Women talk about everything. Marital discord. Kids. Stupid people. Work stress. Our biggest fears and insecurities. The wildest things we’ve ever done in the bedroom. But no one—and I mean no one—talks about perimenopause, and I resent it.
One morning, you find yourself deep in conversation with an acquaintance at the middle school. Straight up, you never wanted to make small talk with another mother. You’d paid a visit to the administrative office to drop off the form you forgot to send in the mail. Now you’re cornered. Suddenly, mid-sentence, you experience the mother of all hot flashes. It feels as if you’re running a marathon in Death Valley. (FYI: Death Valley hit a record high of 130-degrees last week.) Little flames lick your cheeks. For a second, you think you may faint.
Concerned, the other mother asks, “Are you ok?”
Apparently, you look and smell like a dirty kitchen sponge. You say, “I’m having another hot flash.”
The other mother grimaces, blinks one too many times, and mumbles a weak apology. She scurries away faster than the hot flash comes and goes.
You stand there, confused. She asked. You answered. Why is it taboo to talk about the terrible symptoms of perimenopause when so many of us are dealing with insufferable hormonal imbalances and crazy ass cycles?
Last week, I experienced an emotional breakdown of epic proportions. My heavy, swollen breasts had grown two whole cup sizes larger than they’d been for the entirety of my adult life. A “bra fit expert” had helped me find my new size months ago. But those bras no longer fit, and I had no clue why. Cue my tantrum.
Determined not to waste any more money on new, expensive bras, I bought some ugly but affordable sports bras from Target. The sports bras promised to banish the uniboob look. My purchase said one thing to me: I was winning so hard at life. Unfortunately, the pressure of the fit caused my breasts to ache and throb. When I went bra-less, the bouncing caused pain. On top of this, I googled “the best solutions for dealing with underboob sweat” at least a dozen times. Big yikes!
My mother underwent a hysterectomy after she gave birth to my youngest sister. As the oldest of four female siblings, I’m often the first to go through many reproductive changes. Consequently, I have no point of reference to judge or understand the bodily changes I’m experiencing as I slog my way through my 40s. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “Why have I been kept in the dark on this?”
Public discussion on what happens to women’s bodies is still taboo. A shroud of secrecy surrounds “women’s stuff” like periods, pregnancy, giving birth, postpartum woes, perimenopause, menopause, etc. As adolescents, we internalize society’s message that periods are “gross,” which implies that our hormonal cycles are something to hide. And it doesn’t end with adolescence. Remember when Instagram censored Rupi Kaur’s menstruation-themed photo series for violating community standards? It’s a no-no to show our real lives on social media. Instead, we must keep serving up the carefully curated, color-corrected versions of them.
When you hit middle age, society sends you a flood of new messages. You’re old, unattractive, belligerent, out-of-control, and invisible. Where are the books and blogs written by women for women who are knee-deep in this stage of life? Women hide the messy, uncomfortable parts of their experiences because they’ve been told they’re “too icky,” “too personal,” or “too embarrassing.”
It’s unacceptable. We need to talk about what we aren’t talking about. We need to change the conversation.
Why? If we don’t talk about women’s issues, women’s expectations are that they’re easy. And when they aren’t easy, women feel isolated and alone. Something must be wrong with you and your body. Right?
The docuseries Expecting Amy premiered on July 9, 2020, on the new HBO Max. It follows comedian Amy Schumer through her pregnancy. I’ve been an Amy Schumer fan for some time. She never shies away from showing the messy side of womanhood. While hysterical, she has an emotional frankness I envy. No question, I went into my viewing experience hoping to laugh.
I didn’t expect to sit there nodding my head emphatically in agreement. And I certainly didn’t expect to cry. Schumer created a real gem with this docuseries because she pulls back the curtain and sheds light on women’s issues like infertility, work during pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum, C-sections, and post-partum issues. She says, “I resent the culture and how much women have to suck it the f—k up and act like everything’s fine.”
While Expecting Amy doesn’t deal with perimenopause, it’s raw, real, and honest, and I’m here for that. You should be, too.
The world needs more women like Schumer who aren’t afraid to talk about women’s issues. Talking about something recognized as taboo normalizes it. When trying to normalize the discussion of a taboo topic, you’re challenging someone’s belief that that specific topic shouldn’t be discussed, at all. There is no justification for our silence. Reject the messages society sends you.
These days, my uterus feels like a bowling ball. It’s not just the distended belly that irks me; it’s the feeling of fullness and pressure. My periods? Don’t get me started. Playtex has made a small fortune from me. Since I started synthetic progesterone to stop a stint of uterine bleeding that lasted nearly a month, my moods have become erratic. Who coined the term hot flash anyway? Because it’s not a flash. It’s a torrent.
My OBGYN tells me the pain must be in my head. She’s offered me birth control umpteen times to address my pelvic problems. I tried it. Twice! Yet here I am, no closer to solving the mysteries of my uterus. Not only am I fatigued from the rigors of my everyday life as a parent and writer, but also I’m fatigued from resenting the lack of information and resources available to me. The blank stares I’m offered when I mention menorrhagia or hormone replacement therapy make me want to throw my hands up in frustration. The silence alienates me.
While my symptoms are common, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to perimenopause. Your experience could be a snap. That’s what makes this transition so difficult. All the more reason we need to talk it out.
On a positive note, a rising presence in mainstream media shows change is taking place. Some taboos about women’s bodies are dying because women are opening up in public ways. Because why can’t we talk about this?
You can be part of that change by speaking up on issues affecting you. Share. Ask questions. Normalize our experiences as women. That means all parts of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need each other.