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Menopause

Loss of fertility

The menopause signals the loss of fertility and brings mixed feelings and emotions for many women whether they have children or not. Here women talk about what loss of fertility means to them.

Liberation
Some women feel liberated by the end of periods and the risk of getting pregnant. A mother of six children explained how the menopause had freed her from being 'a baby machine' and gave her body 'a well-earned rest'. A single woman with no children expressed relief that she could no longer get pregnant.
 

For Eileen the freedom from periods and pregnancy was the most positive aspect of the menopause

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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The most positive aspects of the menopause for me have been

Never having to have another period and the knowledge that you know there is absolutely no chance I’m ever going to get pregnant because I think that that would be very difficult. I know there are women who in their late 50s, early 60s have had children by choice but I would find that very wearing and I certainly would not want that, and I would not want to turn my life upside down which maybe people would say is a selfish thing but I think it’s also difficult for a child with older parents.

Mixed feelings
Some women had mixed feelings about the end of their reproductive years. They accepted the menopause and loss of fertility as an inevitable part of growing older and appreciated the freedom it gave them. However, this sense of freedom was tinged with sadness because they no longer had control over their fertility.
 

Donna sees the menopause and subsequent loss of fertility as part of life, but feels a sense of loss

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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Well there’s a kind of sense of loss. From this point on I might never have another child. There’s a sense of loss around that. I don’t know that there’s a sense of regret, but there’s a sense that that’s just not going to be a choice anymore, that feels quite strange, and I guess it makes me aware that I’m ageing that I’m mortal, that I’m kind of just used to for years and years and years, that’s how you are as a woman and nothing particularly changing significantly about your body. And your body going through all these extraordinary changes like puberty. But I feel quite accepting of it all actually. I kind of see well it’s all very natural, it’s all part of the cycle of life and death, and in some ways it’d be quite, I’m sure it’d be quite nice not to have periods . Not to have that kind of inconvenience every month.

 

Maggie had very mixed feelings - glad not to be having periods but sad that she would never have...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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Yeah, I think when my periods first stopped and I noticed, well I realised I was going through some changes, that’s when I really took in that I wasn’t going to have children. And although I had of course been really realising that fact over my forties, because I was 47 by then, it still didn’t really hit home until my periods stopped. And I suddenly had to take in, well I did take in the fact that I wasn’t going to have children, which actually was really okay. It’s not something, I haven’t ever thought I had to have children to feel fulfilled as a woman, or go through that experience for any reason, and at the same time there was some grieving going on inside me, or some sense of coming to terms with that I would never have that experience, whether I wanted to or not. I couldn’t change my mind anymore. I couldn’t have them even if I wanted to. So I think there’s a kind of internal process of accepting where I was and also realising I’m a grown up, even though, actually some of me doesn’t feel very grown but I am a grown up woman and there’s no doubt I’m definitely a middle aged adult, and that to me felt a very empowering thing, actually, a good thing, especially coming with the end of my regular PMT cycle I felt excited about it, and a sense of a new energy and not being kind of a slave to my own physical cycles anymore. Yeah, very liberating. As well as a little bit sad because of thinking about the sense of loss of not having children.

So you’d never really thought about having children before?

I had at different periods of my life when I’d been in relationships. I did get pregnant three times and had miscarriages all three times, so there has been the opportunity, the possibility anyway of having children in the past, but I’ve never felt really attached to the fact that I’d have to have them, or one way or another, I thought I was just open really to what life would bring me. And no doubt I would have enjoyed having children if I’d had them, and at the same time I have a lot of freedom because I don’t have them.

A sense of loss
Women who had kept alive the possibility of having children throughout their reproductive lives were sad and deeply regretted the finality of the menopause. They talked about having to accept that they would never have children in terms of loss, bereavement and 'unfulfilled maternal power and instincts'. One woman envied friends with grandchildren.
 

Susan was surprised at the impact loss of fertility had on her life choice of no children

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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The menopause is just a process that you go through hormonally but your fertility and the loss of all of that and I suppose what I didn’t talk about because I am gay is the fact that I haven’t had children. And just a funny story. It was when Sainsbury’s were running a kind of a promotion at Christmas and they did these huge big white teddy bears and I went through a phase of about six months of just wanting teddy bears. And there was one of these darn teddies, these big white lovely teddy bears left you see. And I ended up fighting with some poor woman in Sainsbury’s to get this last teddy bear and that’s when I thought, “Susan, what is going on here?” So there was a real fact that it was over. I couldn’t have children. That hit me. That actually did hit me and that was part of the loss and part of the loss of the possibility that I could ever have children, even though I was gay and there was a life choice there for me that I wasn’t going to have children it still impacted on me and manifested itself in this stupid way of looking for teddy bears everywhere I went. And thankfully I’ve ditched the teddy bears.

 

When Mary realised that she would never have children it was a ‘fundamental loss’

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Firstly I don’t have any children and that was a great sadness to us. And I did a lot of the sort of examinations and tests to find out why and I went on to a trial of a new drug for endometriosis. I had endometriosis with no symptoms and quite severe fibroids. So those things which aren’t really relevant to the menopause are relevant to my mental state when hitting menopause. Because once you realise that you are perimenopausal, that your periods are getting less frequent, rather more erratic you realise that this is it. It’s call it a day. We’re not going to have kids. And so for me the menopause was all tied up in my mind, emotionally with the final realisation that I was never going to be a Mum. And although everybody would have said it would have hit me ten years earlier, because after all I was well into my forties by this point, you never completely give up. If you think you are still ovulating, if you still think there’s a chance, you never completely give up. So for me the menopause was associated with, I suppose, the most fundamental loss.

I think my overriding concern about approaching the menopause was having to cope with the fact that I was never going to have a child. And I think the other concerns sort of faded into insignificance really, it didn’t seem anything other than a great tragedy, a great sort of serious loss. It was like a period of bereavement. But I think other people go through a period of bereavement as well, it is very similar in many ways to a bereavement, the menopause, you are losing something which you don’t necessarily love but you’ve kind of grown used to. And so many women’s lives revolve around their husbands and children, their partners and children and that was what I wanted, so I guess you adapt if you’re flexible you can manage but it wasn’t easy.

The diagnosis of early menopause in the twenties or thirties can devastate a woman’s life. While fostering, adoption, and in some cases, egg donation may offer hope to some women, many feel that the menopause has taken away their sense of control over their bodies and their right to choose whether or not to have children (see: ‘Early (premature) menopause’, ‘Relationships, sex and contraception’).
 

Louise’s early menopause meant she couldn’t have children as planned.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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I guess I’ve been up and down emotionally. When it first happened, when I first found out I didn’t really know much about it, see how it goes. And when I lost part of my ovaries and I guess that bit where it sinks in I might never be able to have children I guess that that was probably one of the worst moments of my life. Now again although I’m happy with my work and happy with my life it’s hampered my life in some ways. Yeah it’s always a bit I can never fulfil in life.

I mean I’ve never been openly “I want children I’d love children” but I’ve always had at the back of my mind a plan for my life and part of that is work and trying to find some career for myself. But part of that was always to have children. I would have always liked children. Well it certainly wasn’t dominantly in my mind with my boyfriend I had long term plans but it was certainly in his mind when I wasn’t adverse to at some point “Yeah we will settle down and we will have children.” I guess because I’ve hidden away from relationships because it is something that I’ve thought about and I guess my options I would be looking at adoption now. Who knows? But it’s something that’s still burns inside me.

 

Liz experienced a 'rollercoaster of emotions' when an early menopause cruelly mimicked the...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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Well when did it start? It started about I would say two and a half years ago now, almost three actually, my partner and I had just started this relationship. I had been married, I had been in a relationship for ten years and in a marriage for ten years and I had never wanted to have children. From a very young age I had always said I don’t want to have children and throughout my marriage I continued to say I didn’t want to have children and then I separated, got divorced and subsequently started this new relationship with my partner now who had always wanted children and I don’t know it must be a question of timing or the right phase in your life I suddenly felt that now was the right time to start thinking about having a baby and actually getting quite excited about it. At the same time that we had decided to start trying for a baby was when my body decided to play tricks on me as I like to say it. I skipped a period I was late, I must have been I can’t remember how many days about fifty something days late which meant that both my partner and I were getting very excited.

We put off doing a pregnancy test until a good few weeks just to be absolutely sure. I was feeling nauseous, it wasn’t morning sickness but I was feeling quite sick throughout the day, my breasts were very sore and I felt really tired, couldn’t sleep at night. My period had disappeared. And then it came to the day that we decided that’s when we’d do the pregnancy test and we did the first one and it was negative and I just couldn’t understand why.

I was completely oh, okay first of all rollercoaster of emotions, completely bewildered, really shocked, very disappointed and incredibly sad, both of us were. After the initial tears and the disappointment then came the overwhelming sense of what’s wrong with me then if I’m not pregnant and I’m not having a period, I’ve got all these other symptoms, what could it be. Which then makes you start worrying so then you go onto the internet and do the internet searches and type in your symptoms and they come back with a range of either it’s a tumour, it could be the menopause, could be a thyroid problem, could be a number of things. So I decided to go to the doctor.

I went to my local GP, I registered, saw a doctor straight away. She immediately said, “I think you’re going through an early menopause. I’m going to write to the local hospital where they have an early menopause clinic and I will refer you to the hospital”. A few weeks later I got an appointment went to the doctor and the day I went to the hospital, [name of hospital], I was told that “Yes, this is it, this is the early menopause. You’ll never be able to have children. If you want to have children it will have to be egg donation and we need to start you on HRT immediately”. And that was three months ago.

A ‘broody desire’
Women who already had children were often surprised to feel a sense of loss at the end of their reproductive life. They spoke of the ‘unfairness’ of a missed period at forty marking the beginning of the menopause rather than pregnancy; and of their regret that having another child was 'not going to be a choice anymore'. The mother of two sons found it hard to accept that she would never have a daughter.
 

Beverley was upset when she realised that she could no longer decide whether or not to have...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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But I must admit when they told me that I was going through the menopause I was quite sad and I cried. Because for years I’d been saying I didn’t want any more children, which is fine because I was then dictating to my body. Now my body’s dictating to me and all of a sudden I wanted another child. I didn’t but I did if you understand and I hated my body for dictating to me what I can or cannot do. So the decision whether or not to have another child had now been taken out of my hands.

Ever since I started my period or ever since I became an adult I’ve been able to make choices and one of my choices was I had two kids, I got to 30, well, 33 and I didn’t want any more children. So I was now dictating to my body what I could or couldn’t do. When it was confirmed that I’m going through my menopause the choice of whether or not to have children had been taken away from me. And for the fact my body is now leading and dictating what I can or cannot do. I didn’t like that and at that point I wanted another child and I think I wanted it because I couldn’t have it. Had I been able to have more children I would have still said, “No, I don’t want any more.” Like quite a few people may have done. So for me that was the worst part about going through the menopause. The reality was that I would never, ever be able to give birth to another child. But then did I really want to give birth to another child? Up until to that point, no but I think in the back of my mind I would have loved to have had one more.

 

Jill still feels maternal when she sees a baby but she couldn't face two more teenagers

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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I think well it is telling you isn’t it that you can’t have babies any more and you do still get that maternal feeling when you see a baby, well I do anyway and it’s marking isn’t it that really you’re getting old and shrivelled up aren’t you? But yeah it is a sign of ageing isn’t it?

Well you mentioned ‘the change’, ‘the change’ of life. To me it’s a women’s body clock telling her that the game’s over. No more baby making. Yeah.

Are you sad about that?

Yes perhaps so because it’s the greatest gift of all. Look at my two lads and it’s the greatest gift but enough’s enough isn’t it. I couldn’t face another two more teenagers.

Several women explained how the loss of fertility brought an increased awareness of ageing and mortality, signalling the end of their youth and femininity (see ‘Getting older’). While one woman found this a 'quite nice feeling of getting mature'; another felt that her 'femininity was about to decrease and decline' and wondered how this would affect her new relationship.
 

Lorna describes her 'female womanly broody desire' to have children with her new partner. She...

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Female
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How do I feel about menopause? I think when it first started I thought about my femininity and I also thought about not being able to have kids. But I knew I couldn’t. When you get to our sort of age you’re not going to get pregnant anyway and your fertility goes down. But it felt very final and I think for me it was harder because I was in a new relationship and I’d been on my own for quite a while and I’d found this wonderful man who I loved to death and still do and I think always there’s that feeling with a new relationship that you want, that wouldn’t it have been nice if we could have had kids. Even though obviously we’re both in our fifties and the reality is that we don’t, of course we don’t, we’ve done that, been there, looking forward to the grandchildren. But there’s that sense of wanting to have that even though it’s unrealistic and the menopause for me was a feeling that part of being female was being taken away. Now that’s quite illogical because I’m still female and not being able to have children, does that mean that you’re not female? Of course it doesn’t. So there’s a sense of being quite illogical about all of this.

It’s not just symptoms, it’s not just PMT, it’s just not all of that, it’s about being a woman. It’s about being female, it’s about being older. And what does that mean. And there is a sense of loss, there is a sense of bereavement almost and perhaps that’s too strong, a sense of loss, perhaps I’ll leave it at that. Bereavement’s too much.

In what way is it a loss?


No children, no chance. Not that I want them logically but it’s an emotional want. It’s a broody want. Logic tells you something completely different, I’ve been there, done that, don’t want to do it again, look forward to the grandchildren but there’s a femininity, there’s a female womanly broody desire that I think is always there. Well certainly it’s always there in me. What is there a loss of? I think I’ve had moments of feeling a loss of being female, being feminine and it’s not logical but then emotions, feelings don’t have to be logical. It’s just that sense of not being as feminine, yes feminine I think is the right word.

In what way?

That perhaps associating the inner workings of the womb with being female is linked somehow in my mind. Logically well that’s not true but somehow or other on an emotional level, that all going and not working, disappearing feels like there’s part of my femininity has disappeared as well.

Social attitudes to fertility
Several women noted that our society values youth and fertility. That makes some women feel worthless when they realise that their reproductive life has ended.
 
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Rebecca describes the negativity about the menopause in our society. She argues that women are...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Because there’s something about the menopause as well that it’s almost, there’s a negativity around it I think not only from women themselves but how other people [see it]. It’s nearly like a put down towards women. “Oh, they’re in the menopause.” There’s fun poked at people at times or sometimes women say themselves, “Oh, I have the menopause, everything goes south.” It’s like I forget everything and that’s the bit I don’t like about, and I think to myself, “I’m not.” I don’t contribute to jokes like that and I feel irritated or annoyed if people do that. It’s almost as if you’re over the hill. You’re no longer of use and maybe it’s something to do with not being able to produce children or something. Maybe there’s a connection there, that women can’t or don’t generally have babies after 45, 46. It’s almost as if they’re made redundant in some ways. And I know at the same time you can blame society but is that how you see it yourself. So from that end of it there’s probably a bit of me wants to say, there’s no problems with the menopause. I’m not going to make it a big deal.

Why do you think society has got such a negative attitude to it?

Maybe it’s because it’s a female thing or something and maybe it’s because of that age. It’s almost as I say, we talked earlier about women feeling made redundant as a woman because I suppose, when you think of it basically, we think why we’re put on this earth is to men to make sure that they procreate and women have children to make sure that the human race doesn’t become extinct sort of thing. And at that stage then that’s the woman’s job over and I wonder sometimes, in our heads do we see that’s the woman just on the shelf now, they’ve nothing more to contribute as our basic reason for being on this earth. And that’s not to say we have a whole lot to contribute sort of thing, and I know that I’ve a whole lot to contribute both personally in my family sort of thing and I’ve more time to do it now as well.

 

Janice feels the void in her life now that she can no longer have children. She has ‘outlived her...

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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How did you feel about the loss of your fertility?

Sad. Sad because I thought you’ve lost one of your main reasons as a woman, your womb. Because I loved being pregnant. I loved having my children and you just think that’s gone then isn’t it. And if there’s a void, what do you put in that void? I haven’t found anything yet to put in that void. So it’s very strange.

It just makes you feel that you’ve come to a certain point in your life journey where you’ve outlived your usefulness, your contribution to society. You’re no longer going to be productive. You may be financially productive but that’s only time limited too but your main womanly production has stopped. Men are still valued as studs for until they’re 70 but as a woman I just think there’s nothing that seems to make you feel valuable. I think in our society we don’t value experienced older women. We make up funny names for them, nasty names for them or scorn older women, same as news readers. We’re not allowed to see older women reading the news. I mean, what’s all that about. So the messages out there are “Keep off the TV screens if you’re looking postmenopausal.” So it’s very discouraging. You feel at one time that you did have something to offer and contribute and then suddenly you’re in a void or limbo where there’s nothing.

Yes, my periods just stopped. Just like that. I’ve never had one since and you would think that would be a joy but it’s not. It’s joy less for me because it’s severed the thread I had with that young girl, that young woman who first started her periods. It’s gone. It’s severed off and she’s no longer there now. I feel very much adrift. It’s an incomplete journey so here I am. I’m nearly 60 and you sort of have to find your own niche in life but what are you good for? You don’t feel you’re good for anything.

Women feel an underlying inequality when it comes to fertility. While men’s fertility may remain intact throughout their lives, women have to cope with its loss far earlier in life. As one woman remarked, ‘men seem to go on forever but women’s body parts don’t’.

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Last reviewed July 2018.

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