Thanksgiving: A Day of Introspection and Gratitude

I did not feel well enough to travel this holiday. Normally, I would have pushed my way through it but my husband gave me this gift of the day, the turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie that I needed for my soul. I needed time to be and not do more than I could do, for just one holiday. I have never been fond of holidays, except for my birthday and July 4th; but I have always given it my best effort at often significant cost.

My family is all happily ensconced in the bosom of extended family experience: my husband and step sons, Garrett and Hunter are with our Michigan family celebrating the first Thanksgiving together since the death of the family matriarch, my beloved mother in law, Natalie McIntyre, who died on Mother's Day, 2008. Jane, the baby of the family, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has been in charge of creating the most delicious Thanksgiving foods in America for almost twenty years now, so this part of the family ritual will be the same. And of course she does it effortlessly. None of the chaos that is found in my Thanksgiving kitchen would be allowed in the kitchen of the yellow house in Orchard Lake. The family is connecting with old and new ways of celebrating this year and I know that each one there will be redefining the family so that it will endure.

My son, Baxter, is spending Thanksgiving with his father and stepmother in Savannah. He enjoys time there where entertaining is such an important part of that city and important to this part of his family. Ashley and his perfect wife, my precious daughter in law, are making their first Thanksgiving Day dinner in their home. They don't know that I have taken a sabbatical from just one holiday or I would have been unable to pull this off.

I most miss being in Kentucky today. Everyone from my family will be home but me. The phone call to my sister was the hard one. But, no one has siblings like mine. We accept and love each other and always believe that what we say to each other is the truth. So, when I said I needed a holiday off the grid, she understood. My brothers and sisters are fabulous cooks and I know what each of them will bring to the table. Mommie will be the center of love and attention, our beloved mother who always selflessly made such a fantastic Thanksgiving meal and taught us by example and inclusion to do the same. Missing my Kentucky family on this Thanksgiving is the sad part for me.

I am spending part of the day here in my office. My work, by my choice, has always been the central part of my life. Some people are just like this. I am most content in patient interactions, giving both the patient and the doctor a quiet time for review of their lives and their health issues. It is a time of focused listening for me. The work continues, of course, after the patient visit is over. The results of tests arrive and the real work of medicine, the creation of a narrative of the patient's life and the organization of symptoms, the integration of the physical findings begins. I am at my best in this detective work, the work of a biographer if you will.

I began to work in a hospital full time 47 years ago, when I was not quite 15 years old. I lied about my age in order to get that job, but I needed independence and that meant that I needed a job. Since the first day as a nurse's aide, I have always been at home in a hospital.

I am thankful today for my relationship with New York Presbyterian Hospital, where I have been at home since 1976. My hospital has been ranked number six in the nation, in overall care, as for several years now. This hard won acknowledgment of good medical care has come from leadership and integration of staff at all levels in patient centered care and constant improvement in all aspects of the patient experience. The physicians at the hospital are exciting to be around because they are at the top of their game and reinforce excellence throughout our hospital community. After my training was completed in the hospital, I moved to my office here at 90th and Madison in New York City. I have been in this cozy office for over a quarter of a century.

This Thanksgiving Day is the one I have chosen for reflection and remembrance of some of the many people and events along my life's long journey that made it possible for me to have this wonderful life. But I want most to remember those who make it possible for me to give the best I have to my patients and to the women over 40 with whom I have an ongoing conversation on line.

I have chosen incredible doctors and therapists who work with me to solve diagnostic problems and create therapeutic plans, who provide efficient and thoughtful care in their offices and surgical suites, and who always teach me something new and encourage me to be the primary care doctor that I love being most. Gynecologists are primary care doctors, of course, but most don't have the luxury of time that is necessary to do this when they are seeing many patients, delivering babies and operating on patients. I have left all that behind, because its season for me has passed. I miss the excitement and joy of delivering babies, I miss the camaraderie on the delivery floor and in the operating room but I knew at each stage of leaving a part of the professional life of an obstetrician gynecologist behind, that it was always the right time for reinvention. I felt on that memorable day in the delivery room, as I gave a baby girl to a beloved patient for the last time, that I had completed a cycle of my life with dedication and joy. My first day in a hospital as a nurses' aide began in the delivery room and that memory was still with me at the time of the last delivery of a baby.

The most unexpected joy in my professional life came from the formation of Women's Voices for Change with Faith Childs and Laura Sillerman, launched on November 21st in 2005. We are the Executive Board now of a growing organization that has created www.womensvoicesforchange.org, as a forum for women over 40 to describe and define who we are in this Second Spring of life we call The New Menopause. Our focus began with the need to change the meaning of just one word, menopause. Menopause has been a word that the media, advertising and the corporate world has shunned or used in demeaning ways. Women themselves have chosen denial, shame, and fear in response to this word.

The growing numbers of contributors, who have joined us, write to create a portrait that is an accurate one, not one based on outdated assumptions. We write to give women not yet physiologically or psychologically quite there, hope that this transition is the best opportunity for self invention that life will offer them. We write to give templates for hope and change to those in the tornado of the transition.

Women in the New Menopause, who choose to be present and fully aware of their life experiences, learn to use the fuel of this sometimes volatile life passage to make choices, and create their own change. We learn what is important, we divest ourselves of the unnecessary, and we focus on ways to make meaningful change in our individual lives, our communities and our country.

I am especially thankful today for the extraordinary and unexpected contribution to Women's Voices for Change from two donors who wish to remain anonymous along with a recent event given for WVFC by the extraordinary jeweler, Verdura. These important gifts will allow us to implement a long dreamed of way to include women across America in the creation of our portrait of women who are unafraid of the word, menopause, and who will encourage those in the media and the advertising and corporate world to recognize us for who we really are.

Women in The New Menopause are visible and we are well positioned to be part of the reinvention of our country as we face a new normal no one wanted and many refused to expect. We are more highly educated. We control more of the economic resources than any other demographic in this country. We are politically active across the spectrum. We decry political inactivity and waste in the government that has so little now. Waste will be noticed and noted again and again.

I am thankful for all the members of the Board of Women's Voices for Change. Each brings wisdom, intelligence, creativity and energy to our mission. Thank you Faith Childs, Laura Sillerman, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, Catherine Wood, Lisa McCarthy, Leslie Frances, Dr. Elizabeth Poynor and to our newest board member, Coleen Caslin. We are all thankful to our Executive Director, Mary Kelly Selover, and the staff that supports www.womensvoicesforchange.org, directed by our editor, Chris Lombardi. We bring joy and support to each other as we work on our mission to make the New Menopause a life destination that is viewed with optimism.

On this Thanksgiving Day, November 26th, 2009, I am grateful for our readers who are becoming our writers. Our small effort that has grown only with the help of the famous public relation firm, "word of mouth", makes a difference only with your voices that are diverse and memorable. Write your way through The New Menopause with us and give other women who are without support and knowledge of options, your description of the best time of your life. And when there is a rough patch, write through it and know that we are here with you.

Happy Thanksgiving.