Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Great Age Issue: The Power of the Positive Crone #1

The Power of the Positive Crone
Carole Spearin McCauley

Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue. 
The following piece the first of a four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley.
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  
We are accepting submissions for this issue until March 1, 2014. Write to us at femspec-at-aol-dot-com or to the issue editor aganapath-at-gmail-dot-com if you'd like to submit your work for consideration. The extended call for submissions can be found here and our submission guidelines are available here

Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard& (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.


This is a Q + A piece that combines some relevant autobiography with non-technical medical research on aspects of menopause.
Exactly. I sailed through it several years ago and docked happily on the other side of these bloody waters.

My final period came in December, 1990, when I was nearly 52, after some months of regular, but heavy, periods.  When they happened, I thought, “Oh, no, more fibroid tumors.”  I’d had D&C surgeries for fibroids in 1977 (on outside of uterus) and 1988, after a four-inch internal fibroid tried to birth itself in a hemorrhage, but wound up stuck in my vagina on a stalk.  When gynecologists noted that my uterus remained “enlarged to the size of a 10-week pregnancy” but could be expected to shrink upon menopause, I could hardly wait!
Further facts:  I have small fibrocystic breasts that not only got sore with retained fluid for two weeks each month, but required about 40 aspirations of cysts (with horse-sized needles) over many years.  I still recall those needles pressing against my ribs.  The largest cyst was two inches (nearly the whole breast), aspirated during pregnancy.  Again the word was, “Your breasts won’t swell anymore after menopause.”  Again I could hardly wait.  Somehow I managed to breastfeed my son for five months in 1980.
More facts:  I’m about six feet tall, weigh about 140 pounds, have been slim all my life.  I’m a widow and have one son, now married and working in Connecticut.  They, including his wife’s little girl, live in my house there.  He was born when I was 41. Before this normal Lamaze delivery with hospital midwives, I’d suffered one 1973 miscarriage, followed by guess what?  The first D&C to stop the bleeding.
Then there was the final D&C in 1993.  After my periods abruptly stopped in 1990, I had one totally normal period in October, 1992, with moist vagina, sore breasts, the whole bit.  The 1993 D&C removed a one-inch fibroid—not large enough to cause hemorrhage but possibly to cause that isolated but strangely normal period.
Before and after menopause—several years now without regular periods—I do not recall having one hot flash, night sweat, heart palpitation, weight gain, or other symptom.  Living in the northern U.S., the only times I’ve felt uncontrollably hot were during pregnancy (when I could sit before open windows during February) and whenever I visit Florida.  Ordinarily I wear long clothes most of the year.  Since I’m a health writer, I suspect my luck in avoiding usual menopausal symptoms is partly good health and good attitude, including relief at not menstruating anymore, and partly that estrogen and progesterone have left my body slowly enough to avoid the sudden drop that produces hot flashes.  I certainly have not requested hormone replacement therapy.
Psychologically I can’t feel “old” or useless with more than full-time writing and editing work, activities in the condo complex where I live and at Dartmouth College campus.  If I’d hoped that one benefit of aging is to enjoy rising at 6 a.m., that hasn’t happened yet!

I dared to buy my first set of pastel underpants (instead of stain-proof black).  Next I  spent some rarer money on myself to achieve two beauty items I’d always wanted.  The first was to get my semi-protruding ears pinned back by a cosmetic surgeon, followed by some liposuction under my chin.  The next beauty bit involved extensive electrolysis—getting my eyebrows shaped and coarse, dark hair removed from my upper lip and legs. These procedures are successful and have relieved me of problems that had annoyed me since puberty.

In my health research I found the following studies that I wish more people knew about.  During the mid-60s, medical sociologists Sonja McKinley and Margot Jefferys polled 638 women aged 45 through 54 in England.  They divided respondents into 11 categories that ranged from women still menstruating to those whose final period occurred nine years before.  Symptoms studied were hot flushes, night sweats, headache, dizzy spells, palpitations, sleeplessness, depression, and weight gain.  When headache, dizziness, palpitations, insomnia, depression, and weight gain were isolated, 30% to 50% of women, including those still menstruating, experienced at least one of these symptoms (or several together).  The fact that premenstrual women also experienced such symptoms led the researchers to conclude that this second list of symptoms is not directly or only related to menopause.
However, 4 out of 5 of these English women did experience hot flushes, including 25% who described them as acutely uncomfortable.  Another 20% described them as embarrassing.  For the still-menstruating women, hot flushes “rarely occurred.”
Conclusion?  In this group of more that 600 women, hot flushes were the only symptom clearly and directly related to menopause.  Researchers McKinley and Jefferys later continued this work to include more than 2,500 women in the Boston, Mass. (USA) area with similar results.  This included a five-year follow-up.
The next study that encouraged me is reported in Paula Weidiger’s book, Menstruation and Menopause. Her results found:
·                 10% of women report severe symptoms
·                 80% report one or more symptoms
·                 10% have no symptoms.

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