I always wanted my period. Yes, I know how odd that sounds, but when I learned about menstrual cycles in sixth grade, they sounded exciting, mysterious, and so grown up. Little did I know that I’d wait another three years for my first one to roll around. When the big event came and went, I was disappointed at the lack of maturity I felt and swore that if I ever met the person responsible for this “curse,” I’d sock her right in the jaw.
Menstrual cycles never came easily for me, especially that first one. The initial cramps landed me in a hospital emergency room only to learn that I didn’t have appendicitis. Going forward, they arrived like clockwork every 28 days and continued to be unbearable, some even requiring Vicodin in the later years.
My faithful cycle, however, became erratic in my early 40s, making planning vacations or intimacy more like playing roulette. In an effort to normalize my schedule, and to make sure Aunt Flo wouldn’t crash a romantic weekend, I began taking Seasonale/Quasense birth control pills, so I’d only have my period every three months. For a while, it worked, but breakthrough bleeding and twice-monthly periods became the norm by my 46th birthday. Hardly the type of present any woman wants.
No Easy Answers
Unlike some closely-knit families that share every last health detail, my mom and I never talked about menopause. Don’t get me wrong. We discuss most things, but she’d had cancer while pregnant with my younger sister and had a hysterectomy in her 20s as a result.
By the time I needed answers, I had no female relatives to consult … so I just waited for my periods to stop.
The Signs I Missed
When my period failed to appear in the summer before my 52nd birthday, I chalked it up to having two the month before. Sure, I had hot flashes, or thought I had them, but they were mild and intermittent and, frankly, not worth mentioning. Everyone gets hot once in a while, right? Mostly, mine showed up at night, and what I didn’t recognize then was that the sleep interference was an indicator that things were changing. Since I’d always struggled with insomnia, I also thought my workload was just too heavy. Can you say denial? I’d say I was in denial if I wasn’t so utterly clueless.
One Panicky Husband
As summer slipped gently into fall, my period was still nowhere to be seen. At the three-month mark, my husband started panicking. “What if you’re pregnant?” he’d anxiously ask. I’d laugh and remind him that he’d had a vasectomy long before we’d gotten married, and I was completely faithful. “Get a pregnancy test,” he urged. Instead of humoring him, I called my doctor and asked him to add the menopause test to my yearly bloodwork. When the results came in, I said, “Honey, Doctor B just called with my test results.” My husband hesitated for a moment then asked, “And?”
His audible gasp and petrified look were too much for me to contain, and I burst into hysterics and said, “No, dumbass. I’m in menopause.”
Once the poor man had regained his composure, I showed him my results. Gotta love having a doctor that emails you your bloodwork. And here’s the thing. I wasn’t just in menopause. I was post-menopausal! As in done. Over. Sayonara, sister!
Even after I had the proof in hand, it was a little surreal. I didn’t mourn the transition; in fact, I’d been waiting eagerly for it my entire life since I’d opted not to have children. With newfound knowledge, though, I started to unravel my medical history and noticed at long last that the signs were there for years. For nearly a decade, I’d had erratic periods. The breakthrough bleeding that no birth control pill could stop had been a simple fact of life for the last five years. Sleep interference and hot flashes that I wrote off as simply being too warm ‘cuz the cat was laying on me could no longer be explained away. This was all menopause.
Tracking My Symptoms Would’ve Helped
Now leading the post-menopausal life, I think I came through it pretty well, but keeping a record of my symptoms, when they happened, and how intensely, could’ve made the process easier. When you don’t recognize what’s happening to your body, you can dismiss symptoms that might be minimized, so it’s important to keep track of the changes whenever you spot (no pun intended) a pattern. Talk to your doctor if your cycle’s frequency or duration starts to change. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s better to know what to expect and what you can do about it.