What to expect when you’re expecting (the worst.)
Think about how predominant and meaningful these monthly visitors are in a woman's life.
As a teenager, I nervously anticipated its arrival.
At the doctor, it seems, they ask you when your last one was for your entire life.
As a woman in my twenties, I often prayed to get mine (you can read between the lines.)
As a woman trying for a baby, I didn't want to see one each month.
Once pregnant – I dreaded seeing a spot of blood.
As a new mom, I waited around for one to begin again.
My periods have never been regular. As a teenager, they were heavy and cramp-filled, always making a surprise appearance when I least expected them and probably least wanted them (airports, swim parties, at my grandparents' house.) As a woman trying to get pregnant, this irregularity was frustrating. After having my youngest child at 38, menstruating was never quite the same again. It was heavy one month, light the next, and non-existent the following. And man, was I bitchy. I remember that I lit up like a match at the simplest look or comment my husband would make.
I knew that these were different.
After my daughter was born, it was more challenging than ever to take off the "baby weight." My hourglass figure was a little plumper, my breasts a little heavier, and my waist, well…just lesser.
My periods were still irregular, verging on infrequent – but that had always been my "normal." As a few years went by, the scale crept up and up, despite my healthy eating habits and exercise.
I can remember around 45 going to my (female) doctor and asking, "am I going through menopause?"
Her reply, "do you have hot flashes?" No.
"Then probably not," she said.
At age 47, I switched doctors (which shouldn't surprise you given her reply to my last question), and my new doctor asked when my last period was.
"About three months ago," I replied.
Her response "I'd like to run some bloodwork and see if you are entering menopause."
I was taken a bit aback.
My previous doctor had blown off this question for the past two years. I asked this question: "So what if I am? Meaning – will the course of action be any different than if a blood test didn't confirm it?" I was so confused! My doctor said that by confirming it, she could also check my hormone levels, and it would rule out any other reasons that my periods were so irregular. So, I went forward with the blood panel.
And I waited for the results. Nowadays, all our information is stored electronically, so we log into a portal to see our test results. Finally, I received an email that my doctor had left me a message in the portal, so I logged on.
"You are in menopause."
That was the message.
The only message. The only line.
What?! I had questions.
I expected more fanfare. What now? So what?
I called my best friend, who is 20 years my senior, and said, "I'm in menopause." She proceeded to tell me that this could last for many years. Like even 4-8 years!
No one told me this.
No one told me anything at all.
You hear these horror stories of hot flashes and fogginess, decision-making and debates about hormone therapy. Still, it's possible that without all the hoopla, I had simply entered menopause on my terms. A lot of research later, here is what I know:
- For many, the process starts silently in your early 40s as your periods become more irregular.
- You are considered to start menopause when you go 12 months without a period (I've gone 16 months now.)
- Usually, menopause sets in between age 40-54, with the average age being 51
- Most people experience symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and difficulty sleeping.
I've had no night sweats or hot flashes (so far), and I've always been a patchy sleeper – I think it runs in my family. And – after teen angst, PMS, pregnancy, miscarriage, divorce, and four children – I wouldn't know what "normal" hormonal balance was.
All of this to say that I've come to believe that it's different for everyone.
Menopause used to be a vast lurking shadow that I never knew when it was coming, how long it would last, or what to expect. I still don't have that figured all out. And that's okay. I think you have to go through it to grow from it.
Talk to your friends.
Talk to women who have gone through it.
Talk to your doctor or mental health professionals.
We need to normalize it and open the conversation about menopause.
By Jill Potasnik
CEO Social Elevator