Oestrogen-free. Does that sound better than post-menopausal? I have been oestrogen-free for three years, which, at 48, is reasonably young to be so. But I am loving it and do not feel in any way deprived.
I have also managed to get through this change in my chemical make-up without resorting to HRT. This is not because I am against HRT – I’m all for swallowing any drug that works – but because I was terrified that I would put on even more weight. The only time I wavered was when the FT sent me to Ireland to write a piece for the Pursuits section of this magazine, and I stayed in an absolutely freezing B&B. I woke at 3am having the worst hot flush I have ever experienced. I resolved there and then to call the doctor at first light and make an appointment to get some HRT – until I realised that I had left the electric blanket switched on.
I am thrilled that people are getting out there and talking about what life is like for women after 50. In 2007, Nora Ephron published I Feel Bad About My Neck, a collection of essays about ageing, and this year Jane Shilling published her thoughts on middle age in The Stranger in the Mirror. Both works were personal memoirs, but a new book, The Second Half of Your Life, is not a memoir, despite the fact that its author, Jill Shaw Ruddock, is a veritable pin-up girl for the oestrogen-free sorority. Rather, it is a self-help book aimed squarely at women like me whose ovaries no longer function.
The book contends that oestrogen-free women get their fertility in another form: the creation of ideas and purpose in their lives. Did my life lack ideas and purpose before? I hope not. As to whether we need a book like this, I think most of us probably do. I suspect far too many older women don’t make the most of their abilities and their time. This is the book that encourages you to get off your oestrogen-free backside and grab life with both hands. Its mantra is “this is your time”, which might sound a bit like self-help preachifying, but the premise is a valuable one.
Not everyone will identify with everything in this book. It is hugely ambitious, aiming to cover every part of life after 50, from careers to finance to personal relationships. It occasionally left me feeling quite exhausted – if I were to go in for as much exercise and as much sex as Shaw Ruddock advocates (the kind of self-help books I read don’t tend to suggest buying a vibrator) there wouldn’t be a moment left for the challenges she encourages.
I am already a great believer in personal goals and last year’s was to write and stage a Mrs Moneypenny show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (tick); the bonus was to see it transfer to New York for a week. This year’s is a little different – I want to join a trans-Africa aviation safari in December and fly myself from Crete to Cape Town. Its 18 days will take in places I have never visited, such as Khartoum and Addis Ababa, and I think will be more than enough of a challenge, oestrogen or no oestrogen. A former FT news editor, Alain Cass, who is very definitely oestrogen-free, is flying the same route this very month (you can follow his progress).
I am already planning my challenge for 2012, which is likely to be to get CIMA qualification. Is 50 too old to become a qualified management accountant? I don’t think so. I am sure that Shaw Ruddock wouldn’t think so either. She seems to be a woman who never views anything as an obstacle too far – not even when she sent off 300 questionnaires asking oestrogen-free women about their sex lives and received only seven replies. My management accountancy challenge may take me a little longer than a year, but no matter, it can serve as my 2013 challenge too. I am so getting ready for the second half of my life. Oestrogen or no oestrogen.
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