I used to snigger when I saw them at social events, older women who fanned themselves vigorously from time to time even though the air conditioning in the room was on full blast, who were uncharacteristically irritable for no just cause. I would say knowingly to myself, she is experiencing hot flashes, and even though it’s winter outside, it’s summer in the inner recesses of her body.
Well!!! I am not sniggering anymore because I have joined that class of women who suddenly feel hot in-spite of the coolness of their environment, who break out in a sweat, feel nauseous or sick for a second or two, who suddenly dislike themselves and everything that used to bring them joy, who become reclusive and find it difficult to relate with others preferring to be left alone, who become depressed even when they have no reason to be.
Why don’t they ever tell us what we are destined to go through as women?
It seems to me that everything that makes one a woman – from menstruation, sex, childbirth and menopause is shrouded in mystery and sarcasm and I wonder why? but the story is changing. More and more, women are opening up on the taboos of womanhood, helping other women to anticipate, prepare for and understand the changes in their bodies as they age.
Menopause is actually something most women look forward to, who wouldn’t? after having bled periodically for at least 25 years, especially if the flow was heavy and accompanied with pains, discomfort, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting in some cases. Who wouldn’t look forward to the ceasing of being conscious of how we eat, sit, sleep, play and dress, of not being afraid of having unprotected sex, of not having to use hormone changing birth control methods, but alas we were not informed that the blood flow does not go as easily as it came.
We were not told that it will be a reluctant farewell on the part of our menstrual cycle. That it will go in fits and stops at first causing us anxiety that our birth control methods have failed, then joy, that we are finally free to have unprotected sex or go about without having a pad, tampon or menstrual cup within reach, and when we have counted months of no show and are beginning to look forward to saying good riddance to bloodily rubbish, it spots, makes a few sploshes just to remind us that it’s not yet Eureka and that it is there lurking in our depths.
It is said that menopause is a day’s event and what a day. The journey to that day starts from what is known as peri menopause which is said to be the transitional period when the body starts transitioning to menopause characterized by the production of less hormones by the ovaries and the menstrual cycle becoming erratic and irregular. It’s akin to packing one’s bag to go on a journey, you start with buying what you need, assembling them, packing, then getting dropped off at the bus station or airport, boarding the flight and finally getting to your destination. The only difference between perimenopause and a journey is that perimenopause normally begins between the ages of 40-55, can last at least seven years and has several unanticipated detours.
Pre menopausal symptoms are varied both in their occurrence and intensity, some people have it mild, others severe, whilst a minority go through it unaware. They include hot flashes, sleep problems, night sweats, mood swings, brain fog, vaginal dryness, panic attacks, lack of sexual desire, weight gain especially in the belly area, depression and the list goes on and on. The symptoms sort of creep upon us and many a time as testified by many women; we wake up one morning with a feeling that something is wrong with us although we may not be able to pinpoint what the problem is.
It is very disheartening that with the amount of knowledge out there on the internet and in the hospitals, a lot of people including medical doctors do not easily connect the dots the way they do when women present themselves in the clinic with premenopausal symptoms especially as they are quick to call for pregnancy tests when she has few of the symptoms attributed to menopause though in their defense, these symptoms are common to many ailments and diseases.
I know at least three people who had several symptoms though disjointed and who after visiting the doctors severally and running all manner of tests, were left with no diagnosis but who knew to the bewilderment and even impatience of their partners and sometimes doctors that something was misplaced. It took a chance occurrence with mostly non-medical personnel and reading up of some of the symptoms for them to lay the blame at the doorstep of perimenopause and oh the relief they experienced when they could finally put a name to what ailed them as the fact that they knew something was wrong but not what was wrong was a source of concern and anxiety in itself.
You may ask what then menopause is, if perimenopause is all I have described.
Menopause is said to happen when a woman has gone twelve months without a menstrual period; that’s why it is referred to as a day’s event. Once you count a total of 12 months from the date of the last period you are said to be in menopause, unfortunately, the effects of perimenopause still linger on for a while after menopause occurs as the body adjusts to its new reality.
The treatment for menopause depends on the severity of the symptoms, some women are prescribed hormonal therapy, for some sleep, exercise, change in diet, natural supplements such as evening primrose oil and therapy makes a whole lot of difference. The key is understanding what is going on in one’s body and that one has the necessary understanding and support.
Because menopause affects women physically, mentally and emotionally there is a tendency that her relationships will suffer, it’s either she becomes irritable or unusually subdued and unable to play her part as a mother to her children who wonder what’s come over her or she lashes out on her partner by refusing sexual advances, or even his support preferring to be left alone. Also not readily talked about is the predisposition of women to illness such as autoimmune conditions, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer because of the changes in the hormonal structure and the decrease in estrogen in the body.
Perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are major events in the life of women and it should begin to feature in our conversations amongst ourselves and also with our children and men. Talking about it will make us more relatable to our loved ones, save our friendships, marriages and even ourselves.
This thing called menopause…is akin to midlife crisis ooo.