Lifestyle

I Had A Baby Only 3 Years Ago — And Now I'm Perimenopausal?

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Fatigue. Exhaustion. Moms of any age have got this market cornered and I am no different.

Irregular periods. I also have these and I was not sure if they were just from Covid stress, my IUD or perhaps something else altogether.

A chat with my doctor yielded a surprise bombshell diagnosis: perimenopause. So these symptoms, in combination with my age, 43, suddenly put me in this phase of life. I was shocked.

I had a baby three years ago. I stopped breastfeeding a little over one year ago. I need an IUD because I am done having children but I am still technically able to have them. How can my body be so close to fertility and yet equally as close to the end of it?

Of course, as a woman, I knew menopause was in my future — but it seemed so far down the road. I sort of vaguely had the number 50 in my mind. I don’t think I had ever given it much thought, though, and I certainly have never received any sort of education about it. No one submits a question about menopause in sex ed class and I certainly have never read anything about it in a biology textbook other than a cursory mention.

When you are a teenager, you expect your period. You know the age range in which it can arrive, and you know it means the beginning of being fertile and that every month you will have to deal with it. If, and when, you decide to have children, you become more aware of your cycle and when exactly you ovulate and if you miss a period you are fully aware of what that means.

However, menopause is just a signal of the end. It is not actually a pause at all because nothing resumes. It is an end. The end of being able to have children, and the end of your period. However, we have also come to associate it with the end of our youthfulness and vitality. Adding the prefix “peri” does nothing to alleviate the sting of that stigmatized word. What does it matter what stage you are in? It all conjures up the same antiquated stereotypes: middle-aged, washed up, past your prime, put out to pasture. Has there ever been a positive adjective associated with it? I can’t think of one. You know what else I can’t think of? A single, book, movie or tv show where a character went through menopause where it wasn’t a punchline (usually portraying hot flashes as the sole symptom).

So now that I have this information about my own perimenopause, what do I do with it? I say information and not diagnosis because according to my research, menopause has quite a broad range of symptoms that could also actually be symptoms of many other things, so it is simply because I am entering menopausal age that these symptoms now are by default “menopausal”. So do I just sit and wait for whatever additional symptoms I will be blessed with come my way? Twiddle my thumbs thinking any trickle of sweat may be a hot flash?

Not only is menopause not featured in popular culture, it is also not written about in many medical books. In fact, doctors don’t even properly learn about it in medical school. Just think about that for a second. Something that EVERY single woman will go through for up to ten years of her life is not taught sufficiently in medical schools! So how can doctors even properly treat women in this phase of life? And what about women of color, who are already at a disadvantage in the medical system due to systemic racial bias? (Though, shout out to the recent contributions of Dr. Jen Gunter whose book, The Menopause Manifesto comes out later this month and also to Amanda Thebe whose book Menopocalypse was recently published).

Forget about the medical aspect of menopause for a moment and ask yourself why women don’t even talk about this with each other. I have dipped my toe in the water of discussing this topic and you can feel the air being sucked out of the room (or FaceTime call these days). No one wants to go there.

I am sort of at a crossroads where I am at the age where I (and friends close in age) could actually still get pregnant. However, I am also at the point where I am having these menopausal symptoms. I suppose no one wants to be the first one down this path. Do you really want to draw attention to yourself as being the one unable to do something, even if it is something you don’t want to do anymore? Look at me, I can no longer reproduce!

However, I feel like this whole conversation forgets to shine light on the one major positive in this — the promise of the end of your period. Will anyone miss that? I have hated every second of it since day one. It is unpredictable, annoying, expensive and intrusive. I will not miss it in the least. In fact part of the reason I have an IUD is because, for the most part, it eliminates my period. This alone is cause for celebration. Bring on the white pants!

I am not saying we need to necessarily celebrate menopause, though why not? My hope is that menopause becomes something that we can talk about without stigma or shame because really it is just a turning point and we need to be equipped with information to deal with this. I hope that we can normalize this phase of life and talk about it openly and honestly. I want some research to turn to and some hard facts about symptoms and treatments. I think we all deserve to have a better understanding of what menopause is and what it means for us.

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