Perimenopause for my daughters
Are you edging closer to being 50? What did you think when you looked in the mirror today? Has your bum dropped? Did your boobs fit into the bra you wore yesterday? And was that actually a whisker on your chin?
OMG!!!! Well, welcome to perimenopause. Symptoms tend to start around the mid-’40s and on average a woman is in full menopause by age 52. Think of it as puberty in reverse. When we were teenagers our hormones kicked in and we started to bleed. We have passed our best childbearing years and the hormones are winding down. (The symptoms can happen earlier and later too.) Have you ever read that odd article about a 60-year-old giving birth?
Normally though, this is the time of your life when your ovaries start shrivelling to resemble prunes. My daughter sits smack bang on the cusp of menopause and terrible mother that I am; I haven’t warned her about the signs to look for. Given my mum never told me this stuff and she was the product of a Victorian mum – is it any wonder I carry the vestiges of that Victorian age and have remained mum, so to speak, with my daughters. Women’s parts were not spoken of and a face to face conversation is embarrassing. In the Victorian age, it was believed that women were predisposed to insanity and hysterics during menopause. Our great grandmothers just grit their teeth and bore it – if they were lucky to be still alive.
From 1500 – 1800 the average life expectancy for women was about 40. Virtually – breed and die, so never any menopause discussions. In the 1800s the average life span was 50, so again, no discussion on women’s body changes. With better medicinal practices, menopause is a 20th-century event. I’m sure as we move into the 21st century, the old apprehensions and myths may disappear as the ‘sisterhood’ collaborate and commiserate.
My eldest daughter has just turned 47, but I’m pretty sure her brain still sends signals that she is 30. She knocks back a vodka, turns the music up a notch and after another couple of vodkas, she is dancing around the lounge to Keith Urban. It warms my heart to see such happiness, so how do I crush her mindset and expostulate the whys and wherefores of menopause. I had better give this information to my other daughter too, who at 44, is bordering all the shite that comes with the ‘change’ of life.
My menopause was inherited from my grandmother. Yippee do dah! My estrogen and progesterone quietly diluted, so by age 50 my periods stopped and that was it. A full 15 years of night sweats, the urge to Nana nap and nothing much else to grumble about. I also inherited ‘spontaneous births’ from my grandmother. No labour pains – my waters break and 20 minutes later the baby drops out. I kid you not!!! I had 3 like that. One in a car, one in a bed and one in the toilet. We always joked we should have called my boy Louis. LOL!!! My grandmother had 7 babies in this way. Of her 13 grand-daughters, I was the only genetically blessed. My daughters did not inherit this gene, so the likely hood of breezy menopause is not stacking up.
Both girls are fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. Their offspring don’t give them too much trouble. Normal teenage arcing up, but they were loved and disciplined enough to see them grow into responsible adults. So mentally my girls are sane because they are going to need to be. Especially the eldest daughter, who is very attractive and wrinkles alarm the crap out of her. She came home the other day having had 80 needles in her face to re-activate collagen. WTAF????? Wrinkles are a badge of honour! The more eye wrinkles you have; the more laughter you have had in your life and as they say "laughter is good for the soul"
So, as their bodies change it is time to admit what other women experience. There are those who have an easy time of it and more that rise and dip on a roller coaster ride as the estrogen and progesterone dwindles. Time for enlightenment, before the symptoms flourish.
First, the whiskers appear on your chin. Big thick white ones too. Make sure you buy the very best of tweezers. Then white hairs suddenly reach your eyebrows. The hair on your lip grows more like a moustache and you sincerely think you can take part in Movember. It seems like every 10-14 days the hair needs to be waxed off.
Yep, this grows longer too, and white ones just seem to want to hang out of your nostril for the whole world to be reminded that you are not as young as you used to be. I scared the bejeevers out of my grandson one day, emerging from the bathroom with 2 cotton buds up each nostril, waiting for the wax to solidify and rip the bloody hairs out. Let me clarify that internet advise frowns on this method though, but vanity requires desperate measures.
Pubic hair thins out. Leg hair doesn’t need shaving so often. Your crowning glory of head hair will start to thin too. Doesn’t make sense, does it? It grows on your chin, but not on your fanny. My Nana, bless her heart, had hair so fine and thin, she wore a hairnet over her hair. Hair loss is noticeable when your shower drain hole is clogged up.
Similar feelings apply to motion sickness, but essentially we lose our balance. Don’t go standing on stepstools any more. Those days of changing lightbulbs are gone. You know – when you get sick of asking your husband to do it and know that if you want something doing, you just do it yourself. I once had a friend who was hospitalised for vertigo – when the dizzy, wobbly feeling just wouldn’t stop. And, no, you can’t blame that on too many wines.
Plummeting Estrogen Levels
Hormones are the messengers in the body that travel through the bloodstream. As your ovaries release fewer hormones, your body no longer regulates chemical functions to release estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This can be treated with HRT. Having controversial risks in recent years, it is worthwhile searching the internet for information to see if drug medication, such as HRT, or natural therapies would work better for your body.
If, like me, you used to wear bra size B cup, then in your 40’s that moves to a C cup and then in your 50’s to a D cup. – did you think it was only your grandmother whose boobs hung down to her waist? You just wait – your turn is coming. Consider it a bonus for your husband though.
Your hubby might have to wait a few years, to enjoy those fuller breasts because your breasts will get tender, just like when you were pregnant. The horror of horrors that you would have to take a pregnancy test to ease your mind though. And on the serious side, if the soreness is not due to perimenopause, consult your Doctor to allay cancer fears.
Commonly called ‘middle-age spread’. All these metabolism changes mean you gain weight around the middle and trust me – it is harder to shift. Your metabolism is no longer forgiving. Estrogen levels change the structure of body fat deposits – moving fat predominantly to the belly area. But don’t blame that extra curvy waist on cream cakes and pies, unless you are indulging. Menopause means deprivation if you want to keep your svelte figure. Anything with sugar in it will turn to fat instantly. Be warned.
I never thought I would ever wet myself, until one day I was laughing so hard and – yep – that did it. If I sneeze or cough, I have to quickly cross my legs and work those pelvic muscles. To help prevent incontinence – when I go to the toilet, I pee, stop midstream, hold it in, then repeat twice more. Keep those bladder muscles tight, so at age 80, you won’t be in an old folks home wearing a nappy. Perish the thought!! If your bladder is a serious issue, do consult a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist for help.
Reduced estrogen means that the body’s collagen tissue isn’t as elastic as it once was. With advertising in the 21st century aimed at making us age and body-conscious; if your wrinkles make you feel older than you look, you could try Botox, intricate skincare routines or plastic surgery. This is extreme. You don’t seriously want to look like The Joker. The best advice is to grow old gracefully and love your wrinkles.
Have you felt emotionless, bored, inert and utterly fatigued? Are you an empty nester feeling the disconnect and sadness of kids leaving home? Do you still have teenagers at home that don’t do anything around the house? Are you always shouting and irritable? Take heart – this is all-natural. Grab a wine and whinge to your BFF’s. They will all be feeling similar and nothing better than to laugh it out. There are specific drugs for menopause depression, but difficult to wean yourself off them. Please do your research before going down this path. I’m no Dr. but I suggest usage as a temporary measure only.
We all do it, don’t we? Walk from one room to another and forget what we went there for. I drive down the road and have a sudden mind blank and forget where I am going. Oh lordy! It takes a good few seconds for the brain fog to clear. Concentration at work can sometimes be an issue. It’s that lack of estrogen giving us cloudy thinking.
I was always proud of my memory. I never forgot a birthday, but that all changed when the estrogen started to diminish. Now I have to keep dates marked on a calendar. And woefully embarrassing, I find myself forgetting names and have started using colloquial terms like mate and doll and pet. I’m hoping this doesn’t get worse and blow out to dementia. Fingers crossed!
Called PMT in our younger years. With the monthly period due, the hormone in-balance could make us cranky, irritable, intolerant and anxious. This mood disturbance can worsen in menopause. Take heart, there is an explanatory chemical reaction. Serotonin is a mood fluctuation neurotransmitter. Fluctuating estrogen and progesterone, cause serotonin disruption, which translates to mood swings.
Perspiring profusely during the night is ‘night sweats’. You throw the covers off, hang your legs out of the bed or open the window; all in an effort to cool off. Meantime your partner thinks he is in Antarctica because he has the doona around his neck. God forbid that he should try to cuddle in. ‘Get off me” is what you scream at him, as the sweat runs down your back and under your armpits. This can come and go for years and years. I speak from experience on this one.
Lucky me – I only ever had 1 hot flash. We were having dinner with friends when this sudden intense warmth went threw my body. My face felt like it was on fire and my skin turned blush red. Not pretty! I perspired under my arms and felt dizzy. It didn’t last long but enough to feel such empathy for women who experience hot flashes on a constant basis.
As menopause approaches, it is common for your period bleeding to fluctuate between heavy and light bleeding. The length of days fluctuates as well. It is so erratic that you can’t count on your regular cycle any more. There is nothing worse that your period going rogue and bleeding profusely for a week. But, if this continues, do consult a Dr. as you may be in danger of haemorrhaging and require a hysterectomy.
Not meaning to sound crass, but women notice that from being overly wet when aroused, there is no mucus being produced. Sex can become very uncomfortable and vaginal lubricants are required. Low oestrogen makes the skin thinner, drier and less elastic. Do you notice the dry skin on your lower legs? All part of the process.
Is your sex drive non-existent? And it seems like your partner just wants more of it. We are tired and cranky, probably working full time and running a family household. And he wants more sex. Seriously!! All we want to do is sleep. This lack of interest worries some women, whereas others are happy with sex once a year. It depends on your attitudes and that of your partner. If really concerned about the effects on your relationship, then seek assistance from a professional counsellor. Libido (sexual desire) tends to be lowered in women at both perimenopause and menopause. What is not clear is the relationship between hormone levels and sexual dysfunction.
Skin tags resemble warts and are small growths that appear on the skin. Imagine a wrinkly, brown grain of rice attached to your body. They comprise of collagen and blood vessels and are usually found in the folds of the skin, such as armpits and groin. For vanity reasons, your GP can cut them off.
Disturbed, fragmented sleep plays havoc with your daily lifestyle. Are you awake in the night with mundane subjects mixing around in your head? Or maybe you toss and turn trying to get to sleep. Most women say that about 2 am they are wide awake and can’t get back to sleep. However, you are affected, consult a Dr for the best solutions.
Dimples in the skin can also be blamed on perimenopause. With decreased blood flow to the connective tissue under the skin, the fat under the skin protrudes, causing cellulite. Middle age sees skin become less elastic and more likely to sag.
Remember I said your bum drops and your boobs go south. Well, there is one more thing that sags. A loose or sloppy palate. That flutter sound of loud snoring? Well, brace yourself for that happening too. It might mean you have separate bedrooms and say “Good morning darling” in the hallway.
Life will get simpler. Imagine no fear of pregnancy. No contraceptives. No periods. Money saved buying sanitary products. With your newfound freedom, you will dress for comfort (out with the thong knickers). You will empathise with your partner as he experiences similar symptoms, like memory loss, depression and hot flushes. The old fella might not be able to get the old fella up, so our women’s problems may seem pale in comparison.
Hopefully, my daughters won’t feel like jumping off a cliff after reading all this. They will know that a decaying body doesn’t stop us from doing whatever we like. They just need to look towards their mum to know we do cope and we live through all this adversity with a smile on our face.
I’ll leave you with a weird fact. Humans share menopause with only two other species – pilot whales and killer whales.
Written by Mona Hecke
Mona Hecke is a degree qualified Naturopath, nutrition specialist and health and wellness writer.
With over 20 years in the health industry, beginning with a focus on children and families, and a bestselling book ‘The Lunchbox Revolution’, Mona is now empowering women through education and conversation to take action and embrace change. Gut health, mindfulness, nutrition, hormones, and menopause are the topics that women want and need to know to create their healthy future.
Mona holds certifications in Lifestyle Coaching, Kinesiology, holistic herbal medicine, and nutrition.
A recognised leader in the health industry, Mona’s strong social media presence and passion for influencing change will continue to be a catalyst for health reform for the benefit of every Australian.