I’m not sure when I first heard the word menopause, but I’m sure I never heard it referred to in anything other than a negative sense. It was something horrible women were to dread.
As I grew older – again not remembering any specific conversations about it, just a general impression gathered – it came to mean a time when women “lost something.” In menopause, you would lose your youth and vitality. You would be subject to a body out of control. (Insert picture of a woman swooning onto a “fainting couch” while suffering “the vapors.”) You would be a “dried up” old woman.
You would never again be able to procreate, and even if you were past the time in your life where you would desire to do so, it still would be a horribly sad day for you. Something to mourn. A part of your identity so precious that the loss of that ability would be detrimental to your sense of well-being.
I had heard stories about women who went crazy during menopause. One woman, who was one of the sweetest people I knew, was said to have punched and kicked holes in the wall during her time with it. It was hard for me to imagine … until it was my time.
I’m on the other side of menopause now. (Well, mostly … after seven years, I’m still having hot flashes.) I must say, it was a completely different experience for me than I had imagined. I’m not sure exactly why, but I found it to be empowering.
There was anger – anger so fierce, I now could imagine myself punching something and completely understand why my friend had done so. Many times, I pictured myself throwing something across the room. I calmed myself and never did it, but the desire was there.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but I think I do now. Anger is often a sign that a boundary has been crossed in your life. I think a woman in menopause finally has a grasp of the many boundaries she has allowed others to define for her. And something within her is screaming for a tightening of those boundaries. Something within is saying, “I deserve my space. I deserve to define myself.”
I’ve since read that women lose their nurturing abilities once they have lost their monthly flow. I think that is a fallacy used by those who don’t understand, or those who don’t want the woman to set her own boundaries, to get her to return to “normal” – to get back to being what she’s been expected to be.
Saying a woman cannot nurture if she is not menstruating is equivalent to saying a man can never nurture because he has never menstruated. It is sad that many do actually try to divide men and women in this way and assign them roles based on this errant presupposition. It is sad and it is unbiblical.
Scripture tells men to love and care for their families. It tells both mothers and fathers to train their children as they walk casually with them along the path of life. It tells church leaders they are to care for the lambs that are in their flock. All Christ followers are told to encourage one another and to sing to one another. They are told to help the children in the kingdom come into maturity by speaking the truth to them in love, by teaching and admonishing them, and by coming alongside them as comforters. These biblical images of nurturing are not divided into male and female duties in the Bible.
God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Christ most certainly, are portrayed as nurturers. Jesus even expresses his desire to “gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37, NIV). Yet, in our society, a man would be declared “effeminate” if he expressed such a desire to “act like a woman.”
My point here, is that the boundaries established by our culture for men and women are superfluous. And this is what a woman in menopause is often struggling to break free of. It’s not that she loses the ability or desire to nurture, it’s just that she now understands (even if it’s on a subconscious level) that to be a nurturer does not mandate doing so within the confinements others would place upon her.
Just as a man is not seen as uncaring simply because he has other priorities in his life besides serving others at all times, a woman sees that she should not be labeled as such either. And just as men are not faulted for needing their space – I need a night out with the guys, or I need to find satisfaction in a career – neither should she.
The empowerment I experienced through menopause did not lead me to dramatic changes in what I was doing with my life (although, I would assume for many women it would). I was already “outside the box” and doing things that women were not typically supposed to be doing (leading, pastoring). What changed for me was my approach to these things. I no longer felt the need to justify myself. I developed a thicker skin and simply did not care any longer who opposed me. I also began to create more firm boundaries with those for whom I did extend myself as a caregiver. I realized it was okay to also care for myself more fully and not feel guilty about it.