I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “We are the first women, in all of human history, to be living long enough, healthy enough, and be intellectually vibrant enough after menopause to have another life”. Think about it. Until the 1800’s most women didn’t make it past the childbearing years, with the average woman dying at 48. As health improved, we lived to menopause but not much longer. For most of the next century, people knew so little about “the change” that women were thought to go crazy for a time, and then expected to ….knit? Sit in a rocker and wait? The expectation for women over 50 in the early 1900’s was widowhood, followed by living with a kindly daughter or son, or in a nursing home. As our health improved, more women lived longer, but menopause was still a scientific mystery, and the lucky few women waited for their lives to re-start when their husbands retired…then they could travel with them, golf with them, and join charities. According to the National Institute of Health the average woman’s life expectancy in America today is approx. 82, and the average age for menopause is 51.
Never. Not just a long time ago but never have we as women had the health and the resources to expect to live a life long after menopause. Never. It’s a heady responsibility. For most of us, life after menopause is uncharted territory. There are those few, maybe, that we’ve heard of or knew of, who created a full life, but not many. In the history of science, gynecology is a “baby” science. Up until the 1970’s it was the medical specialty that the bottom of the medical classes went to. Most of this baby science has been dedicated to 1) obstetrics and 2) pro-creation, with menopause and post-menopause being scientific afterthoughts. The subject has only begun to get serious scientific attention since the 1990’s; until that time there weren’t enough women to collectively study it, nor were there enough women to collectively ask for, demand, and require study. It wasn’t until 2005 that menopause was officially and medically declared to be a normal part of a woman’s life. In 2005 (that’s only eight years ago) the National Institute of Health (NIH) declared that menopause was not a disease.
There is very little coherent information on what happens to women and what we are capable of later in life.
As a whole, we seem to be lost. The media is filled with images of older female celebrities spending vast sums of money to have their bodies rebuilt to look younger. Don’t we all know those “women” whose 50+ style is too thin, too tight, and too dyed. While we may whisper behind their backs that they look ridiculous, we aren’t really sure what they’re supposed to look like. Then there are those of us who have gained that middle age spread and have slowed down a bit, only to realize that we may have 30 or 40 more years left and have come too late to the fitness game. How do we remain fit, trim and healthy without looking as though we are trying to recapture our youth? Or, how do we remain fit, trim and healthy without spending hours and hours in a gym and thousands and thousands of dollars on nips, tucks, and injections? I won’t even get into the grey hair vs. colored hair debate. What are we supposed to look like?
Our brains also change after menopause; in fact our brains reboot our and send energetic signals to our body. At a time of life when historically we’ve been sent to pasture, our minds are ready to be more productive than ever before. Actually, menopause is only a physical ending of one part of who we are, but truthfully it’s more like a second adolescence. We transform and grow. Our brains become eager to try new and bolder efforts; no wonder we thought we were crazy. Science has not discovered equivalent growth or change in a man’s brain. In fact, men’s time for prowess is over, they did well. They begin to slow just as we grow.
What is evolution asking women to do?
If the average age of menopause is 51 and our average life expectancy is 82, that’s 31 years. What did you do during your first 31 years? You learned to eat, walk, talk, run, read, do math, understand the way things worked, discovered love, experimented with several careers, learned about money, learned about the relationship between money and shoes (oh wait, that may have just been me), learned about dating, dated, fell in love, got married, maybe had children, learned about motherhood, learned that we couldn’t balance work, love and motherhood but kept trying to… and the list goes on and on. So what are we to do with even more energy and desire than when we were young if we have another 30 -40 years of life? If we did so much during the first 30 years, just imagine what we can do with the last 30 when we don’t have to learn to walk, talk, and read.
We are pioneers. We must shoulder the responsibility of pioneers to chart this uncharted territory and, more importantly, live lives that are vital. We need not waste the opportunity to stand tall and proud.
George Washington was reluctant to be the first president of the United States because he knew that what he did would be the pattern for all others to follow. He weighed his actions, not because he was afraid of how history would view him, but because knew that he was the first president of his kind ever, and was afraid of how he’d affect history. He was imbued with extra-ordinary wisdom.
As women, we face the same challenge. Future generations will look to our behavior as a pattern for theirs.
The miracle is that not only are we living longer, but also that we are Americans. We have the freedom to choose the frame of our lives and the responsibility to make sure that our families keep that freedom. But’s that’s for another missive.
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