Tuesday, 8 April 2014

12 things I wish I'd been told about the Big M

I was going to title this “For Women of a Certain Age” but I realised that that was making assumptions, and the one thing we've learned about assumptions in the reproductive health sense is that we cannot make them.

I'm writing this nervously too, knowing that anyone googling my real name (potential employers, for example) could in fact find themselves here, men or women.  I hope that the fact that I'm writing under a pseudonym, and that I'm writing about intimate women’s issues, will let them know this is not for them, and turn them away now.  NOW!  Because this is a warning of TMI (Too Much Information) for pretty much everyone.  When I tell my husband what I'm about to tell you, he covers his ears and makes loud noises.  So hopefully, that warning will turn anyone else away too.  Though my husband isn't usually so lucky, as my response is “if I have to live it, you at least have to hear about it!”   These are things women share, privately, in the kitchens during dinner parties, or in cafes, or on the driveway after lunch, or in the bathrooms at work amongst other women of or approaching a certain age.  These are not things we share with men.  They know it happens.  But they don’t really want to know.  Consider yourself warned.

I know this isn't a No Kidding related post.  But I feel it sits better here, in a community that is predominantly women, that is knowledgeable about our reproductive systems, and that is accustomed to talking about things that are generally considered to be TMI.

Twelve things I wish someone had told me about the lead up to menopause:
  1. Men don’t understand what you’re going through.  They’ll have a rough idea, based on general knowledge and bad jokes on American TV sitcoms.  And the truth is, they don’t want to know what you’re going through.  I try to tell my husband some of the TMI details, and he covers his ears and makes loud signs.  My response is “if I have to live it, you have to hear it.”  Don't get me wrong, he is sympathetic.  But until it happened to me, he had no idea.  And would rather not know.

  2. Weight will arrive.  It will sneak up on you, and it is difficult to shift, even though I exercise regularly at the gym.  I always thought that was a clichĂ©.  Um.  No, it’s not.  Don’t let it sneak up, and don’t assume you will be able to get rid of it in the way you did even a few years ago.

  3. Emotions will go up and down like a yo-yo.  Again, because you’re feeling them, they sneak up and don't seem so unusual.  I - finally - managed to recognise the mood changes, and reel them in a little.  Fortunately, this aspect seems to have abated recently.  All I’ll say is that my husband’s a saint.  (Shh.  Sometimes.  Don’t tell him.)

  4. Our reproductive parts, having already caused many of us such grief, might just quietly go to sleep and turn out the lights without a word.  But equally, as a dear friend commented to me recently, some of us might find that our parts are not dying down quietly, they're going out screaming. Loudly.

  5. And this is the thing no-one ever tells you.  Well, no-one ever told me.  I wish women were warned, because I have tolerated this for too long.  I have been dealing with regular chainsaw massacre-like events.  The nine hour flight to Singapore was no fun, and I was nervous for weeks in advance that on our South African safari the lions would smell blood and attack!  (Fortunately, for once, timing was on my side and attacks were averted.)  Having googled a little, I tolerated this because I thought it was normal.  It is common.  But it is not necessarily normal.  And there are degrees.  So talk to your doctor, because …

  6. There is medication that can reduce the carnage, and make your life more tolerable.   Actually, this is relevant for anyone, no matter what age, who might be similarly inflicted.  I am going to talk to my niece about it.  I don't think she knows.

  7. Living in a hot climate might help.  When I was in Qatar and Jordan last year, at 40-plus Celsius, I didn't even notice if I was having hot flushes.  (OK, that’s not a serious one, but it was good not to notice them!) There are degrees of hot flushes too.  Sometimes they're just a gentle flush of heat.  Other times, it feels as if you're suddenly thrust into a sauna.

  8. They estimate that up to 80% of women have fibroids by the time they reach menopause. Many women have them, but as they have no symptoms, they're not even aware of it. Fibroids can cause major problems - heavy bleeding, pain, frequent urination, etc.  We've all heard of the stories of people growing huge basketball-size fibroids.  But what I didn't know was that even one or two can do a lot of damage.  And they grow and multiply quickly in those last ten years before the Big M. That pregnant-looking belly may not just be down to mid-life weight gain.

  9. Most importantly, if I was back in my early 40s now, I would do things differently.  In particular, I would get my FSH checked every year or two, to see where I was in the process.  I would certainly get it checked if I noticed disturbing changes.  Why didn't I? Because I didn't realise that it would help me know if my symptoms are normal, or whether further investigations are necessary.  My gynaecologist said that my FSH indicates that everything should be over by now.  Yet, up until about six months ago, I was still reasonably regular.  But apparently that wasn't normal.

  10. Talking is good.  In fact, talk to your older female friends, your mother, your aunts, older sisters.  Find out what was normal for them, so you get an idea about what might or might not happen. Some of them will tell you just to wait and it will be over.  Don't listen to them.  Talk to your doctor instead.  It might be the case that you can just wait.  It might not.  (Not, in my case it turns out).

  11. Listen to women who are going through this, understand, empathise, and learn.  But please don’t compare your own sterling health/regularity with theirs, even if you want to be over it too.  (I'm not sure if I did this myself or not, but I wish I'd thought about it).  If you’re not having difficulties, don't be pleased with yourself.  I've had a number of people do this and it makes me feel broken and judged and old before my time (even though it is not, apparently, "before my time") all over again.  (One woman's comments - about how "normal" (or the implication being, exceptional) she was because everything was continuing without change at a couple of years older than me - took me right back to the dinner table conversation we had had years ago when she and her husband were asking about my ectopic pregnancy, and he said proudly, smugly even, "my wife, she has no problems.")  The best reaction was from a friend who said "I want to hear it all.  I'm following you in a year or two, and want to be prepared."  She may not have any issues (she's not that much younger than me, and so far so good).  But she listened.

  12. Remember that ultimately, it’s just another transition in life.  One I was not looking forward to, but one I realise now is no big deal.  One that will give us more freedom than we, as women, have ever had.  Think about that freedom, what it means, what we've put up for months, years, decades, and what we can - when we’re ready - cast aside, both physically and emotionally.  It is not an end, it is a beginning. I am now ready, and I am welcoming it. Nothing is ever simple though.  Changes for me, it seems, will come surgically next month. To be honest, I can't wait.


14 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this. I, for one, am eager to read it. I'm only 33 but my AMH level last years indicates I could be dealing with it in a (very short) decade. So I am very curious to hear more about it. Thanks for being honest enough to share you experience so far.

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  2. Thanks for writing this. I'm going through menopause too. I wrote recently on LWB that I was doing good and thought it was all over. Not so fast. I had fibroids when I was younger and I am going to the dr this month to see if they are back and growing. Had excruciating pain a few days ago that almost sent me to the emergency room. And I agree talking to your friends is not always best. People I talked to lied about their symptoms -- many people want to make you think you are the only one with hot flashes and everything else. All I can think is there is a shame stigma to this like infertility. Finally, I agree that the heat helps. I started doing hot yoga 2 years ago and I no longer get hot flashes. Or maybe I do and I don't notice them anymore because I'm so used to the heat in hot yoga. Whatever the reason, it makes them much more tolerable. Hope you are feeling better soon. Always love your articles.

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    1. You're absolutely right, there is a "shame stigma" to menopause, and I'm sure the younger you are the worse it is. But friends/relatives who are a few years older than me seem quite smug that they are still regular, making me feel shamed too. Even though I know I shouldn't be.

      That's really interesting about the heat!

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  3. THANKS for writing this. I'm going on to 36 years old, but I love getting insight of what to expect. Loving your attitude and openness!

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  4. Thanks for Not Assuming ... of a certain age...! Like Esperanza, I was told at 35 that menopause was almost there, that my eggs were over.

    owhh, why did my comment disappear?
    I started googling what to look out for, but had to stop because every other hit told me it would be So Much Better For My Health if I could have been pregnant.

    I did ask my fertility doctor when I should come back for health issues, and he told me only to come back after four weeks of bleeding. FOUR WEEKS? not normal if you ask me.
    O well. I'm 41 now. My GP gave me a blood test form with many boxes checked, including FSH, and LH even. I haven'thad the courage to go and get tested, I almost thought there is no point. So thank you for pointing it out.
    And I'll start tracking my weight as well instead of stepping of the scale and thinking the number wasn't too different from yesterday.

    PS for me as a not native speaker there was not enough information in your post, rather than Too Much ;-)

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    1. I did delete a lot of the Too Much Information - it was just too much, even for me, to put out there. Needless to say, it was gory.

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  5. I'm sorry you're going thru this.

    It isn't inevitable for everyone. I keep waiting to see if it will come to me, but in three years now it hasn't . I think what made the big difference is i changed my diet tremendously about 6 years before i hit that point. Typical diets these days very much contribute to infertility and menopause issues.

    I don't want to sound unsympathetic or unkind. I'm not blaming folks. We've not been taught what truly healthy eating involves, and the ramifications of typical diets these days.

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    1. Of course it is not inevitable for everyone. There are many women who don't get any symptoms (a close friend of mine just found her periods stopped, and that was it - lucky thing!). Genes have a lot to do with it too. This is the reason I titled the post "Things I wish I had been told" not "Things I think all women should be told." Lots of women have completely different symptoms to me too.

      I will look into diet, but I eat healthily, cook everything from scratch, don't have any food allergies, etc.

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    2. Yes, I do feel angry with what you wrote Kathryn. I know what healthy eating is and it's not the holy grail, at least it wasn't for me. I think it's easy to think that something that works for one person, changing diet, can work for another. It's not true as those of us who couldn't get pregnant and have children despite cutting alcohol, caffeine etc found out.

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  6. Thank you for your post. I do think it sits well here as menopause is another marker in our infertility journey and another moment of (re)gaining acceptance of what is. I hope things are better for you soon. I meet women who have all handed me cards for various naturopaths. They don't hide the symptoms but I haven't heard as much about fibroids, etc.

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  7. Coincidentally, I had my annual Pap/checkup with my ob-gyn this morning. ; ) Thankfully, all was well. I am 53, a little older than you, I think, and I am STILL getting my periods, more or less regularly. I was probably less regular in my 40s, go figure. :p I told him that my recent periods haven't been debilitating crampfests, or even that heavy -- which is good (knocking wood...!) -- but on the other hand, I've noticed my midcycle & PMS symptoms seem to be more pronounced lately -- midcycle cramping & bloating, fatigue, mood swings (tears!), brain fog, etc. :p

    You've presented some excellent advice here. (I don't think I've had my FSH checked since my fertility treatment days.) We do need to talk about this more. I know when you're young, you tend to roll your eyes & think it's a long way off, not something you need to worry about. (We all think we're going to stay young & skinny & fertile forever, right?) Guess what -- it happens. I find myself thinking of some of the comments & eyerolls I made around my mother 20 years ago -- for example, she'd look at a sweater I was wearing & say, "I could never wear that, it's too hot for me." Well, there are now lovely sweaters in my armoire that I haven't touched in eons, because I find them just too hot & heavy to wear these days. ;) She survived, & so will I!

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    1. Didn't you read #11? (just kidding). I don't know, Lori, up until a few months ago, I was more regular than five years ago. And so I was lulled into a false sense that "all was well" but all was not well. Not being a scare-monger, but just saying that's why I wish, in hindsight, I had checked my FSH a long time ago. And certainly before we headed away overseas for five months last year.

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  8. Holy smokes. This is the first time I've actually seen a whole list of 'what can happen' ... it's such a taboo until you start experiencing it yourself and though I'm not there yet, kudos to you for getting some of the reality out there! I simply don't understand why we can't feel okay talking about stuff that affects us, as half of the population on the planet. Sure, it ain't pretty and everyone's different, but it's better than finding out the hard way. And it's better to know just how different it can really be. Hugs to ya!

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    1. Um, sadly this is not a comprehensive list of what can happen. It's just a list of what would have been helpful for me to know ten or so years ago so I could be prepared! There are many more issues that face other women. Sadly.

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