Ah, Easter, and the pleasant boing, boing, boing of Lindt balls throwing themselves into my mouth. Easter, is a time when we eat even more chocolate. There is a mysterious series of leaps, or hops, between the story of the sacrifice of Jesus and the symbolism of eggs, and fertility and rebirth, and then chocolate eggs, and then rabbits, and then chocolate rabbits. Of course, some people are described as being “about as much use as a chocolate condom.” Perhaps that is the link. Theologians please note.
At my age, the abundance of rabbits and eggs on every supermarket shelf also reminds me that I no longer have any eggs in my personal basket. Hooray! Fertility is no longer a part of my life, and I love it.
There are two milestones in every woman's life. They come with the package. They are puberty and menopause: Whatever happens in between them are matters of taste, preference, luck, judgement, biology, geography, skill and cunning. Puberty and menopause are givens. The start line and the finish line of the hormone marathon. Of a woman’s fertility.
Being done with fertility can be a liberation. No more worries about periods, about leaking, flooding, pain and cramps, hormonal mood swings and migraines. Gone are 30 years of resentment over over-priced sanitary products.
No more worries about getting pregnant or not getting pregnant. No more staring at your diary trying to work out how late is your period, or blowing out birthday candles while wondering how long your fertility will hang in there? Gone are worries about how many children, if any, do we want? Too many and you may be seen as having them for religious reasons, or for benefits. Too few and perhaps you can’t, poor thing. Gone is the stress of suitable mating, years of ruthless sexual auditioning, as our DNA seeks out suitable DNA from the available males of the species, questing for stronger, faster, smarter, richer, more handsome inseminators and providers. (And we end up with our husbands anyway.)
Women are the only known species except for Killer Whales who go through menopause. (Some of the higher primates do, too, but only in captivity, not in the wild.) This makes women the only females who hit the second half of our lives without being driven by the biological imperative to reproduce. We can have sex for fun and intimacy. We can mate simply to find a mate. Woohoo!
And that’s the fertility marathon run. In theory. As for the details, it is remarkable that fertility and infertility have only been explored so very recently.
This is because a woman’s fertility and her reproductive system have for millennia been subjects of superstition, prejudice, fear and shame, and mystery. None of which stimulates much medical or scientific curiosity. Just over a hundred years ago, it was widely believed that womanhood caused illness. You could be given a hysterectomy for anything from vision loss to sore feet. Indeed, Bill Bryson tells us: “In 1878, the British Medical Journal ran a spirited and protracted correspondence on whether a menstruating woman’s touch could spoil ham.”