Tuesday, June 05, 2012

For My Female Readers (And Brave Male Readers) Only

(Any male readers I might have, you are forewarned. This post is all about things men typically don't want to discuss.)

I'm 48 years old, and I had my last period in July 2010. That's nearly 2 years ago. Once a woman hasn't had her period for one year, she is considered to be menopausal. I've been busy thinking, "Man, was I lucky" when it comes to what I've always considered to be one of the worst parts of being a woman, because I didn't get my first period until I was 13 1/2 (I hear some poor kids are getting it as early as age 10 these days), and I wasn't even 50 when it ended.  Sorry. I know there are those who celebrate that special time of the month, and more power to you. I wish I could have been one of those lucky ones who felt exhilarated and creative once a month, but no. That wasn't my fate, and when you are someone who frequently suffered from PMS-induced depression and migraines to be followed by debilitating cramps that made her wish she had a morphine drip by her bed, well, you might understand why I consider myself lucky to be rid of such a nuisance, terribly lucky to have found herself on the lower end of the age-range for the onset of menopause.

The funny thing is I expected, based on all the information that surrounds menopause in our society, that it was going to be something awful -- the worst PMS I ever experienced threefold. I had visions of suddenly becoming suicidal over the fact that I could no longer bear children and had never had a child, or of losing all interest in sex, or of doing something crazy like leaving Bob and selling everything I own to go live in a commune. I thought I'd be cranking up the air conditioning even in the dead of winter, suffering from constant hot flashes that left me miserable. I thought I'd be so tired I'd sleep 15 hours a day or that my insomnia would be worse than ever, and I'd only sleep 3. I will admit that some of this has happened to some degree or other, but, really, I will take menopause over PMS and periods any day. In fact. my worst symptoms have been hot flashes and achy joints, which, once I read the terrific book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause by John R. Lee and Virginia Hopkins and discovered natural progesterone (not to be confused with any sort of progesterone prescription) have all but disappeared.

My own experience with menopause has led me to question why this period in a woman's life has gotten such a bad reputation. I can only surmise that it's jealousy on the part of the men who rule a patriarchal society. I mean, what could any man want more than to reach an age at which he can have all the sex he wants without ever having to worry about 2 a.m. feedings at the age of 67, say, or paying child support at age 82? Forget Freud's so misguided theories of penis envy (only a man could think up the idea that women wished they had penises. What women have always envied are the rights and privileges men have over women in almost all societies. We couldn't give a damn about having penises of our own. I'm sure I'm not the only woman in the world who much prefers having her sexual organs hidden, thank you), I'm convinced men suffer from menopause envy. Because of that, the male scientists and doctors who ruled those professions for so long (and who still do, really, although women continue to make great strides when it comes to breaking into these fields), have convinced women that menopause is much worse than it actually is.

At my last physical, when my doctor and I were discussing menopause, he (who is a great guy who always likes to joke around with Bob and me) said to me, "Funny how I never hear woman complain about no longer having their periods." I mean, why have we come to think of menopause as a bad thing? Those of us who have always suffered with our periods are finally relieved of them. On top of that, we never have to worry about miscalculating the date in any given month and winding up at some special event sans tampons only to discover that we desperately need them. And as far as that goes, I was, just last week. thinking, "Maybe I ought, finally, to get rid of all that once-a-month underwear." I hope you women know what I mean -- that old underwear you keep around for once-a-month because you don't care if it gets "ruined." If you are so inclined (and I most definitely am), you can go out and splurge on all kinds of lovely things at your nearest lingerie shop and never have to put them away for 5-7 days a month, or worry that you might accidentally wear and ruin them at the wrong time. And need I mention the biggest plus of all? You can have sex without having to worry about contraception (and I promise you, especially if you use natural progesterone and read certain books and watch certain movies, your interest doesn't vanish). Please, though, don't tell me about your grandmother who had her only child at age 54, certain by then she didn't need any contraception. I don't want to hear it (and, yes, someone actually did once tell me about such a grandmother).

Speaking of that grandmother who thought she was menopausal and suddenly had a child, I have to tell you about my WTF experience. Here I've been thinking, "No period for a year. I'm safe!" I'm busy buying all kinds of lovely underwear. Never a thought about contraception (something that might be needed when you buy nice, new underwear, which husbands notice in a way they never seem to notice, say, nice, new shoes). Three days ago, I wake up, go to the bathroom, and find myself saying, "Ohmigod, What's that?" as I look at the toilet paper I used to wipe myself. It's an oh-so-familiar sight, and yet I've become so unused to seeing it, I couldn't believe it. Further investigation proved that, yes, I definitely had my period. After nearly two years? Damn! Damn! Damn! Did I even remember how to put in a tampon (from the reserve I kindly keep around the house in case I have any visiting friends who unexpectedly get a visitor of their own)? Yes (it's like riding a bicycle).

That, my friends, is the one great downside of menopause. It's a fickle friend. You never, apparently, do know exactly when you're safe. You can go nearly two years without a period and then suddenly have one. Be careful. My skepticism (so very strong when I was 27) when it comes to menopausal pregnancies is waning. My even bigger question: when can I finally get rid of that once-a-month underwear?


Stefanie said...

Oh Emily, this made me laugh! My mom told me recently that she went through menopause at 48 and I was like, really? Hooray! Only 4 more years to go for me! I hope. Do I ever hope. I think the thing about dreading menopause is that we've all been told how horrible it is because of hot flashes and all that. Plus, it is a reminder that we are getting old(er). I say, bring it on! What a bummer about the surprise you got after 2 years. Hopefully you won't have to wait too much longer before you can get rid of the once-a-month underwear.

GeraniumCat said...

Oh yes, yes, YES! By the time I was 45 or so I couldn't wait for it all to end. Unfortunately, mine wasn't straightforward either and this autumn I have to have my IUD removed to see if it's happened - I dread the thought of going through all that fuss and misery again. I've had 5 years without it, the migraines went from almost constant to rare, which was an unexpected bonus. I can't believe that, at 57, my menopause hasn't just happened during those 5 years, but I do feel some trepidation. So lots of commiserations, and I hope it all goes away soon for you!

PS I think I'm too menopausal to read the captcha thingy...

Anonymous said...

Amen! Now did you go to the doctor to get checked out? A friend of mine recently had the same thing happen after 18 mo and she checked out just fine, but apparently it does warrant going to the doc and having an ultrasound to make sure everything is tickety-boo in there. I expected to sail right through menopause with no ill effects, and was utterly shocked by how often I get hot flashes. So if natural progesterone cures it, tell more, sister please! That is my only complaint. For the rest, I'm with you. It's good times had by all.

Amanda said...

I cannot wait for menopause. To be able travel or go camping without the risk of suddenly having to deal with hemorrhaging great gouts of blood- what bliss. I will not miss hormonal migraines one bit either. Hope the recent occurrence is just a temporary blip and you can get back to enjoying a period free life again soon.

Anonymous said...

This made me laugh! I'm assuming that my menopause is years away, but I'm not really worried about it. I've always thought it's the sort of thing where you hear the horror stories, not the 'Well, actually, it was kind of fine' stories.

Keep stockpiling that lovely lingerie, and one day you can ceremonially burn the once-a-month stuff.

Susan said...

After two years, how awful! See? there are so many of us who can't wait to not have them any more. No matter how hard I try, they end up messy at that time of month, blood everywhere. I had the mood swings (I'd cry for two weeks of the month and get ever so angry), and the terrible awful cramps that made me hunch over and curl up and try to never move again. I've been winding down this year, thankfully, six months between - I am so happy! the downside is, like this week, when my body seems to be trying to have it, so I'm always waiting to see. No way can I get rid of the time of the month underwear yet! Too soon....

I agree with Lillian though, go get it checked out, because after it's stopped for that long and then starts up again, it could be a sign of something else.

This post had me nodding my head and agreeing with everything you said. I won't miss it at all, I can hardly wait! I want to be free of it! I know it is natural and I've tried to love it, but really, it hurt so much and was so messy and I think I've been counting down to when it stops since I was 15!

litlove said...

My hand is right up there as someone who can't wait for the whole sorry business to end. Ever since I hit my 40s the PMS has been getting worse and worse, so I've been dreading menopause as some sort of horrific, evil climax to the ongoing bad stuff. How wonderful if it all just stopped easily and simply... even if there is the occasional hiccup! Thank you for giving me hope!

Emily Barton said...

Stef, I will keep my fingers crossed for you that you will follow in your mom's footsteps and only have four more years to go.

GC, and I hope it all goes away for you soon, too! Good luck.

Lilian, yes, thanks, I talked to my doctor who isn't concerned this month. He says he'll want to see me if it happens again next month, though. Natural progesterone cream has been fabulous for me. I'm using Pro-Gest by Emerita. I'd highly recommend reading the book, too.

Amanda, yes, to be so "free and easy" is definitely one of the pluses of menopause.

Ms. Musings, I'm stockpiling. Writing that post inspired me to buy some more.

Susan, oh, I well remember that "waiting to see" stage. So annoying! I hope you are soon well on your way to being rid of it.

Litlove, I, too, suffered from much worse PMS beginning in my late thirties and into my forties. Apparently, natural progesterone cream works for PMS, too (if only I'd known back then). You might want to try it.