Perimenopause: The Dirty Little Secret of Womanhood

by Terri Lively
Originally Published: 
A woman lying on her bed sideways and reading a book

It’s time to reveal one of the best-kept secrets in female-dom: perimenopause. Perimenopause is a little-talked-about phase where “the curse” kicks it up a notch right before menopause hits. While we are all more or less aware of (and dreading) menopause, most women don’t know they are in perimenopause until it’s upon them, like a spot on the front of their white blouse or a pitch to be a consultant in a random acquaintance’s multi-level marketing business.

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Many moon-phases ago, I was exposed to the concept in an oblique way. I was twentysomething and worked at a production studio. The fortysomething woman with the inappropriate story was an important client, so my client services partner and I listened to her tale of woe.

She was at a business dinner with a bunch of men when she realized with mounting horror an impending visit from Aunt Flo. She was unprepared. She pleaded with the men and even the restaurant manager (another man) to find her anything suitable to greet her monthly guest but to no avail. Apparently, she misinterpreted their horror at the mentioning of lady parts in a clinical way as not getting the urgency. The way my coworker and I were supposed to, apparently.

“I mean, ladies,” she said, arms outstretched in a plea for understanding, “you know what it’s like when you know it’s coming? How critical it is to get what you need before IT does?”

My coworker (also a woman) and I realized this was a period story meant to bond us as females, so we both had pasted on our best “client smiles” and tried to relate. But we had no idea what she was talking about. Her question hung in the air unanswered like a request for volunteer contestants in a fart-sniffing contest. Realizing that smiling and nodding wasn’t going to satisfy her, I shrugged and shook my head in a vague way. My partner just kept client-smiling.

She left. After we were sure she was gone, I looked at my partner, bemused and bewildered. “Was she seriously just talking about getting her period?” I asked.

“Yup,” my partner said, looking up briefly from the schedule to roll her eyes.

Back then, my period neither appeared on a regular basis nor announced its arrival with so much fanfare. Now in my early 40s (although one could argue that at 43, one is entering her mid-40s), I understand our client. I do understand the impending urgency that a particular approaching visitor can create.

My client was suffering from perimenopause. I didn’t know that was even a thing back then. Frankly, until a year or two ago, I still didn’t. No one talks about it until you finally fess up to a girlfriend that you have real concerns about your sanity. Or you realize every second you don’t behave like a scathing bitch is an effort. Or if you ask your doctor why you fantasize about your husband’s head inflating like a balloon until it pops because he doesn’t know how to load the dishwasher.

That last one is not a super-specific example or anything.

It’s really no wonder no one talks about it. We don’t talk about periods out loud after the age of 13. We refer to it with cute euphemisms (“Aunt Flo”, “on the rag”, “the red badge of courage” or my personal favorite, “shark week”). Please, for the love of God, don’t say menstrual cycle. Everyone might actually go catatonic with fear of open discussion of menstruation. Marketers hardly even mention it out loud in ads for maxi pads and tampons for crying out loud.

Men don’t want to hear about it, either. In fact, when I told my husband I was writing about perimenopause, his response was, “Great! And I’m gonna write a post about my itchy ball sack.”

He’s a poet, huh?

Perimenopause is like the recapitulation of a theme at the end of the symphony or the plot of each successive Fast and Furious movie: bigger, louder and more ridiculous. If I had a time machine, I would go back to that moment in the production studio and give her the “Amen, sister!” she was looking for at the time.

WebMD defines perimenopause as menopause transition. It starts because our ovaries are making less estrogen. And just listen to the awesome symptoms:

1. Hot flashes (!)

2. Breast tenderness (… and droopiness? Is that part of it too?)

3. Worse premenstrual syndrome (Danger! Danger!)

4. Lower sex drive (as if the kids didn’t do it in already)

5. Discomfort during sex (this one makes me sad)

6. Fatigue (read: general bitchiness)

7. Irregular periods (my client’s problem back in the ’90s)

8. Vaginal dryness (ewww!)

9. Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing (or laughing hard)

10. Urinary urgency (“I gotta go, and I gotta go right now!”)

11. Mood swings (read: more general bitchiness interspersed with jolly spurts)

12. Trouble sleeping (As the big day approaches, I can count on this one. Every single night.)

By the way, WebMD didn’t list this one, but you also get your teenage acne back. Usually around your jaw line and neck (pretty!). One of my friends complained it was not fair to have wrinkles and acne. And it’s not … but it could be worse—some women get it on their backs and chest, too. If you want a positive take on the backne, you could say, “Well, at least one part of my body looks like it belongs on a teenager!”

The best news of all is that this is just the beginning, the band you never heard of that you sit through before the one you actually know takes the stage. Unfortunately, in my metaphor, menopause is the featured act, and I doubt any of us is looking forward to that show.

Well, too bad because according to WebMD, menopause is just around the corner. For some women, perimenopause is a few months, and for others it’s 10 years. While it typically hits women in their 40s, it can happen in the 30s as well.

If you are like me, hearing the word “menopause” (with or without the “peri” attached) associated with yourself is alien. We know it’s coming, but part of us thinks, “It’s not going to happen to me … at least not until I’m old!”

However, it’s undeniable that I have symptoms (Nos. 3, 6 and 11, to mention a couple). This fact was apparent to me not long ago when I was ready to throw down with my eldest son about whether Darth Maul survived being cut in two during the first Star Wars prequel. Thankfully, I had the wherewithal to take a mommy time-out before I showed him what Princess Leia really wanted to say when she called Han Solo a “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.”

So if you are reading this and felt just as unprepared as I was about the onset of the mysterious perimenopause, share this post on your feeds. Embarrass your younger coworkers by forwarding it to them. Inspire your male friends to post about their yucky scrotums. Tweet about it at 4 a.m. when you are wide-awake, solving the world’s problems under the watchful glare of the projection clock. Bewilder your twentysomething vendors with your inappropriate stories about lady parts. It’s time to shed some light on the best-kept secret in female-dom.

And if you can, laugh about it, because crying over your lost youth isn’t going to bring it back. But not too hard—because, you know … urine leakage.

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