that I want to know I'm not. It's not that I enjoy having my period, but it's such a reassuring signal. It's a signal that I'm not pregnant, but also a signal that I'm not over the hill.

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