This is what I experienced, and what I wish I’d known then.
A few months before I became pregnant, my OB/GYN suggested a hysterectomy. I was thirty-nine, with benign uterine fibroid tumors that made me feel as if I were dying or trying to deliver a baby every period. It wasn’t pretty.
Talk about a pronouncement that lights a fire under you. He’d been my doctor for nearly twenty years. He knew me. But he didn't know me as well as he thought. I told him no hysterectomy, that I wanted a fibroid-ectomy, and that I wanted it immediately.
Within six months after the surgery, I was pregnant. Not by my husband, whom I was in the process of divorcing because he didn’t want children. That’s how I became a single mom at forty-one.
When I went to confirm the pregnancy, my OB/GYN said, “Carol, you’re full of surprises.”
Today many more women are having babies into their forties. When I was a new mother, twenty-seven years ago, I was a phenomenon. Not only was I forty-one when my son was born, he was my first, and as it turns out, my only child.
All my friends had older children, some in their teens. They were good for going to for advice, but new motherhood is lonely enough, without having no peers with children your child’s age. And when we all hit peri-menopause and menopause, their offspring were much older than mine.
When he was around eight or nine, I hit the end of peri-menopause and the beginning of menopause. Goddess help us all.
Fortunately, I had a wholistic doctor who prescribed HRT, hormone replacement therapy. Before that, though, there were times of the month I became an overwrought ball of nerves.
The apex was the day I called a friend, “Please come get this boy.” My voice shook and I was nearly in tears. It scared her. She asked, “Is he okay?”
“Yes,” I answered, “But I’m not.” Of course, I hadn’t hurt him. But I had yelled at him, and I was shaking and guilt ridden.
That may not sound so serious, but to me it was. I had a temper, but I always worked on controlling it around him, and most especially when I felt anger toward him. I had always been able to calm down. Not that day.
She came, and he went with her and her son, none the wiser. He just thought of it as a fun outing. I made an appointment with the new doctor that week.
Hormone Replacement therapy, or HRT, was miracle medication for me. I’ve written about it before in reference to improving sex for older women. This is the first I’ve written about how it benefitted my mental health. I’m writing it now because so many older women are having children currently, and they, too, will experience peri-menopause and menopause when their children are still young.
Unfortunately for a time, one poorly designed research study convinced women to stop HRT. The study has never been reproduced. Some of us got off for awhile, but I got back on quickly when I realized how it helped me self-regulate.
My new doctor did make one mistake. She put me on thyroid medication when she considered my levels marginal. She was an alternative, D.O., and she viewed the numbers differently than more traditional M.D.s. My levels show up as normal in every check since.
I took the thyroid medication for awhile, and then, for reasons I no longer remember, I stopped.
A few months after my fiftieth birthday, my son and I went to New Orleans. As a child, he loved the city. We stayed in a haunted bed and breakfast, and rode the trolley to Audubon Park. Breakfasted on beignets at Cafe Du Mond, and caught beads from floats at one of the many parades.
We stayed several days longer than planned. I’d had my first panic attack ever on the huge bridge crossing the Mississippi on the way into the city.
Surrounded by trucks and other cars, I was in the middle lane, when I began to feel faint. I couldn’t breathe, and was sure I was about to pass out. I cranked up the air, and in a preternaturally calm voice, told my son that I might need him to hold the steering wheel if he saw me nod off. I then, as carefully but quickly as possible, maneuvered to the far left lane, and took the first exit available.
Fortunately, I maintained consciousness, but was terrified to drive again after we arrived at our B&B. New Orleans is a walkable city, and has free trolleys to to the historic homes, attractions, and parks, so we were fine. Until it was time to go back.
I called everyone I could think of and offered to fly them there if they could drive us home. No one could. After overstaying our time at the B&B, I finally pulled up my big girl panties and started the drive home. Other than having to deep breathe and maintain a death grip on the steering wheel over every overpass, I was able to get us home without mishap.
When I arrived back, I told the story to another therapist who asked if I had recently stopped taking thyroid meds. Turns out, you can’t stop those cold turkey without experiencing some weird mental fall-out, such as panic attacks. They persisted for over ten years on overpasses and bridges. My son got usesd to my long detours to avoid the highest ones.
I no longer have panic attacks on bridges, and post-menopause, my anger is nearly completely non-existent except toward the injustices of our larger world. Mindfulness and the right anti-depressant, and yes, good HRT, has me on a very even keel.
I wish I’d had all that when my son was younger. I’d found the “Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle when he was nine, around the time I started HRT, so with hormones and Mindfulness, things leveled out some in time for his teens. I’m a therapist, so he grew up knowing about mental illness. He understands now what was going on. I hope he isn’t too scarred.