““Oh, honey, I’ve got a fan blowing on me all day long, even when it’s 30 outside,” says my new friend at a recent cocktail party. “Yeah, that radiation starts in my belly and grows out to my fingers!” laughs another. A third, helpful friend leaps into a monologue about how great black cohosh can be to counteract the symptoms of the dreaded hot flash. In my mind, all I can think is how wonderful it would be to capture all of the wisdom and experience in the room, cram into a book, and put it out for the world.
Menopause. It’s something that 100% of women will experience. Yet, we just don’t talk about it until we’ve had a few cocktails to remove the veneer of social propriety. Then, we share stories; we laugh; we gross each other out; we offer suggestions and we commiserate with each other about the crazy moments that come with turning 50, stopping our cycles, losing our estrogen, and the challenges that go along with the changes our bodies are experiencing.
When we are born, we are more alike than we will ever be in our lifetimes. From the moment we spring forth from the womb, we start accumulating differences. Yet, there are markers across the life course where we actually do have more in common than we might realize. The experience of being a new mother can bring total strangers together into support circles. People working through addiction or illness may find kinship with others in recovery and support programs. Where are the “menopause” groups? We could call them the “Flashy Femmes” or the “Red Hot Mammas!” Instead, we have back room chats, impart tidbits of wisdom, offer suggestions to treat symptoms, or share frustrations with how frequently our doctors make us feel like it’s all “in our heads.”
Let’s get real. By medical definition, “menopause” is official when we haven’t had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. The entire time leading up to that 12 months is called “perimenopause.”
Perimenopause can really suck. It can take 10 years to transition through this horrmonal tsunami. Our skin changes. Our hair changes. Our fingernails change. We get strange fluttering sensations in our solar plexus. Our ability to regulate our internal temperature is frequently at odds with the external temperature. Our menstrual cycles get erratic, unpredictable, extremely heavy or completely absent for months at a time. Our boobs get floppy -and eventually we have to take that Wonderer-bra off and flop around at the end of the day. The skin in our pelvic region gets thinner, and we secrete (yeah, I know, ewwww) less lubrication, which in turn can make sex hurt. Are we emotional and moody? Hell yes! So would anyone whose body was in this sort of flux.
At any other time in life, were we to pass a clot of blood so large that we think we are ejecting a piece of our liver, we would be calling 911. At any other time in life, if we suddenly spiked a fever that made us feel like we were patient zero of a malaria outbreak, we’d be notifying the CDC rather than crawling into the side-by-side freezer compartment. Worse yet, when these things happen to us, we are actually surprised! Why? Because other than a few jokes about “power surges,” no one tells us these things can happen!
What can we do? We can talk. We can get comfortable with the language. Repeat after me. Vagina. Va. Gy. Na. It’s a thing. It’s an important thing. Stuff comes out of it. Sometimes, stuff goes IN to it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s sort out what’s normal, and what’s not normal, and then we will all have the collective wisdom to know the difference. Ladies, we are in it together. Each. Of. Us. Let’s have the conversation. And then, let’s put on the kettle and have a cup of tea.