Early menopause — in her own words
Going into menopause early means you need to love yourself more and get the medical attention you need.
Thirty is the new 20, 40 is the new 30…. until it’s not. My 40th birthday was to be the beginning of fertility treatments and the excitement of planning to be a single mom after years of dating that had proven fruitless. Forty had another surprise in store for me, however, with the abrupt stop of my menses.
There was nothing in my family history that would have predicted this. My mom and aunts had gone into menopause in their late 40s, early 50s, “like normal.” Having started at age 11 and never once missed a month since, I naively, secretly, and happily thought I might have been pregnant from a relationship that had ended the month before when my period stopped.
The next month I had a very light period, however, so I scratched that idea but thought I should see my ob-gyn when the month after that was extremely light (spotty almost) as well.
Hard to forget that day. The ob-gyn came in, did an exam, ran a test, and left. And then came back in. I can still see her face as she told me, somewhat glibly, that I was in menopause. I asked — dumbfounded and shocked — “so, wait, you mean I can’t have babies?” No. “Well, what about having eggs harvested?” “Nope. Too late.” And she left.
“Nope. Too late.”
I numbly got dressed, walked out and didn’t go to an ob-gyn doctor again for five years. Denial and rebellion ensued.
My period pretty much stopped immediately, and the hot flashes and urinary tract infections (UTIs) began. The mental head games weren’t fun either, as I dated and battled with how I would tell my boyfriends (another post, another day).
Odd things happened as well — my handwriting that had often been praised as beautiful started to become incoherent. I went to a psychiatrist about my mental fog and he gave me Prozac. Never made the connection. Of course it would have helped had I told him. He never suspected, given my “youth.”
Fast forward to 45. I decided it was time to accept my fate and went to an ob-gyn. While I had been “playing” with some herbal remedies, I still was apprehensive. The doctor I saw was lovely. He recommended hormone therapy as a trial for three months to see if it improved my symptoms and scheduled a bone density test for me that afternoon. I left feeling better, optimistic, and had my test.
At 10 the next morning the nurse called and said the doctor wanted to see me back immediately. I was petrified, thinking maybe I had cancer, an STD, anything. The doctor told me that my bone density was extremely low and that my hormone replacement was no longer a trial but permanent and very necessary for me to maintain supple bones as I grew older. I had the bone mass density of a 63-year-old, at 45.
My five-year, self-imposed menopause denial and consequent medical hiatus was a mistake, and it cost me my health in many regards.
Lessons learned from early onset menopause
You cannot control when your body goes into perimenopause or full-on menopause. What you can do is get educated, re-examine the best time for you to have your own biological children if this is important to you, and understand your body and what you can do to best take care of yourself before, during and after.
- Realize that not everyone goes through a perimenopause stage. I didn’t. My period was normal the month before it stopped, and no other symptoms were present (that I was aware of) up until the day it stopped.
- Continue to have regular checkups. Your doctors, health practitioners, holistic shamans are your friends and ready to help.
- Ask questions. While I had been having regular checkups throughout my 30s, I treated them like I did when I was 18. Get educated about perimenopause.
- Consider your timeframe for children and plan accordingly — perhaps earlier than you may otherwise have. Even my married friends with kids had trouble conceiving in their 40s. The Hollywood lies we had believed in the 90s weren’t really accurate.
- Realize that there are some good things — I was the envy of many friends on numerous trips with no cramps or soiled sheets, and many boyfriends were actually pleasantly surprised to not have to deal with a four-day hiatus in our sex lives. Many boyfriends didn’t want children, and therefore my menopause was a non-issue for them.
- Your body has brought you far and deserves to be taken care of — by you. By the time you reach menopause. you have both been through a lot. Perhaps you had kids, or not, or maybe not as many as you desired. Either way, your body is the vehicle that hosts your beautiful soul, and it needs to be taken care of as you age. Not getting the medical attention you need is not the answer.
Understanding the journey of menopause before you get there is a gift you give yourself.
— guest blog from Anne M