(**Requisite TMI warning**)
My daughter is nine years old, so she’s at the point where she’s had enough time watching me deal with tampons and pads that she’s getting a sense of what is coming for her when she gets older. One day, she may even blush when I remind her of that time we were in CVS for toothpaste or something else benign and she loudly asked, “Do you need any crotch pads???” I’m sure I heard an adult at least one aisle over snickering, but there was nothing to do except quietly suggest that perhaps that’s a question better asked at a slightly lower volume.
More recently, as she’s seen me struggle with the effects of perimenopause, my daughter has started to question how any of this works out in her favor. An exchange from the other week:
DD: "Wait a minute--girls have to have these bleeding periods, and we carry the babies...what do boys GET?!" Me: "Uh, nothing, really. But they do get to pee standing up." DD: "..."
Yeah, I know, kid, things are rough all over.
It all started two years ago, at the ripe young age of 41, when we were getting ready to head down to our first trip to Disney World. It’s not unusual for me to get cramps with my period and, like many women, I’ve gotten used to the pain being somewhere along the spectrum from “meh” to “I’ll have that bottle of ibuprofen NAO please”. I took two ibuprofen before we boarded the plane, but this seemed to be…different. The flight from Boston to Orlando isn’t long, but it might as well have been a transatlantic trip for all I cared. It felt like an ovary was exploding. I’d never felt such pain in my life (and I’m saying this as someone who has recovered from two c-sections, where you get an 8″ incision across your abdomen).
Pain radiated down my leg and there was no position that made me feel more comfortable. Chowing down more ibuprofen wouldn’t have done the trick, and I had nothing stronger. My body refused to shut down and just put me to sleep, but the pain was so intense that I ended up dashing to the lav twice to get sick. I don’t get airsick.
When we landed, it was now far enough from the time when I first took the two tablets to take a bunch more, so I gobbled down four tablets in our hotel room and waited for the pain to subside. Eventually it did; after about 12 hours, I finally started to feel like myself again. After we got back from Disney, I started to experience hot flashes on a random basis. Anyone living in New England knows that you need to dress in layers to navigate the ever-changing weather with grace, but this becomes even more of a requirement when you could have hot flashes. One minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re feeling flames moving up your cheeks and internally lighting your body on fire.
I started to do some research on perimenopause and discovered that my symptoms were fairly routine:
- hot flashes
- irregular, sometimes really awful periods
- difficulty sleeping
- weight gain
This was also the point when I learned that perimenopause is the phase of life when ovaries stop producing a steady stream of hormones, while menopause is actually a defined point in time–exactly 12 months following the last menstrual period.
There are treatments out there for perimenopause, and I talked about them with my primary care physicians several times in the last few years. The most common treatments involve the use of hormones or herbal remedies. I checked in with my nurse practitioner at physical time this year, and she admitted that the options weren’t great. I can either grin and bear it or I can pop hormones (typically something along the line of birth control pills, for a steady low-dose of hormonal therapy). Unfortunately, the hormones can increase the risk of breast cancer, and I already have a family history of that…so, yeah, no. There isn’t enough evidence that herbs solve for any of this reliably, either.
Grin and bear it, I guess.
It’s pretty terrible to think that this is how things will be for the next few years–perhaps even as long as a decade–until things finally settle down. Of course, that comes with its own emotional baggage. I have no interest in having any more kids, so that’s not an issue, but there is a strange emotional hump to get over when it comes to the sinking realization that I’m also likely halfway through my life. It’s the sense that this is all fleeting, and the last few frenetic gasps of my ovaries are only canaries in the coal mine.
Naturally, I’d love it if this would all happen with more whimper and less bang; I truly don’t need to have to wear pantiliners every damn day because I never know if and when my body will decide to declare “Shenanigans!” I don’t like having to make sure I’m never far from a bottle of ibuprofen because if I fail to take four pills when the pain start, I’m likely to go down like I got sucker punched in the abdomen repeatedly. It’s pretty annoying always having to dress in layers out of necessity, not fashion.
If adult life is about constant adjustment, I guess this is just one more set of curveballs. And, like everything else, I guess I just have to put on my big girl panties and deal (in more ways that one).