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Is It Me or Is It Hot in Here?

Is It Me or Is It Hot in Here?

Understanding menopause


I heard another story on the news this morning about menopause. It used to be “the change” was something no one talked about, at least publicly. Now, as baby boomers age, and once again find ourselves at the center of our own naval-gazing universes, hot flashes are everywhere, from editorials to off-Broadway musicals. The good news, the experts say, is that now that all this is out in the open, women don’t have to suffer in silence. The bad news is, we’re all still suffering and even worse, we’re complaining about it . . . to anyone who’ll listen or put us on television.

Hot flashes have become a way of life

These days, my personal planet is definitely undergoing major global warming. Hot flashes have become a way of life, along with their nocturnal cousin, the dreaded night sweats. The last time my sheets were this wet there was a baby next to me to blame. Now, as I change my nightgown for the fifth night in a row, the only good news is that I wake up every morning two pounds lighter. And as long as I’m griping and you’re reading, can I mention that mood swings, dry skin, bad memory, weight gain and bad hair days are no picnic?

Technically, though, despite the fact that I’m 50 years old and in the midst of definite changes, my doctor tells me I’m not even experiencing true menopause. I’m still in that lovely limbo known as perimenopause. Well, whatever it’s called, wake me when it’s over. (And while you’re at it, stop telling me that could be anywhere from a year to 10 years from now!)

But I’m not complaining. Well, maybe I am. But I keep promising to try to focus on some of the benefits of this particularly feminine growth experience. And I’m not succeeding.

So, I do what I always do when I go through a life-cycle moment. I look to Judaism for an answer. The truth is, there aren’t many. The Torah is filled with life lessons, but not many of them deal with the topic of menopause. We do have our matriarch, Sarah, who, at 90 conceived her first child. I’m told many menopausal women are greeted with equally surprising news. In fact, I have two cousins with what they used to call “change babies”—little bundles of joy who are younger than their own grandchildren.

For Orthodox women, menopause means saying good-bye to the monthly ritual of mikvah. I know some women who still cry because they miss this private reminder of their youth. But most find a new closeness with their husbands now that there are no restrictions on their monthly time together. True, there is no more “honeymoon” period—that special joy that comes from being apart for 12 days a month and then coming together again. But after a lifetime of the monthly breaks, maybe the spiritual opposite of being in a constant state of togetherness is G‑d’s way of saying that you and your husband finally have enough experience with each other, that you’ve earned the wisdom to handle it.

Menopause offers the opportunity for a very special mitzvah

For women who haven’t spent a lifetime observing the laws of family purity, the transition to menopause doesn’t have a particular Jewish ritual (or, more accurately, an end to a ritual) that marks this special life passage. In recent years, some rabbis suggest that menopause offers the opportunity for a very special mitzvah. A married menopausal woman can visit the mikvah, and not only gain spiritually herself, but also impart a retroactively positive effect on her children and grandchildren. Rivkah Slonim, in her introduction to the book Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology writes: “For the postmenopausal woman, one final immersion in the mikvah offers purity for the rest of her life . . . allowing for all subsequent intimacies to be divinely blessed.”

In the words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), to everything there is a season. For women, as we enter the winter of our lives (even though with all those hot flashes it feels more like one long summer), some of our life changes may seem insignificant. Does it really matter that there comes a time when we no longer bleed and can’t find the car keys? The answer is, yes, it truly does. It means that we have earned a place beside all the other women of history who have passed this milestone.

Viewed as an achievement, a visit to the mikvah after menopause serves as a physical reminder that this is not the time to mourn for what we’ve lost; instead, it represents a unique opportunity to embrace a new beginning. As women, we’re entering a new and special phase of life when true wisdom sets in. The spiritually purifying ritual of the mikvah allows us a quiet moment to float in the arms of G‑d. In the silence of the water, we can look back on our lives with pride at our accomplishments, forgiveness for our transgressions, and wonderment at what is yet to come.

My prayer for myself—and for each one of you as you turn down this bend in the road—is that the future will be longer than the past. I pray for the gift of time. Time to learn, time to grow, and yes, time to change.

Jessica Klein Levenbrown is an award-winning television writer and producer. She began her career at Sesame Street, was the head writer of the daytime drama As The World Turns, and with partner Steve Wasserman wrote and produced the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. Jessica created the teen television drama Just Deal, partially based on her own experiences as a Jewish mother, and most recently produced the series Scout’s Safari.
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Anonymous April 11, 2015

Observation It seems to me that the whole gamut of taharas mishpachah with all its stringent requirements is the only mitzvah that is non-negotiable, never any leniences allowed or exceptions made for married Jewish women in extremely trying circumstances that, notwithstanding, eg. severe disability, illness, no easy proximity to a mikvah, water phobia, etc, it is essential that she immerse in a kosher mikvah after menstuation in order to even touch her husband, let alone have sexual relations with him. Reply

Sherrie Lynn GULF COAST USA April 14, 2014

BEAUTIFUL! This was SUCH AN INSPIRTION! Thank you for taking the time to address menapoause, but then to add in some very direct, truthful and amusing analogies was FANTASTIC! Reply

Anonymous January 6, 2013

I was struggling with the night sweats, insomnia, hot flashes, the works. It was impossible sitting at my Torah study class while I drinking cold water, fanning myself with whatever I could find, and carrying cotton hankerchiefs (although very pretty). Then I found an article about bioidentical hormones and every 9 months I drive 200 miles to see a female doctor who is considered an expert in bioidentical hormones. After 6 months of trying and thinking they did not work, all my hot flashes stopped, no more night sweats, and I started losing some weight around my midsection. Had it not been for the book by Suzanne Somers "Breakthrough" I never would have known. In july I will be 58 years old and I am enjoying a life without sweats. Reply

Isabella Zurich, Switzerland March 24, 2011

Menopause Thank you very much indeed for this very inspiring and totally honest article. I feel the same and sometimes just wish this waves of sweating would stop immediately, even more when they arise in an important meeting or when having dinner with business partners and friends.

Nevertheless humor and to be open to the next step...the winter of my life helps me overcome this daily and nightly "happenings".

Still, it truly feels good to learn that this is an openly discussed subject now! It does improve my life to be surrounded with "sisters". Reply

Rachelle Hamtramck, MI June 24, 2009

menopause thank you for this article. I am a christian i only learned of this ritual and the prayers for this ritual as I was learning about menopause. I don't belong to a temple so i had to use my own bathtub to experience this ritual. It was so wonderful and i was sad that it appeared that when you no longer have a period you no longer can do the ritual. Now that I no longer bleed I can forever thank God that I was able to do this ritual and thank Him for revealing it to me. It reminded me that He was there with me before I started to bleed and He is still with me now and forever. I went from being sad about the so call end of the ritual to being filled with Joy at the continuing relationship with The Giver Of The Ritual. He taught me and is teaching me through this WEB sight.

Thank You so much for sharing with the world HIS teachings.

Much Love and Respect
Your christian sister Reply

AJ Huntsville, AL March 7, 2007

Comfort This article brings a lot of comfort and relief to me as I enter the same new phase in my life. Thank you so much. Reply

Anonymous March 7, 2007

Menopause Thank you! It helps a lot to read your way of seeing it. But I have been through this for six years now, and feel that I have lost a lot of life quality. Two years ago I counted 22 hot flashes (forgive me; but I call it "Tsunami") the 25 hours of Yom Kippur. Last year I counted 20... Can you believe how high quality I felt my Yom Kippur was? It takes away my possibility to go deep into the topics I really want to. It is embarassing too. I have eaten all kind of herbs, and they all works for some weeks, and then the effect disappears. I don't know how to look at this in a positive way any longer. But it feels great to have sisters like you! I'm not orthodox, but always went to the mikveh acc. to the laws. I didn't take the last one, though... Maybe I will now?

Racquel March 6, 2007

I absolutely loved this article. It was so eloquent and well- written. Thank you! Reply

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