Thursday, October 15, 2009


As much as I love words, sometimes I struggle with them. I'll think I have something important to share, and I'll have a hard time getting started. This is one of those times. Maybe I should just dive in head first.

It appears that I am entering menopause. I always thought that I would be happy about that - no more monthly "visitations," with their accompanying discomfort, inconvenience, and expense.

Turns out I'm not really happy about it after all. I am experiencing all kinds of unpleasant symptoms - depression, sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear, anger... and a veritable smorgasbord of physical changes.

Never having suffered much from PMS, some of the emotional stuff came as a bit of a surprise. But what shook me to my core was my reaction to the end of an era. I will no longer be capable of conceiving children. It's not that I desire more children - the ones I have are amazing, and my life is full. It's the realization that an integral part of my womanhood will be no more. I wonder if this is the way a woman fighting cancer feels when she loses a breast or all of her hair.

Yeah, I know, I've said it myself - they're just breasts. It's just hair. It's just a uterus. But these are some of the things that define women and set them apart. They are things that make us different from men. They matter, in ways we don't even grasp until they are gone.

There's another part of my identity that is falling victim to this "change of life." I noticed back when I was expecting my first child that my ability to sing was affected greatly by my condition. I tried to talk to friends, colleagues, and professionals about it, and I got the same response from everyone. "It's just the baby pushing on your diaphragm" or "It's all in your head." Although those explanations couldn't account for the continuing vocal problems I had on a monthly basis postpartum, I accepted them as reasonable.

Turns out that research supports the theory that the changes in a woman's hormones directly affect the voice. The vocal membranes are startlingly similar to the membranes in one's nether regions. Membranes in both regions undergo some thickening and dehydration as hormone levels increase. The voice becomes less flexible, both in range and in variability. And there's not much one can do to stop or reverse it.

Because every woman's journey through menopause is unique, not all singers experience this phenomenon. But there are plenty of opera singers whose careers have come to a screeching halt as they enter this phase of womanhood. And not only do they feel betrayed by their bodies, but they must also muster the courage to pursue new avenues at a time when most folks are settled comfortably into their careers.

People who enjoy a specialized skill or talent have a difficult time differentiating the self from the behavior. They are gifted with the ability to do something that not everyone else can, and that sets them apart from the herd. And that special something permeates their being. The expression "eats, drinks, and sleeps" is an apt description of how an artisan relates to her craft. When that something is threatened or taken away, the resulting grief can be devastating.

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices. I can accept the inevitability that my body and voice will be changed forever and try to find a way to honor the me that is left behind. Or I can diligently seek methods in which to fight the process and try to keep what I have as long as possible. Either way the road will be long and hard and lonely, as others are unlikely to empathize with my selfish plight. And at the end of the road, I may no longer recognize myself.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Ah! I am beginning to understand your dilemma. Believe me I wont laugh at you. I will try to comfort you!