When my mom turned 40, I decorated the house in black crepe paper and posted homemade signs to remind her how long she’d lived. When my pastor turned 40, I led a group of youth in toilet papering his front and back yards and soaping the driveway. (Note: soaping a driveway leaves a permanent stain and is not recommended. You’ve been warned.) When my cousin turned 40, I sent her a sympathy card.
A month before I turned 39, I got my belly button pierced. Mid-life crisis? Yes. (The irony of the situation is that I’ve never even had my EARS pierced.) The piercing is less permanent (and less expensive) than other mid-life decisions could have been. There was an audience, a fan club, a group of younger friends who grinned in disbelief that I would actually go through with such “ridiculousness” at my age. While Bear (Yes, that was actually the name on his business card) used a needle to create a small tunnel through a portion of flesh on my stomach, my car got towed.
That should have been an indication of what was yet to come.
There was no way around it. Or as my maternal grandmother used to say, “Either you have another birthday, or you die. Those are the only options.”
After 39 came 40.
As the day drew near, the dread continued to grow. “It’s just a number,” people told me. “You don’t look 40.” I suppose that should have been a comfort, but in my mind was the list of things I thought would have happened before that awful milestone occurred… and a conversation with my grandfather a decade prior.
Just a few weeks before I turned 30, Granddaddy (my biggest matchmaker) made an observation. Before I tell you what he said, you should know that he eloped with my grandmother when he was 17. The idea of being 30 and unmarried was literally incomprehensible to him. So with a kind heart and no malice whatsoever, he mentioned that someone who wasn’t married by 30 was a spinster, an old maid. I laughed out loud and tossed back a flippant retort, “Maybe when you were young, but nowadays you aren’t a spinster ‘til you’re 40.” The funny, lighthearted moment stuck in my mind (and haunted me) for an entire decade.
At my annual gynecologic visit when I was 39, the ObGyn told me (without me asking, mind you) that I was “running out of eggs.” Whatever happened to Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell? Let a girl stay in denial, for the love of all that is hormonal!
Mom told me everything was downhill after 40. She had to get reading glasses when she turned 40. My eyes were fine, but I was dealing with some serious insomnia and night sweats. And when I say night sweats, I don’t mean the cute red face and damp hair a toddler displays after a nap. No. I’m talking about pajama-drenching, hair-frizzing and pillow-drowning puddles of sweat. Let me just tell you how cold it is to sleep under a ceiling fan when you’re soaking wet, but I hated to turn it off for fear I would completely dehydrate myself in the night and not know it because I wouldn’t wake up shivering.
So, the day after I turned 40 I was researching the symptoms online (another practice I do not recommend). This “medical research” indicated, not that I was dying, but that I was entering the early stages of menopause. Are you freaking kidding me?! I kept reading. One of the risk factors for experiencing The Change at such a young age was– are you ready for this?– never having been pregnant. I saw the irony, but I was not amused. In fact, I began to grieve, a lot.
It was time for another annual check-up in the stirrups anyway. I needed to know for sure. All the women in my family had hysterectomies, so I had no idea what my genetic history of The Change was. All the women in my family had given birth before they were 40, too.
I had some words for God, none of them spoken out of gratitude. As someone who had, up to this point, been perfectly content in her singleness, I began to resent it. Enter the identity crisis, the lies, the downward spiral that circles the drain of darkness.
So began the battle between emotion and intellect. Intellect says I am more than a 40-year old virgin, more than my ability to conceive, more than a number. Emotions, being quite the elegant debaters, always have a rebuttal. “Yes, but you may never have a family of your own or raise a child.”
When God looks at me, He doesn’t see a lonely, childless woman with malfunctioning parts. He sees His daughter, the daughter He was dying to have (literally), the daughter He made in His own image and loves unconditionally.
Beyond that, He is not limited by time or age. Just ask Sarah (who conceived long after menopause), Mary (who conceived without having sex) or Pharoah’s daughter (who found a baby while she was taking a bath). If He wants to bless me with children, He doesn’t need the approval of my gynecologist or anyone else.
Turns out that self-diagnoses based solely on Internet research are not all that reliable. I’m not pere-menopausal; my thyroid was out of whack. The beauty of that discovery is that it doesn’t change anything. The Truth is the Truth, regardless of my circumstance.