Holy Hot Flashes! A Spiritual Take on Menopause
Belly fat? Check.
Hot flashes? Check.
Sleep problems, mental fog, AWOL menstrual cycles? Oh yes.
The desire to nurture others? Pfffft. Gone. Current thinking on menopause tells us that the caretaking "instinct" is nothing more than a relic of a woman's reproductive years.
As Sandra Tsing Loh notes in a wry piece in the November issue of The Atlantic, the message of pop-culture self-help tomes like Christine Northrup's The Wisdom Of Menopause is that mommy's selflessness is basically a biological hiccup. In other words, as a woman's estrogen powers down at menopause, she becomes far less nurturing and way more self-centered. It's pure biology:
It is not menopause that triggers the mind-altering and hormone-altering variation; the hormonal "disturbance" is actually fertility. Fertility is The Change. It is during fertility that a female loses herself, and enters that cloud overly rich in estrogen. And of course, simply chronologically speaking, over the whole span of her life, the self-abnegation that fertility induces is not the norm—the more standard state of selfishness is.
Tsing Loh surveys the self-help literature aimed at coaching women through The Change. She takes on the whack-a-doo diet and exercise advice doled out by experts and amateurs alike. A hearty amen here. I have a small contingent of peers who lob their dietary cures at my midlife woes with evangelistic fervor. If only I will go gluten-free/dairy-free/do a colon cleanse/ingest flaxseed/fish oil/supplements/more supplements/still more supplements/ad nauseum (literally), I will feel and look 20 years younger, and lose weight, too! There's probably some truth buried in these ideas, but I prefer dietary moderation with an order of fries on the side.
The Atlantic piece then commends Northrup's 600+ page encyclopedic volume as the motherlode of the menopause genre. Tsing Loh allows that the book includes some of the same old nutty lifestyle advice found in other sources, but the book grants her an epiphany as she considers her fading energy for her caregiving responsibilities:
What the phrase wisdom of menopause stands for, in the end, is that, as the female body's egg-producing abilities and levels of estrogen and other reproductive hormones begin to wane, so does the hormonal cloud of our nurturing instincts. During this huge biological shift, our brain, temperament, and behaviors will begin to change—as then must, alarmingly, our relationships. As one Northrup chapter title tells it, "Menopause Puts Your Life Under a Microscope," and the message, painful as it is, is: "Grow … or die.""