On Monday I went for my annual mammogram. Not my favorite thing, but it’s necessary, right? The tech asked me the usual questions: weight, dietary habits, date of last period… The first two were easy, but the last question threw me a bit – and the answer, two years ago, still surprises me a little.

I officially entered menopause at 46, not unusually early, but definitely on the early side – the average age for American women is 45-55. Although my periods had become irregular around the age of 40, the full impact of peri-menopause didn’t hit until I was 45. The drenching night sweats, mood swings, periodic depression, extreme fatigue, and worst of all, the dread I felt about becoming a “crone.” All these negative feelings, shame, and self-doubt seemed overwhelming. I no longer felt like a vital, sexy woman. I felt old, like the very life force had been sucked out of me along with all my eggs.

While my periods became farther apart and months went by without having to buy tampons, I came to a new appreciation for life without a menstrual cycle. With every hot flash, I developed a sense of freedom that I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. There were no longer 28 day schedules to navigate, without baby worries, sex became much more enjoyable, and, as the cocktail of hormones stopped flowing through my veins, I became happier, more confident, and more centered.

There are moments when I think about the fact that I’ll never have another period, and for a moment, I feel sad. It’s not that I miss the blood, cramping, and sore breasts – believe me, I don’t! But the knowledge that my body has moved into another stage of life – without my permission – is startling. It’s seems that it just serves as a reminder that life is happening everywhere, around you and within you, and you have very little control over it – and that, in and of itself, frees your soul.

In the last year, I have found an inner strength and courage that wasn’t present during my reproductive years. I somehow feel more ripe, sexier, wiser, more juicy…yes, a little rounder, perhaps, in the right places, happier, more “me.”

I’ve learned that the crone is a symbol of inherent wisdom  – a keeper of knowledge that comes from experience. She has lived through love, sorrow, hope, disappointment, and fear and remains a resilient, wise, and confident spirit. Through these experiences, she has learned the secrets of life and grows powerful with her understanding of it. She is selfless-yet she loves herself, she is kind-but knows when to protect herself and those she loves. That’s the crone…that is me.