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As hot flashes occupy all my waking thoughts I curse our cultures that consider desirable and fertile younger women’s bodies as more valuable.
In some months, there are red polka dots. In other months, there are no stains. I wear a sanitary pad, anyway. Just in case… one more time.
Men love beautiful women. They love fully rounded breasts, smooth, soft, and squishy, similar to a stress ball, and a voluptuous rear. I have them all. Or at least, I used to.
For the last few months, I had a lot running on my mind, including my teenage daughter’s SAT exams. But most importantly, I am occupied by the hot flashes that have soaked blouses, and a sense of rage that I have recently acquired at 48. I have named it rage-sweat!
As an OB-GYN, my hands are always full. Twenty years of experience, both in England and the United States, does not go in vain. Part of my work is making the women who come to me for help look and feel beautiful; I enjoy the the administration of botox, cosmetic fillers, and laser procedures for photorejuvenation, acne treatment, or scar removal. I administer varicose vein treatment to make everyone look beautiful.
It’s what they crave, it makes them feel alive again. It’s just what they deeply desire. It makes me feel good to see them feel good. Women walk out of the clinic, knowing they still have it in them. Their confidence is restored!
A long-time patient visited me this morning. Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t take my eyes off her full rounded, soft and warm, rose beige breasts. I examine them under the paper gown to rule out any lumps. Her dark nipples were in contrast with the white of the gown.
She is due for a mammogram. At 35, I hardly suspect her shooting pains have anything to do with an underlying condition. I ask her the routine questions – Last period? Allergies? Mood swings? In her responses, she adds, “We are trying to get pregnant”.
Strangely, my heart does a quick somersault at the mention of the word pregnant. Many years ago, I was pregnant too.
Motherhood is a declaration to the world that you can create the magic called life. The excitement and the anticipation swaddled with the attention the bump gets is unmatchable. Every stranger is oh so ready to put you first. Every face smiles at you with unusual kindness. Who does not revel in it?
Our culture has clear distinctions in what it prizes and what it is ready to sideline. We all have our moments of glory. And then, with time, it starts to fade into a blur. It becomes so indistinct that it might as well not exist. The world won’t even notice it. That feeling pricks.
I am slowly getting sidelined. The people around along with my body are making space for the new. Tears erupt easily. It wasn’t like this always. Now even the smallest, the most benign situations drive me to sobs.
I regain my balance. I order a blood test, and ask her to come back once we have the reports. Possibly, she is pregnant. At 35, you are fertile and so full of youth. She is a journalist, and a travel blogger. Her husband is a food blogger. Both of them have quite an interesting life. Together they saunter the streets of Jamaica and Cuba exploring salted pigtails and tree muttons.
I once wanted to travel far and wide. My work got the better of me. I still want to travel. But, not just as a vacation. I want the adventure, the kind where you set out to explore not just places but their soul and history. In doing so, you find your soul or lose a piece which has been rotting for long.
I feel my cheeks burn like a furnace with this thought. There is another knock on the door. I spray Victoria’s Love Spell under my arms before I open it, mindful of the sweat the hot flashes have left behind.
The girl looks reluctant, a bit shy. Her mother though is loquacious. Her cheerful greeting cools the temperature of the room. Although I can still feel a bead of sweat trickle from the back of my head from the hot flashes and travel through the neck, roam in a vertical line of the spine until the band of my trouser absorbs it.
I ask her to change while her mother narrates the story. “She had her periods. She’s having terrible mood swings, frequent headaches, and insomnia. I think there’s something wrong with her breasts. They are too big for her age. She is just 14. I thought it would be good to see you. Remember, you delivered her.”
I tried hard to recall. I have delivered close to 800 babies in the last 20 years of my practice. Though her mom’s face is familiar, most importantly it’s her hyperventilating over benign situations- big breasts, small feet, skin break out, and even ‘We Indians’.
Routine questions and examination follow. “It is so skanky,” she says about her periods, “I always land up spotting and staining and my mom has a problem with my …” She trails off in silence under the glare of her mother supplicating no further divulgence. Her breasts are like any other 14 -year-old – the right one slightly bigger than the left, conical. The girl hesitates when I examine it.
“Sore breasts are normal during the menstrual cycle.” I empathize.
“But I never had one,” her mother interjects.
I compose her saying each body is different. After some more cross-examination, questioning, and a bit of counseling, I ordered a blood test to check her Vit D level and iron deficiency.
Her breasts stay in my mind reminding me of my youth. Lately, it has been my most intense preoccupation. Last week, I embarrassed myself. I was caught gawking at one of my staff, a woman in her late twenties with a straighter build. Her full lips were painted in the color of toasted almonds.
Such fastidiousness makes me uncomfortable. I have discovered things about myself that baffle me. Am I being hoodwinked? At 48, I am occupied with the unsettling comparisons, and the microscopic indulgence in Do-I-Still-Look-Good? The trepidation over losing something, not knowing exactly what it is, is not only agonizing but excruciatingly exhausting.
The black turtleneck and fitted houndstooth pants looked fabulous on her. Each of her blossoms stood distinct, tall, and proud, unlike mine which have become one block of flesh. “The pendant is beautiful,” I lied, and hurried to my room.
During lunchtime, I slide into my private restroom. Removing the lab coat, I unbutton my silk shirt – a pale pink. Pulling the straps down, I examine my breasts. They stare back questioningly. The cerulean blue underwired bra, with wider cushioned front straps, has been quite a support ever since they started dropping. In a seated position, my breasts could touch the abdomen.
I have two kids, one who has flown and another who is fledgling ready to fly. My breasts bear the testimony of my efforts to keep everyone satisfied. They have shrunk now, and look withered. My septuagenarian mother’s breasts float before my eyes. There’s no resemblance to anything round. They are rather flat, like the ears of an English Lop. I button myself back reassuring them that they still get a tickle from him once in a while.
The mauling that a man does when he is as hard as a sugarcane stock has ceased. Just then a beep.
“I have decided… I have been in California my entire life, Maa. I need to see the world just like Akka. Btw, I would be home by evening. After school, the jing bang is meeting at BSQ. See you.”
I hold myself back from walking out. I lean against the granite countertop to ponder over the message.
I feel the rage spread along with the returning hot flashes. How difficult is for a child to opt for UCLA – a college close to home rather than a university 3000 miles from home on the East Coast? How difficult is the choice between staying close to Maa and exploring life?
Am I asking the wrong questions? Was it always supposed to be what Khalil Gibran once said – ‘They come through you but not from you’?
How is that possible? My body created this life. I felt her kicks when she was inside. And given a chance, I would have her back, safe in my womb.
I rush back to work. A 52-year-old is deliberating on hormonal replacement therapy. Her luscious auburn hair with a chestnut mole right above the cusp of the upper and lower lip makes her look much younger.
She is a familiar face considering she has been having her Botox in my clinic. She is now facing intense irritability, vaginal dryness, and a low sex drive which in turn is affecting her husband and her conjugal life.
“A hormonal replacement therapy might bring back the magic,” she says with a twinkle in her eyes. As if being sexually relevant is the prime objective of a woman’s existence. The pliability of the vagina is the key result area of a married couple’s life.
I feel something surge within. Let’s again call it rage. Yes, it is rage. What makes a man continue to seek magic long after the curtains are drawn? Intercourse can be torture. I experience it every other night. And yet, I want to continue being desirable.
Does he care about my racing heart, the foreboding that strangles my breath? My endocrinologist and my cardiologist have exhausted their tests and tools. The blood drawn during tests could as well have saved someone’s life. Conveniently, we all surmised the inevitable.
Hours later, the traffic back home is easy going. I expect to reach home on time to tick off my leftover to-dos for the day: dinner, laundry, wash, clean, sex, read, and sleep. A Tesla SUV veers left off Hollywood Boulevard and charges uphill, towards the canyons. I cuss heavily.
Rage is justified right now. Do women in Beverly Hill feel the anonymity of aging? I let my mind drift back home. He would be in the online Vedanta classes by now. What does Vedanta teach a man? His needs have reached the zenith, and mine have plummeted to the nadir. Now what?
The hot flashes strike again and I feel my blouse soak. Lately, the heat of these dreaded hot flashes has accompanied me everywhere: examination room, restroom, CVS, Namaste plaza, Panda Express, and even while I am in the shower.
I cannot differentiate between the warm water and the lava erupting from the pores of my skin. Just how complicated can life become when the only two things you feel is heat and rage. The former has an outlet, the latter simmers within searing the present.
With reasonably blessed family life, life challenges, degrees, and certificates framed on the mantelpiece, a rewarding career, and a charm, rage has been the most unreasonable emotion I have known. Now it’s the only emotion I know: exhausting rage. Especially when the hot flashes happen unabated. Ingrate, right? Huh!
Most importantly, I don’t even know why. Maybe I do. Maybe I am too frightened to accept. Maybe I am struggling to let go. I am plagued by the thought of what I can do differently. I am guilty for succumbing to my life circumstances with such disgrace. Amidst blooming hibiscus and jasmine, I park the car in the garage.
“Maa, why are you stuck up on everything?” She comments, her eyes on the phone kept in the netted basket away from the dining table.
“Hormones,” he adds with a whiff of nonchalance, his fingers pulling the meat away from the bone with a tug of a fork.
“Yeah! I guess. Menopause can be tough. Elina’s mom has been behaving savagely for a few months.”
“Few months? Haha! Women and their hormones are forever. Unpredictable is the word, my dear.”
The banter between the father-daughter duo leaves me numb and startled. They are talking about me? Her mom, his wife, or just a cocktail of hormones after all? Each word feels like a lawnmower running over my heart.
They are talking about a woman who nourished them in every sleeping and waking moment of her life. She was devoted to providing for them in every possible way – body, mind, and soul together. Silently seething, I rush to the restroom. Minutes later, in the background, I hear Trevor Noah humorizing the day’s political happenings and trending news.
I peel slowly. I look at the reflection in the rectangular mirror mounted on the beige wall. I step back, my full body becomes visible. Youth is definitely not the vocabulary here. The C-section scars, my badge of honor stare back in empathy.
There is so much of our life that rests on looks. It hits hard when looks start to fade. We rummage through the debris, trying to find something to hold on to. Something that will make us feel worthwhile.
We all want to be seen, admired, appreciated, and needed. The society – you and me- hoodwinks us into what’s worthy. Menarche, marriage, and motherhood are rites of passage in a woman’s life providing necessary proof of worthiness.
Who knew the fourth M could cause such inadequacy and disorientation?
There is a huge difference between proving your worth and realizing your worth. I slipped on the latter. The expiry of my periods is intricately linked to the lapse of my identity. How? Why?
The mendacity of society hits back the moment our exterior starts to crumble. Each day can bring us new indignation because all my life I believed in something that was never the truth.
I am learning this is in the most intimate way imaginable. Your own self can suddenly turn on you. The definition of you that you think is formidable can be wiped out in a flow. It raises a question- How can women continue to live fulfilling lives when the facade of being valued by the society, for beauty and fertility, is exposed?
When the thunderbolt of orgasm has silenced, can you still find excitement in life? When the allure of beauty and youth dims, when the lady garden withers and the airbags flatten, how does one keep the glow on? In making space for the new, where does the old go?
Life has presented an unreasonable permutation of suffering for which I wasn’t prepared. Or is it another rite of passage? Through a dark dungeon with splintered windows and chalky paint, enveloped with the black widow spider webs?
Beyond this, maybe, the sun doesn’t shine on you, it rises from within.
Image source: a still from Dil Chahta Hai
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