Updated: Oct 6, 2018
Hello from Shanghai!
I'm Jane's middle daughter, Penny, and I helped write the book Me & My Menopausal Vagina. Do you like it? I do hope so - it was a real family project getting it to publication and was super fun putting it together. But it also aged us all by about 10 years!
Because, you see, I think we decided to write it at possibly the worst time we could have ever picked: I was about to move to China, was finishing off my PGCE, and was in the final term of teaching in a London state school. My younger sister was working crazy hours and studying late into the evening whilst being a full-time working mum, and my elder sister was living in New Zealand and also studying for her masters. On top of that, my Dad had recently taken early retirement due to seriously ill health and my Mum was trying to look after him whilst still feeling pretty awful herself. Looking back, it was absolutely not the right time to even think about doing anything else other than survive! Were we insane?
But, six months before my flight to Shanghai, Mum had a really great session with her counsellor who almost dared her to write a book about her experiences; she set her a deadline to have the first draft written within a month.
Yea right, I thought. Nice idea, but not going to happen. I mean, how many of us ever actually get round to doing the things we plan to anyway?
I was wrong. Of course, I was. Because my Mum is super-human. And so are the rest of my family.
Within a few days, after locking herself away and scribbling furiously notes about all her experiences and 'things she wished she'd known earlier', she finished a rough outline of what she wanted to say. Pages and pages of really insightful information, fabulous recommendations and years and years of tried-and-tested advice. It was impressive. But it was also a bit jumbled.
Over the next few weeks, we spent countless hours on the phone talking about the book: what we wanted the tone to be, what we wanted to cover, what illustrations we wanted. Without even really thinking about it, we’d started to take the book seriously and were discussing it as though it was going to get written. This wasn’t just another pie-in-sky idea that wouldn’t come to fruition. It was happening.
Before long, I was writing about my Mum’s sex life on the commute to work, was drafting paragraphs about her depression on the way back, and was spending every evening and weekend trying to do justice to the last few years of her suffering. I don’t remember her ever actually asking me to write it for her though - I think I just assumed the role. Ooops! Sorry Mum…
We’ve always been a very open and supportive family so it never felt weird writing about the things I did. When your Mum has been left suicidal from being in constant pain, you soon lose any embarrassment or frigidity you might have felt about such a condition. What did surprise me though was the mixed reception I got from friends and colleagues: some who I thought would recoil and run away in fear ended up being really supportive, and others who I thought might have my back found it difficult to show the support I perhaps needed. The book is unusual. We know that. But I believe it’s also absolutely invaluable. And I have to say, I took great delight in answering the question What are you up to at the weekend? ‘Let me think’, I said, ‘I’ll probably start writing about my Mum’s atrophied clitoral hood. You?’
And so, with sleepless nights and (seemingly never-ending) Chinese visa appointments, we managed to get the book written with literally seconds to go. Even on the flight, I was still making changes to the text. We all spent days and days editing it, finding minor spelling mistakes we had somehow missed the previous million times of reading it (some of which have still found their way into the final copy…) and sorting out all the publication procedures that seemed almost impossible to understand. We designed and made the front-cover ourselves, self-funded the entire book, and even set up our own publishing house just so we could get the whole story out there without it being censored.
By working together, we got it finished. I’m so incredibly proud of my family, not just of my Mum, but of everyone. I think we came together and used our strengths to turn something that causes the family a lot of distress and suffering into something that can hopefully shine a light for others.
I hope you enjoy reading it and find some comfort in the pages.
From Shanghai with love,