Belly fat? Check.

Hot flashes? Check.

Sleep problems, mental fog, AWOL menstrual cycles? Oh yes.

The desire to nurture others? Pfffft. Gone. Current thinking on menopause tells us that the caretaking "instinct" is nothing more than a relic of a woman's reproductive years.

As Sandra Tsing Loh notes in a wry piece in the November issue of The Atlantic, the message of pop-culture self-help tomes like Christine Northrup's The Wisdom Of Menopause is that mommy's selflessness is basically a biological hiccup. In other words, as a woman's estrogen powers down at menopause, she becomes far less nurturing and way more self-centered. It's pure biology:

It is not menopause that triggers the mind-altering and hormone-altering variation; the hormonal "disturbance" is actually fertility. Fertility is The Change. It is during fertility that a female loses herself, and enters that cloud overly rich in estrogen. And of course, simply chronologically speaking, over the whole span of her life, the self-abnegation that fertility induces is not the norm—the more standard state of selfishness is.

Tsing Loh surveys the self-help literature aimed at coaching women through The Change. She takes on the whack-a-doo diet and exercise advice doled out by experts and amateurs alike. A hearty amen here. I have a small contingent of peers who lob their dietary cures at my midlife woes with evangelistic fervor. If only I will go gluten-free/dairy-free/do a colon cleanse/ingest flaxseed/fish oil/supplements/more supplements/still more supplements/ad nauseum (literally), I will feel and look 20 years younger, and lose weight, too! There's probably some truth buried in these ideas, but I prefer dietary moderation with an order of fries on the side.

The Atlantic piece then commends Northrup's 600+ page encyclopedic volume as the motherlode of the menopause genre. Tsing Loh allows that the book includes some of the same old nutty lifestyle advice found in other sources, but the book grants her an epiphany as she considers her fading energy for her caregiving responsibilities:

What the phrase wisdom of menopause stands for, in the end, is that, as the female body's egg-producing abilities and levels of estrogen and other reproductive hormones begin to wane, so does the hormonal cloud of our nurturing instincts. During this huge biological shift, our brain, temperament, and behaviors will begin to change—as then must, alarmingly, our relationships. As one Northrup chapter title tells it, "Menopause Puts Your Life Under a Microscope," and the message, painful as it is, is: "Grow … or die.""

Gone-with-the-estrogen, do our sweet mothering filters shrivel and die as menopause turns women into Maxine incarnate?

We do indeed change emotionally, spiritually, and socially as our bodies age. Even if we take up rockclimbing at age 50 and live on wild-harvested fish, quinoa, and organic vegetables, we face decay. In our fallen world, there is an arc to our lifespan.

However, I'm not convinced that my desire or responsibility to nurture others is tied to the amount of estrogen in my body. Doesn't caregiving take many forms throughout our lives?

As a child, I wept over the death of baby birds I'd tried to save with worms and eyedroppers full of water. As a young teen, I dedicated myself to being a good listener for my friends. During my 20s, I gave birth to three babies, then raised them throughout my 30s and 40s. During those years, I organized Bible studies and homeschool support groups, and was involved in many different community activities. At times, all this nurturing should have landed me on the Barnum and Bailey payroll.

As my nest has emptied, the care I give to others has changed both scope and shape, as it must. I have more time now, but I also have less energy. My nurturing comes as I spend time with my two grandsons. I've also cared for elderly shut-ins in need of companionship. I've mentored a number of young women. I am a wife. I try to spend meaningful one-on-one time with friends from all walks of life. Shoulder surgery and other recent health woes have left me less able to do some of the in-the-trenches nurture I was once physically capable of. But neither those woes nor my depleted estrogen exempts me from God's command to love as he loves.

Fellow Her.menutics contributor Jennifer Grant offers a simple way to help midlife women think about where to invest the nurturing they have yet to give, even if they feel as though they've flatlined in the caring department. She suggests, simply, that we pay attention to what makes us cry.For some at midlife, tears are an unwelcome companion, markers of the depression that often comes with menopause. But tears speak of sorrow, rage, regret, frustration, and joy - and may be a directional signal that shows us where and how to care for others and ourselves in the next years of our lives.

The real wisdom of menopause isn't birthed from our changing physiology. It's in our maturing capacity to seek God's best for those he's placed in our sphere of influence.