Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Complicated Emotions

September 4th, 2013 by Heather Dillaway

Rocky emotions at menopause? // Photo courtesy of Heather Dillaway

Anyone who has ever loved anyone and existed in any kind of intimate relationship, or raised a kid, or negotiated with their parent as their parent ages knows that you can both love someone and also be very frustrated — even feel like hating them — at the very same time. You can love someone while simultaneously being extremely frustrated by her or him.
These same complicated love-hate emotions seem very present at perimenopause and menopause. The more I listen to middle-aged women talk and the more I see the media around menopause, the more I realize this. Feminist scholars have often stressed that menopause is not solely a negative transition and that women can find the transition positive at times. At the very least we’ve found that women feel indifferent or mixed about menopause, even if they don’t feel positive about the transition. BUT feeling positive or indifferent about reaching menopause (i.e., being happy to reach a certain period of life) is completely different from living with perimenopause. The signs and symptoms of perimenopause and menopause (e.g., hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, irregular bleeding, etc.) can be grueling, and to discount that means telling women that their everyday feelings are not real. Especially when one thinks about the uncertainty women feel when they don’t know how long perimenopause will last (and when menopause will finally arrive), it is important to think about the very real and very negative feelings women might have even if they are happy overall about making this reproductive transition. Feelings of negativity might also come from women’s thoughts about what menopause means for their fertility if they’ve had trouble conceiving (“After all I’ve been through, now I have to go through this?”) or what menopause means about aging (“Should I worry about aging now? What is coming next for me?”). Even if women are glad to be done with monthly periods, they might still be fearful of aging or mourn their fertility in some way. Women who have decided not to have kids might feel that it’s unfair to have to go through menopause when they didn’t even use their reproductive capacities, even if they are glad to finally be rid of periods. To not acknowledge these complicated emotions is to discount the complicated life courses that women lead. At any life stage we think about what has happened before and what will happen next, and our thoughts about both the past and the future affect how positive we can be about the present. Automatically this means we will have complicated emotions as we make life stage transitions.
Thinking about the road ahead, I know that I’m going to be like every other middle-aged woman. I’m going to love and hate perimenopause and menopause. Just like I’ve loved and hated all other reproductive events in my life. It’s too bad we don’t talk about this stuff more openly, because complicated emotions are actually fairly commonplace. At home. At work. In all of the arenas of everyday life. If we acknowledged this more fully ahead of time, we might be better off as we go through our life stage transitions. Transitions might still be rocky and rough, but at least we’d know it’s normal to have these emotions.

2 responses to “Complicated Emotions”

  1. Kaleema says:

    Great commentary. As a post menopausal woman, I have to say that the greatest emotion I felt and continue to feel is liberation….and because it is liberatory, one may feel it is like an emptiness, and that is true as well…I sort out things, toss some, keep others, buy new, purchase used and continue on……I have no idea why my transition into mature womanhood, actually into a more mature personhood happened without the night sweats, the day sweats, the hot flashes, the other than being black woman in America depression or any other symptoms (well I do have the enlarged breast and then the chills, and then things do make me very teeth-clinching commentary-girl but other than that, what menopause??). I do find that one expression is that need to complete things that were started so many years ago….to push for the realization of the utopia of reality, to be actually liberated…(and then there is the facial hair, ughhhhhh…and the dry summers, ughhhh, and the eye rain that use to shower me daily in my late 40s early 50s for no apparent reason–except, ahhh, now I realize for me, it was about letting go, of possibly YEAH! and becoming like possibly YEAH — in other words I still don’t know why, it was just menopause I guess and then the name itself bothers me…why are men involved ———-).

  2. HeatherD says:

    Thanks, Kaleema, for posting on this blog and I’m really sorry for my delayed response! I think your post actually shows us exactly how complicated those emotions can be, and how it is hard to navigate these emotions. I really like that you point out how free and liberating it might be overall, despite the daily symptoms that might be annoying/frustrating/really hard. I also like that it seems that you remembered more as you kept writing. You filled in the story as you wrote…

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