March 23, 2015

Upon Leaving the Red Tent


The Red Tent

There comes a time in a woman’s life where things change. After several decades of dealing with “that time of the month”, for most women of a certain age that time never comes one month. Then two. And you know you’re not pregnant. But the first time it happens you’re jolted and your mind zips around like a pinball was just released.

Ask the experts about menopause symptoms and age and treatments and you’ll get 16 more questions than you will answers. At nearly 46, I’ve been told I’m “young” to reach menopause. In the US, the average age is 51 and the average age range is 48-55. Call me a high achiever!

I was probably 42 when I started experiencing some of the telltale signs of menopause, other than skipping the monthly cycle – weight gain, feeling flushed without reason, night sweats. As if being irritable and all the PMS-y symptoms aren’t enough for women let’s invite more annoying people to this party. And since I never really experienced PMS or any of that cyclical physical or emotional change all I knew was this sucks and it better not last for long.

Nonetheless, here I was in my very early 40s heading into this game called perimenopause. Nothing like that feeling of knowing something in your body is going to stop working and there is nothing you can do about it other than carry a fan, hope you don’t sweat like you’re on hike through Death Valley in June, and don’t annoy everyone around you because your hormones are swinging more than 4-year-old at the park on a spring day. And yet, there was nothing really to look forward to.

See, when you’re a young girl there’s the special video at school, the talk, chatter among your friends, and the dread that your mom will tell all her friends (and now, the hope that she won’t post it on Facebook). It’s a big celebration when a girl becomes a woman. Today there are even fun videos, cool monthly gift boxes, and colorful apps all to make the monthly lady days a joyful rite of passage. The concept of the red tent isn’t gone, it’s just gone digital.

And here I am, being evicted from this sisterhood. There is no Happy Menopause party. No fun countdown calendar to the end of your egg-producing days. And for all things no longer sacred, no one wants to read an “I am officially in menopause” post on social media. You just know, that when the twelfth month comes and goes without a visit from Aunt Flo that you’ll pack up your pillow, your snacks, and all those memories and walk out of the red tent never to be invited back.

And just like no one likes “creepy old guy” hanging out at the clubs and the hotel bar, you start to wonder if that’s what you’ll become if you still want to spend time with your red tent sisters. The women who’ve taken this path before us haven’t left us with instructions on what to do next. Surely, it’s not like going to work one day and Sally’s just not there any more. But it kind of is like that. Because among the elders in the red tent it’s not a topic we discuss. We’re in that tent to support the young girls, to watch after them, to remind them that this monthly visit is a powerful, and empowering, time.

So on March 1st, I walked past the red tent knowing I’d never get to go back in. It doesn’t matter that as the month’s past I felt like I wasn’t missed. At my age, the proverbial red tent doesn’t exist as much as it did when I was younger. Still, there is a sisterhood in that tent and I wasn’t part of it. I wanted to take one last peek in and say goodbye. But that’s not how this works. Good thing in 2015 we have cool coffee shops and chic bistros to meet our girlfriends and wax nostalgic about our time in the red tent.


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