What Mama Never Told Me
Ah, the joys of womanhood. Remember back when you first crossed that bridge somewhere during middle school from being a little girl into joking with your friends about the monthly visitor from your "aunt." Secretly, you were thrilled. A member of what you thought was an elite group, talking in code with your girlfriends around the clueless boys who were still holding farting and burping contests.
Then you get into high school and the novelty has worn off. You are scared to death that "your aunt" will show up prom night and ruin a dress that you searched high and low for weeks. You have to politely say no to joining the gang at a swim party or became a ninja at the tying-the-sweatshirt-around-your-waist trick. You mark the calendar so you know when to shop and stock up, when not to wear white and always carried a stash of supplies with you in case your best friend was in a bind. When you learned in Health class that your monthly period would last into your fifties, it sounded like a life sentence. Your cycles begin to align with other females you live with; sisters or a college roommate.
The next stage of life you welcome the monthly visitor as a reminder that the birth control you are using is working because you and your husband are not ready to be parents. But then you decide you are ready for the title of "mommy" and the lack of the monthly routine is exciting news indeed. Life becomes scripted by cycles.
Then comes this mystical season known as menopause. You hear it as "the change." I watched the older female family members go through it and figure your time will come and don't give it much thought. Until it happens to you. And you think you will lose your mind.
When I turned forty, it was like an invisible clock went off in my body and things started to change. It seems like overnight my eyes weren't as sharp. I couldn't learn the latest technology as fast and I couldn't pull overnighters like I did in college. Then I noticed what my doctor called perimenopause. Like a prelude to the main event. It started small. I wouldn't be able to sleep and would pass the night watching old movies and infomercials on television. Then my cycles grew wonky. Every 28 days went to every 20 days. Then 32 days. Then 47 days. Then I started breaking out on my face. Really? I am middle age and am buying Clearasil for myself. I felt like a twelve year old.
Then I settled into a "new" normal of every two weeks, which made the men in my house suddenly interested in taking up camping. Usually a woman's cycle will give her a good week, a bad week of PMS crazy, the actual week of menstruation and a week to breathe before it starts all over again. When I settled into every two weeks, I went from bad week of PMS crazy, to actual week, to bad week of PMS crazy. I was denied to weeks of bliss. The worst part, is at first, I was not aware of this. It took about three months of my husband wondering what happened to his wife that it dawned on me that life as I knew it, was changing.
Houston, We Have a Problem
This "change" to me, was like the anti-pregnancy. When you are with child, hormones surge in your favor. Your skin glows, your nails and hair grow and shine and you feel radiant. The first thing I noticed was I felt constantly bloated. My doctor confirmed that I was animic. I broke out on my face, my hair lay flat and lost its shine. All this played into the depression that was threatening to swallow me. Life got difficult.
I would go to sort the laundry. Reduced to only "whites" and "colors" was still a bit of a challenge. I held a sock. A white sock. I stared at the two piles on the floor. I have a college degree, I know this one. I toss the sock. It lands on a pile of colored shirts. Darn! I had a 50/50 shot to get that one right. No problem. Pick up the sock and go for a second round. You'll get it this time. Breathe in . . . toss . . . .wrong again. About this time my husband would come in and see me pathetically holding a sock crying because I was at a loss as to what to do.
Situation #2. My husband and I go for an evening walk with our dog. It is a star filled night we begin with good conversation. Suddenly, he says something that I deem is "wrong." My entire being is filled with a rage that somehow I know is a bit irrational, but my self-control meter is off. I correct him like a mother. So not like me and my husband certainly doesn't deserve such a reprimand over nothing and as quick as it started, my night is ruined.
So I begin the wonderful world of scientific experiements. My doctor and I begin an odessey of what-will-work-for-you. I hear options and try a few. Birth control pills, black coash lotion, laser scraping, IUDs, diet change, more exercise, vitamins . . . blah, blah, blah. Can you feel the frustration?
There is a stage in which I believe every woman feels that she is totally alone. The fact that my doctor is running out of options for me and shrugs with a "you are part of the 12% of women that this doesn't work" isn't helping. I'm not striving to be a medical marvel. I want sleep. I want to be able to sort laundry and decide what to make for dinner without the overwhelming sense of fear. I want to laugh. I want to stop crying at greeting card commercials. I want my jeans to fit again.
So I begin talking. Lamenting really, to anyone who will listen. I am sure I ostracized many of my friends. I was paddlling ferociously with a life preserver with nary a hormone in sight. Until I reached an age when my friends eyes changed of bewilderment to acknowledgment. You too? Oh, the glory of being able to relate! Suddenly my woes of my slide into the menopause fog was turned into a story swap among girlfriends. Like we had done when describing when our children were born, we had begun to exchange experiences of insomnia, confused husbands and inability to rationalize. It was hilarious! Suddenly my friend who carried a battery operated hand fan wherever she went wasn't so crazy after all. Quietly, I had joined another secret club.
When I was younger, I thought menopause was a year or two and then the cycle would just stop without much ceremony. I was actually looking forward to the day. Little did I know, now well into my forties that this "change" can take 10, 15 or 20 years! Good heavens, you gotta grab your girlfriends to survive. The secret is to have a range of ages. You need to gal who is older than the rest of you by a few years that can give you the hope that all this will be a memory someday. You need the gal who is just starting to notice something is different so you can throw a sympathetic arm over her shoulder. You need to have the women beside you who will love your meanness knowing that it isn't really you, just the hormones talking. Who will not allow you to take yourself seriously and who are willing to laugh with you.
Laughter is truly the best medicine and can be the most elusive. When I haven't slept in three days and can't find anything that fits in my closet, I don't feel like smiling. But when my girlfriends give me a knowing wink, and we spend the night laughing over Bunco antics -- it is the tall glass of ice water to a sweltering summer's day.
- You aren't alone. Seek the help you need to survive menopause. Medical, Psychological and Emotional.
- Realize that every woman is different. What worked for your mom, your sister or your best friend, may not work for you.
- You are in a marathon, not a sprint. This is process that is years long. Take it one day at a time.
- Gather a group of girlfriends and make time to laugh. Go see a movie, go out to dinner, play a game. Allow yourself to be flawed.
- God who created you will also walk with you as you as you journey from your child-bearing years into twilight.
Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you. To give you a future and a hope."
Hang on, girlfriend. Just because your period is ending doesn't mean life is. It's just another season and will soon be a memory.
I Corinthians 4:16-18 "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen."
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