As I sat weeping with exhaustion recently, a well-informed friend asked me a few personal questions: about my age, my sleep patterns, my moodiness.
"I sleep less now than when I had four toddlers," I moaned, between sobs. "My kids go to bed later and later, and then I wake up all the time, half-boiled in a bed that's morphed into a sauna. And then it's morning mayhem and I'm just sooo tired."
Older mothers like me, however, are spending our gonadotropin-surging years grappling with toddlers, young children and hormonal teenagers. Is it any wonder we are tired and emotional?
"You're in the peri-menopause," she said briskly. She cast her eyes round my kitchen and then delivered her final, damning verdict. "You and three teenage daughters ... this must be the hormonal house of hell."
I looked at her blankly. "The what?"
"You really should know about this at your age," she said, passing me a book I probably should have read years ago. And yes, it was all there in print: hot flushes, emotional outbursts, insomnia, night sweats. It could kick in at any time from one's mid-30s, but more usually in one's mid-40s, hormones surging and crashing all over the place. But what about my three daughters - aged 17, 15 and 13? It turns out their hormones are raging too.
Suddenly everything fell into place. The arguments in which we slam doors, shout, sob, swear, threaten to leave - all nothing more than frantic, yo-yoing hormones! I try, very gently, to explain this to my Long Suffering Husband (now spending ever longer days in his office, and who can blame him?) but he rolls his eyes and asks why we can't all "calm down a bit". He clearly doesn't get hormones, so I find a newspaper article full of medical facts and email it to him.
As we four hormonal females flounce around the house leaving a trail of fury in our wake, my nine-year-old son removes himself to his bedroom and plugs himself into his computer. Is it any wonder he's become obsessed with a perfectly calm online world where he quietly chops down trees and builds log cabins?
For my late-mothering generation, this is the new norm. Any woman giving birth to a daughter while in her 30s will experience her peri-menopause alongside her daughter's puberty.
This is all the more bewildering because many of us never witnessed our own mothers' menopause. When I reached puberty, my mother was only 36 - years away from the menopause. And now I'm aspiring to be the sort of mum she was (caring, calm and collected), which is clearly ridiculous because she wasn't in the grip of her raging hormones and I am.
One of the well-documented symptoms of peri-menopause is a sharp decline in the nurturing, maternal instinct that characterises one's 20s and 30s. I appear to have this symptom in extremis and can frequently be heard shouting, "Why don't you all just leave home?" I often shout this when no one (except perhaps my Long Suffering Neighbour) is within earshot. Needless to say, I then collapse sobbing in a confused pile of guilt because, of course, I still adore them.
I try explaining to my Long Suffering Husband that the reason I no longer clear out the old crisps and coffee cups from the car, or pair his socks, or bake princess birthday cakes, is because my surging gonadotropin hormone is speaking very clearly to me - telling me this is my time (not his, the children's or the car's). And no, I don't have time to call a plumber to fix the leaking cistern - even if I am awake half the night.
"But the carpet is rotten and the whole house reeks," he says, bewildered. "Or does your surging gonadotropin affect your sense of smell?" This is a red rag to a bull, obviously. And within seconds, he's sloping off to hang out with Long Suffering Son. Thereby managing to avoid the three screeching daughters who've appeared, bewailing their spots, cellulite, treacherous friends, misplaced iPhones and all the other dramas that constitute teenage life.
When my mother hit her peri-menopause, my siblings and I had grown up. She made the most of her surging hormones, embarking on a new career as a globetrotting journalist. Older mothers like me, however, are spending our gonadotropin-surging years grappling with toddlers, young children and hormonal teenagers. Is it any wonder we are tired and emotional?
I think back to my antenatal classes, with all the talk of breast versus bottle and controlled crying. If only someone had fast-forwarded 14 years. If only someone had warned me. But would I have done things differently? Probably not. Because I actually (secretly) quite like my hormonal house of hell.
Now I know it's not personal. Now I understand it. And I have a funny feeling that when my children fly the nest, my house will feel oddly dull and eerily quiet. Perhaps Long Suffering Husband will slam a few doors for me - if I ask nicely.
Annabel Abbs is the author of The Joyce Girl (Hachette Australia, $33).