Menopause

Celebrating menopause breaks the silences of a lifetime and forges a future of openness and sharing.

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For the Mount Airy crowd, we held a Shabbat morning service and a Saturday night Hanukkah-and-birthday party. But in the late afternoon of Shabbat, which was on the winter solstice weekend and just before Hanukkah began, I gathered with my women friends to celebrate my menopause.

To these women I had proposed that we celebrate a "seder of womanhood"--the order of the stages of womanhood as I had experienced them in my life. As with the traditional Passover seder and the increasingly familiar Tu Bishvat seder, we drank four cups of beverage as we told our individual stories. We are taught in Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] that 50 is the age of advice-giving; but in keeping with modern feminist practice, rather than giving advice, we shared lessons we had learned from each stage of our woman-life.

For the first cup, I served a bright red sangria. (Cherry-apple cider was served to non-alcohol drinkers.) Sangria, the "drink" of my adolescence, represented my first stage of womanhood, menstruation. The group shared stories, some funny and some sad, about first periods and the silence around them; about later periods and their weightiness in our lives--hoping for them when we feared we might be pregnant, fearing them when we prayed we might be pregnant. We recognized ourselves again and again in each other's stories. Then we drank the first cup.

As we moved on, I suggested a guideline for the remaining three cups: Since everyone in the room had already reached the stage of menstruation, we had all been able to speak from our own experiences. For each of the following cups, women could speak only if they had already reached the stage of life represented by that cup.

The second cup, a sparkling champagne (sparkling apple cider for non-alcohol drinkers), was for my second stage of woman-life--the bubbly, heady introduction to sex and love. Again, we spoke about the silences that had heralded this stage of life: how little we had known about our own bodies, about our own pleasures, about the wide range of potential loving partners (women as well as men). This was not the bawdy, bragging talk of the locker room but rather the sad, sweet talk, long overdue, of innocence and ignorance, of surprise and delight.

The third cup, milk (soymilk for non-dairy drinkers), marked my third stage: pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, child-raising. Not surprising, we again spoke of silences--the silence of abortion, of adoption, of not having children, of the sensuality of nursing, of the passionate protection of and connection to our children.

The fourth cup, water (mineral water for purists), represented the totally open possibilities of the fourth stage of woman-life: menopause. Only about eight in the group had reached menopause, and there was a significant difference in our sharing. What I had imagined would be the most silent of the life-stages, and potentially the most depressing, now appeared quite the opposite.

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Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow directs the Shalom Center and is the author of numerous books, including Godwrestling, Godwrestling--Round 2, Seasons of Our Joy, The Bush is Burning, and These Holy Sparks.

Phyllis O. Berman

Phyllis Ocean Berman directed Elat Chayyim's Summer Program and is coauthor of Tales of Tikkun.