Writing (and perhaps sharing) our personal history takes on new meaning when the world we are living in is changing at breakneck speed. It is a meaningful exercise that allows us to stop, explore and take a journey that involves learning more about who we are. It can have a calming, settling effect in a world that feels like it is spinning out of control. Sharing recollections and putting together family lore is a rich and deeply feminine tradition, assuring that women's wisdom has continuity through the years.
In the course of our lifetimes, we have seen amazing changes in the field of women's health. Speaking for myself, I have gone from having children when Lamaze was just being introduced in Milwaukee, WI to the present; when many health care practitioners won't deliver a baby unless the mother has participated in childbirth education classes. Think about that -- we have been privileged to be a part of reclaiming our bodies. We have gone from our mothers' "knock out, drag out" childbirths to becoming very active participants in everything that concerns our health:in giving birth, caring for our bodies and identifying which foods, vitamins and exercises are right for us and our families. We no longer accept being patronized or patted on the shoulder, but assume full responsibility for our share of the partnership with our health care provider. Now that we're menopausal and post-menopausal, we're recasting the molds again, changing the way 'this time of life' is viewed and dealt with.
When I thought about writing my own personal history, I decided to get out the journals that my grandmother, Inez Hiar Forman, kept most of her life. I re-read the entries that she made when she was in her fifties. She wrote in leather-bound books, some large, some smaller, with different-colored covers, from the time she married in her teens until shortly before she died at age 86. These hundreds of pages in her lovely handwriting describe everything about her life: what the crops were like in a given season on her Michigan farm, how many pickles she canned, when she was unhappy with family members, who came to visit, when a letter was received from my uncle (her son) who was serving overseas in the war, whose birthday was being celebrated, and whose death was being mourned.
My grandmother's journals are a family treasure. She called them her "Bibles," and to this day, we pull them out to settle any family argument about what actually happened -- it's all there in remarkable detail. I can read about the day my parents were married, the day I was born, and the day she became a great-grandmother when I had my first son.
In re-reading what she wrote in her fifties, some of what I found seems to clearly reflect that she was experiencing menopausal symptoms. Of course, "The Change" was viewed very differently then. Some might argue that I'm reading too much into what my grandmother wrote. But I don't think it's a coincidence that her entries during that time seemed more focused on herself and the changes she experienced, although she may not have fully understood them.
My grandmother's life on the farm may seem a world away from our modern experience, untethered as she was to phone, fax, e-mail or laptop, unconcerned as she was about crime in her tranquil setting. But her words echo in many ways my own personal experience in menopause and much of what countless women have described to me.
Here is what my grandmother wrote about her changing moods:
March 1939, Age 57;
"The weather has been blustery and so have I."
"Nasty, rainy weather, just like my mood."
"I'm so tearful."
About her sleep disturbances:
December 1940, Age 58;
"If I could just get a good night's sleep I'd be forever grateful."
"Went to the doctor and got medicine for my sleeplessness." (I wonder what the 'medicine' was.)
"Put in a hard night, sleepless and worried."
About night sweats or hot flashes:
October 1940, Age 58;
"Slept with the window open last night. George (my grandfather) about froze. I was comfortable."
About difficulty concentrating:
February 1939, age 57;
"My mind is not working lately."
About her changes in the mirror:
March 1939, age 57;
"Going to have to do something about my weight."
April 1939, age 57;
"My skin is looking so dry. I must be getting old!"
About bladder or urinary symptoms:
August 1933, age 50;
"Having problems with my bladder. Saw the doctor and he gave me some medicine."
About changing energy patterns:
August 1936, age 53;
"Canned 25 quarts of tomatoes. Spent the last part of the afternoon walking back to the woods, down the lane."
"Should have hoed my garden today. Too tired. I picked some flowers instead."
About the fact that she, and apparently her doctor, were uncertain as to the reasons for her physical and emotional health:
September 1934, age 51;
"I sure don't feel very well. Not sure what is wrong. The doctor says I'm fine."
About giving and receiving in a community of women:
July 1934, age 51;
"Marianne's granddaughter died last night. She found her in her crib. The women from the church will go to her this afternoon."
Re-reading my grandmother's journals with an eye toward how she may have felt during her menopause was a tender and meaningful experience for me. It was inspiring to realize that she lived her life to the fullest for three more decades, working hard, caring about those she loved, making her mark on all of our lives and demonstrating the kind of strength I believe is unique to women.
Keep in mind that you can complete your story at your own pace and in any format you like. You can keep your story in a separate notebook or on your personal computer. You may go back to fill in portions of this history over several weeks, months or even years. The main goal is for you to have a story that will shed light on what this journey was like for you. My wish is that you enjoy creating this part of your legacy and that you learn more about yourself as you do.
Whether you keep your personal history simple and straightforward or detailed and elaborate, I hope you find that writing about changes during your life develops and nourishes your inner life, where your wellspring of peace and strength lives.