Fuck. This is it; the big 4-0. I am definitely not ready. Up until now I haven’t worried all that much about the number on my card. This year it all feels rather scary.
Forty is different. It’s just so huge. I have this sense of it being a before & after year. There’s the obvious sinking of youth. I’ve noticed a few changes on my face. In themselves they aren’t a problem, what they signify certainly gives me pause. I’m beginning to wonder how my body will stack up against the ageing process. Are my dodgy joints going to pack in altogether? Will my hair go white? Is menopause on the way?
40 feels like the nail in the coffin of fertility. I know that hope is already all but extinguished. Hitting my fifth decade seems symbolic; a final snuffing. There are so many unattained goals. I expected to be living a different life by now. Time is whizzing by faster than ever. Getting through the ultimate to do list is increasingly daunting.
It’s not all black. I have built a life I’m proud of. I’ve filled it with bloody lovely buggers. All my people have made beautiful babies for me to adore. I’m doing the work I’ve always wanted to do. I feel loved. So, this is 40. Terrifying, but I’ve conquered the fear before. Why stop now?
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I think it’s universally acknowledged that getting older is a wee bit scary. As one approaches those big milestone ages it is hard not to ponder the big questions. 39 is frightening mainly because of its proximity to 40 & all that entails.
I remember being worried in the run up to the big 30 too. Mainly because I felt like I wasn’t where I had imagined I would be at that stage of my life. That little measure of fear probably helped in the long run. It helped me make some needed changes. My thirties have been far happier than the preceding years. I believe what made that possible was time. I had time to think and plan and manoeuvre.
Ultimately, though, I’m approaching 40 still missing the crucial piece of my puzzle. However, this time I am very nearly out of time. My options are ever shrinking. That is frightening on a whole other level.
I sometimes feel like the proverbial guilty feminist when I have this conversation. Fear of ageing is often assumed to be about vanity. It’s thought silly to worry about grey hairs or crows feet. It’s assumed the desire to stay young is about adherence to sexist beauty standards. Or if it runs deeper the biological clock is referenced in demeaning tones. Ageing childless and/or single women are often perceived as desperate or pathetic. I suspect much of this is internalised, but I had to get these messages somewhere!
Where am I going with this? I suppose I just want to say it is ok. Things become a cliche for a reason. Ageing is scary. Whether that is because you are worried about physical changes, not achieving goals, your own mortality or all of the above. It’s ok. Most folk struggle a little with change. It’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable with the alterations you see in the mirror. It’s fine to be concerned about the irrevocable biological changes that age brings. Knowing that some opportunities have passed you by can be hard to accept. The unstoppable nature of the passage of time is alarming.
In many ways age is just a number. Nevertheless, ageing does have concrete ramifications. It isn’t anti feminist to accept or care about them. A big part of the significance of our appearances is routed in living in a patriarchal society. It isn’t merely a shallow obsession with attractiveness; women’s ageing is not viewed sympathetically. There are real life implications beyond aesthetics. Career prospects, financial considerations, medical and fertility issues are a big deal. Even if you just really lovely your hair and don’t want it to go grey, you’re allowed to have a wobble about that.
In the end the thing that makes it so worrisome is also what helps me deal. You can’t stop time. It is entirely out with our control. Feel whatever you feel. Talk it out. Then carry right on living because it is always later than you think.
There is a particular torture in waiting for your period to arrive when you wish it wouldn’t. Analysing every sensation in the run up to your due date. Trying to decide if your sore back is a period sore back. Being almost certain you kind of smell a menstrual type aroma, but also thinking maybe last week’s nausea was morning sickness. Counting the days. Marking the calendar. Trying not to hope & trying not to lose hope.
Each month is just a microcosm of life. Watching, waiting & knowing time isn’t on your side. Doing your very best not let this desire take over. Working hard to ensure not realising the dream won’t break you. Constantly weighing up how much more you can take.
I’m lying here kidding myself that the hot ache in my thighs doesn’t mean the blood is on its way. I’m reminding myself of all the wonderful things I have. Attempting to hang onto how grateful I am. I know how much worse life can be. You can be happy with the consolation prize. Almost is better than nothing. We don’t always get everything we want, right?
I’m not sure if everyone got the same extensive instruction on manners, but my parents, grandparents etc were very clear that being polite was important. School further instilled in me the concept that there are things that are rude to comment or enquire upon. I feel like even if no one took the time to teach you social etiquette (for want of a better phrase) as a child, there are more than enough opportunities to pick up the basics as you go through life. It seems as though this is in fact an incorrect assumption on my part because tonnes of folk still have zero clue about what is appropriate.
So, let’s try & clear up another area of life on which you really should not broach. Babies. Specifically, when, if, how someone may have them. Unless someone opens this conversation with you, zip it. Wether or not someone wants to procreate is a private matter. When they might do so is none of your business. Why they haven’t already done so is not a topic that’s up for public consumption. Seriously, don’t ask.
Mainly don’t ask because that is private information & prying into other people’s lives is rude. I’ll say that one more time for anyone in doubt,
IT IS RUDE TO ASK ANYONE INTRUSIVE QUESTIONS.
Further to that don’t ask because this a sensitive subject. Regardless of a person’s circumstances there isn’t really a way to reply that isn’t awkward. People (especially women) who do not want children are sick of being judged & interrogated on that decision. If people do want children & don’t have them, there’s a reason. Trust me, they don’t want to discuss whatever that reason is with a random person. For someone people the topic of having children is so emotionally charged that talking about it can be distressing. It’s not ok to hijack a person’s privacy.
I want to have children. I love little ones, but I don’t want to explain that I’ve had multiple miscarriages. Thus far haven’t been able to get pregnant & stay that way. Hence, I don’t feel able to simply say yes I plan to have kids. Part of me dreads occasions centred around children because as much as I love celebrating little people & the wonderful people who made them, I know someone will ask that question. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way. No matter how inconspicuously I shrug off the question, inside, I want to cry. Do you hear that? Your nosey questions are spoiling otherwise joyous occasions for people. I (we) don’t want your pity, we want you to exercise good manners.
Next time you consider asking someone if they’re broody or winking and saying you’re next.
No one likes that rude bitch who makes things awkward. Please try not be that person.
I’m 36yrs old, chronically ill and a size 22, I am no stranger to a bit medical fat shaming. Sadly, I have had to develop a thick skin when it comes to interacting with the medical profession. Drs & nurses will say things to me that no one else would dare to. I have had to learn to advocate for myself when necessary & brush off a whole bunch of bullshit along the way. To be honest I thought I was fairly untouchable. I am entirely comfortable with my size & though often tiring to hear the same fat phobic lectures, it doesn’t hurt me. Infuriate, yes, but I never felt unable to deal with it. Until recently.
Earlier this year I had a miscarriage. It was not my first loss. My previous experiences of pregnancy & miscarriage were hugely traumatic and in fact played a major part in my mental health struggles. Losing another baby was horrendous. I had some complications and ended up having to spend a little time in hospital. The one small blessing was the support system I have in place and the kindness I was treated with whilst inpatient. Once home & physically recovered I visited my GP to discuss my general health & how to proceed fertility wise. That she wanted to talk about weight loss was not entirely unexpected. I know standard advice for anyone overweight talking about having a baby is lose weight. I know drs still hold rigidly to the BMI scale & that there is an upper limit for fertility treatment. I know fat women often have their pregnancies labelled high risk. What I wasn’t prepared for was this gp’s insinuation that my weight caused my miscarriage. So, unprepared was I that I convinced myself that I had misunderstood. I pushed it out of my mind & continued trying to process my grief. However, when I returned a week later and she still only wanted to talk about diet plans, what I ate, what I weighed now & how often she could weight me,I was more explicit. I explained my history of borderline eating disorders, of starvation diets & losing vast amounts of weight only to regain it. I told her I did not and would engage with rigid diets or weight loss programmes. Her response was given my multiple miscarriages, I might want to re think that. I enquired If she was saying I miscarried because I was fat & she confirmed that she thought it likely.
I walked out feeling a rage that quickly melted away to sadness. I was left wanting to crawl into bed and never get out again. I have struggled with PTSD for many years; my original trauma was an emotionally abusive relationship & my the circumstances surrounding my first miscarriage. It has taken me literally my entire adult life to get control of my shame and guilt. Years of self harm, debilitating depression, panic attacks, flash backs and nightmares all centred around how the loss of my child and subsequent illness was all my fault. One thoughtless dr had thrust back into that damaging thought cycle. On top of that I have fought to reclaim my body as acceptable. I have had to work to enjoy my life in this fat scarred body. My history is well documented in my medical records and I have personally discussed it with the dr. That truth is she wants me to be thin more than she wants to me be happy & healthy. Her complete disregard for my mental health was cruel. That she hadn’t even bothered to investigate my history before speaking is unacceptable. A cursory glance at my notes would have revealed that I was not over weight at the time of my other pregnancy losses. She would also have seen that I am currently taking a medication for PCOS that causes weight loss. The drug is harsh on my already inflamed digestive system meaning that I throw up daily. In addition one of it’s major side effects is appetite reduction. Hence, I have been slowly shedding pounds since I commenced this treatment. I also have diagnosed gynaecological issues, which are much more likely to play a part in my inability to carry to term. The conversation she forced upon me was not only insensitive, but entirely irrelevant. That said, it is never ok to blame a vulnerable women for the loss of her child.
I have chosen not to see that GP again. I attend a fairly large practise and as a freelancer have the freedom to wait for appointments with another dr. I have yet to confront the issue as it still feels so raw. However I feel a strange sense of duty; I feel I must tackle this to prevent it happening to someone else. I recognise that there were times in my past when this dr’s assertions would have entirely destroyed me. I hate that the responsibility to educate & challenge falls to people like me. I cannot understand why a profession who swear to ‘do no harm’ are so married to fat phobia. Why is care and compassion is so often disregarded purely because a patient is fat?