The Middle of the Road…..Perimenopause & Its Affect
As a young girl at the age of 11, I remember the night before Christmas vividly! Now before I even delve deep into this blog topic, I must warn you readers that the information that I am going to share within this anecdote is a little embarrassing. Ok…..back to this reflection. Christmas was the BEST time! My Grandfather would give me $20.00 to shop for my family. I would go to the Dollar General and load my family up on socks, pencils, and cheap deodorant. I remember wrapping their presents and sitting them under the tree. I remember being extremely excited to stay up and watch Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and Jack Frost. Lastly, I remember baking cookies and hurriedly rushing off to bed before midnight. You see, I was a pre-teen that STILL believed in Santa Claus. In some way, I think this was my mother’s way of preserving the little innocence that I did have. Ladies….I was a C cup at this age. I also was frequently mistaken for a 16 or 17 year old! I was a child trapped in a rapidly developing woman’s body. I mean sheesh I still played with Barbie’s and let’s not forget…I believed in Santa Claus with my whole heart.
That all changed on this particular Christmas Eve. In the middle of the night I woke up in excruciating pain. I was also sitting in a puddle of blood! I thought, ” I am hemorraghing….I’m dying!” It was at that point that my mother realized that she could not protect my innocence any longer. She explained to me my “womanly gift.” Hmph….some gift this was! My first initial thought after learning that I would go through this hell every month for 5-7 days for the rest of my life was, ” Can we give this gift back and is there a Doctor that can fix this?” I did not welcome the gift of womanhood. This symbolized the moment of all moments; that was 31 years ago!
Between accepting that my body would transition into a seven day deep red sea, and learning that no I could not get rid of this “gift,” I learned to accept my monthly cycle. We came to a mutual agreement so to speak. The “gift” would make a seven day appearance, I would bear it and survive, and it would go on its way! Up until seven months ago, we had a pretty good thing going on. Outside of the times fertilization beat it to the punch the “gift” would come and go as planned.
Seven months ago I noticed that my cycles had become extremely light and sometimes non-existent. By month five, I had completely stopped receiving visits from “the gift” regularly. As a newlywed to a younger and athletic man, I thought, “Yep another race has been won. What am I going to do with a newborn at age 42?!” Talk about being in a whirlwind of emotions! LOL After taking 3 pregnancy tests with NONE of them reading, “pink means pregnant,” I came to the next dramatic conclusion that I had ovarian cancer and was dying. After self diagnosing myself, I turned to google and learned a new term…..perimenopause.
What is perimenopause?
So, I know this term is new. It’s like anything that goes on in women’s health. Medical professionals come up with these spiffy and jazzy new terms that moreso confuse us as women than answer our questions. In a nutshell, this vague term represents what is happening to our bodies as we transition to the Big M…..MENOPAUSE. Just like the time of getting the “gift” was a confusing and complex time…..this was parallel to that experience. I was under the assumption that I would go along in life and then one day in my 50’s my period would disappear just as it happened to Blanche Devaroe on the Golden Girls. But guess what? There is a middle phase in between this transition of life.
What have I learned about perimenopause?
This term was so new to me that I began to read, watch videos, and search several sites. One site I came across featured a Doctor that has made perimenopause a part of her practice. Because the condition is overlooked, she felt that it was her calling to educate women about this stage in their lives.
In the U.S., the average female body hits menopause—officially defined as 12 consecutive months without a period, according to the Mayo Clinic—at 51. But the perimenopausal process can anywhere from two to 10 years (and sometimes even longer), before that; most enter this fog sometime in their 40s, but many women may start noticing changes even earlier.
“Perimenopause is one of my favorite subjects, because it’s complicated,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., a professor of obstetrics at the University of Virginia and the executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “It’s different for different women, and it runs a very large gamut.” For some, perimenopause means irregular or heavy periods. Others experience “episodic flooding,” she says, which is unfortunately exactly what it sounds like: Periods so heavy you regularly bleed through tampons and pads. Then there are some for whom perimenopause comes bearing migraine headaches (or making existing migraines worse). PMS, too, can get worse, even turning into PMDD—premenstrual dysphoric disorder—which is when PMS becomes so severe that it actually affects your work or family life.
As I further read about Dr. Pinkerton’s research, I realized that perimenopause is an overlooked circumstance of life but really needs to be studied more. It was reassuring to understand the changes that rapidly started to occur with my body. For example, 3 years ago it would take me no time to drop 10 pounds. Since beginning this transition, I have noticed that I just cannot seem to get weight off as easily. Also, I very rarely get a full night’s sleep anymore. I find myself waking up at 3:00 in the morning with my mind full of anxiety.
What are other symptoms of perimenopause?
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Worse premenstrual syndrome
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness; discomfort during sex
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Urinary urgency (an urgent need to urinate more frequently)
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping (taken from http://www.webmd.com)
What can I do during this time?
I have been an emotional rollercoaster during this time. There is something about seeing the signs that you are getting older that can really mess with your mental state of mind. After realizing that I had reached this “transition,” feelings of insufficiency came about as I recognized that my child bearing years are 100% ending. Yes, I know that I freaked out at the possibility of being pregant but what woman wants to know that having children is no longer an option for her? The symptoms of weight gain, insomnia, and physical changes also gave me feelings of inadequacy. I am STILL dealing with this day by day. This will not be an overnight acceptance. So what can you do during this time? I like the advice that the Dr. gives to women that are entering into this phase. She suggested that women….all women must come together and talk about how this stage of our life affects us. Ladies, we need to support each other, be a community, lend a listening ear, and that shoulder to cry on.
We do not become less of a woman as we reach the middle of the road; our paths just aren’t as straight. Love yourself as you go into this metamorphosis. After all, the agility and resilience that we have as women is naturally what makes us so phenomenal!