It's frustrating that while society prepares us for puberty with multiple health classes throughout school and lots of books preparing kids for "the change," and the same thing happens for pregnancy and breastfeeding (all the classes, all the books!), you really don't hear much about menopause.
I mean, sure there are the jokes about hot flashes and such. And maybe they talk about it on Golden Girls. But sometimes I think being perceived as an attractive and sexual being is so important to our concept of womanhood, that it's hard to talk about anything that would suggest that you're old or not fertile.
I mean, there's nothing unsexier than your ovaries and your vagina drying up, amirite?
In private though, I find my friends are more than willing to discuss perimenopause and menopause. Take my book club, Puss n Books, for instance. The Puss n Books women love to talk about the things you're not supposed to talk about. Sex. Husbands. Penises. Vaginas. Marriage. Divorce. Infertility. Fertility. Anal sex and clitorises. Well, that used to be the subject of our conversations, but now we tend to talk more about estrogen patches, marijuana lube and vulva gel. We laugh just as much, but I'm sure our conversations are much less sexy than an episode of Sex and the City.
Without including perimenopause as part of the cultural conversation, we leave women unprepared for the physical changes and symptoms that they will inevitably encounter. After a lifetime of sleeping through the night, I now wake up around 1:30 a.m. and can't fall back asleep for an hour or two. It leaves me exhausted by the end of the day. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, the sheets wet just like they were after I gave birth. And other times I find myself incredibly irritable for no discernible reason. The hormonal rollercoaster wrecks havoc on the mind and the body.
And did you know that perimenopause can last for up to ten years before you even hit full menopause? A DECADE. How can we not prepare women for this? With symptoms like fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, acne, vaginal dryness, lowered sex drive, headaches, irregular periods, incontinence, mood swings, forgetfulness ... MY GOD WHERE DOES IT END? ... we really need to give women a head's up on all this.
And guess what else? You can still get pregnant while you're perimenopausal. Yes, you still have to worry about getting knocked up while your body's clock is winding down and closing up the baby shop. It's like you get the worst of both worlds.
Sure there are ways to help you cope with perimenopause. A low-dose birth control can help alleviate symptoms, an antidepressant, a skin patch, a vaginal ring, progesterone injections and suppositories too. But if we don't even realize we're in perimenopause, how on earth would we know to ask for help?
And many of these symptoms I wouldn't even think of mentioning to my doctor. Things like headaches, sore joints and sleeplessness I chalk up to lifestyle and not menopause. I'd just like a head's up. That's all I'm saying.
So this is me giving all my girls ages 30 to 50 a head's up.
Strap on your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.