Surviving Perimenopause: Year One
Part 1 of 2 Sometime in 2022, I started bleeding and just I didn’t stop.
It would help to have a little background. At that time, I was a 43 year old woman with 2 children. I was newly divorced and trying to feel very hot, and very datable. I mean, I was wearing lingerie!
And then one day, my period came, and it just didn’t stop.
When I say “didn’t stop”, I mean this was a mess. Postpartum levels of carnage. I was soaking through tampons and pads, and I could hardly leave the house. And those little thong bodysuits I had recently acquired? Please.
This was unusual for me, so I made an appointment with an OBGYN. We thought that perhaps the stress of my divorce had thrown my cycle off. She had me wait it out. Weeks later; I was dizzy, depressed, and exhausted. I went into urgent care and I told the doctor that every woman on my maternal side has had some sort of cancer. (I was so afraid that I was a newly single parent, and now I also had cancer. It felt like a ‘universe piling on’ type of situation. This was not a chill time for me.)
They did tests. Pelvic exams, uterine biopsies. Those seemed to be clear, and what my gynecologist eventually said to me changed my life. She said, “Well, Natalie, you’re 43. This might simply be perimenopause.”
This was not welcome news. I thought I was way too young for menopause, I didn’t actually understand what perimenopause was, and I had no idea what my next move ought to be.
So, I went home and did some digging.
Turns out, 43 is exactly the right age for the first stages of menopause to creep in. Our ovaries are slowing down, and our entire body can be affected. The symptoms might look different for lots of folks, but most of us will have some shared experiences. (I’m using ‘symptoms’ because menopause is caused by a hormone deficiency, and even though it happens to everyone with certain reproductive parts- I’ve learned more and more about ways that we can actually treat it.)
It’s very possible that nobody will tell us this is about to happen. Unlike pregnancy, women don’t tend to talk to each other about menopause. Doctors don’t tend to give us a head’s up that we can start looking out for signs and symptoms. Largely, we will feel unseen and unsupported as we try to navigate a very intense change that half of the human population is scheduled to go through.
1. Your cycle will change. Less frequent or sporadic periods are common, but what is also common is relentless bleeding. When you walk around and see 40-50 year old women going about their business, it’s very possible that many of them have been bleeding for months and months, without relief. Fun!
2. You gain weight! Hormones do so much to control our weight and metabolism, and even small changes can make a big difference. Quite suddenly, most of your clothes might not fit, and your decades old diet and exercise habits might not be working for you. Belly weight seems to be the most common- I’ve given away a lot of pants this year.
3. Your vagina will change. Mine became more sensitive, generally. I need more gentleness during any genital contact but especially during penetration, I’m much more prone to yeast and BV, and for the first time in my life, I constantly need to use lubricant. My body feels tender, and I’m learning to treat it with the care it now needs.
The more openly I talk about perimenopause- both to friends and on social media- the more symptoms I’m made aware of. Brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, lack of sleep, gut issues, food and alcohol intolerance, memory loss, body aches- the list goes on. It’s mostly women who are experiencing these symptoms, and women are notorious for soldiering through pain and discomfort (out of necessity), so it really takes a lot for many women to open up about what’s happening with them. For many of us, it takes multiple doctor visits, and often even switching doctors, to receive decent information and care.
As some of us have been doing this leg work, I think it’s helpful to share what we’ve found. For me, here are some treatments that have saved my quality of life during this time.
1. Hormone replacement therapy. That’s right- HRT is for everyone, and it can save lives! To control my own bleeding; I tried Estradiol, a hormonal birth control pill, and a hormonal IUD. None of those helped (and in fact, the IUD led to constant bacterial infection and discomfort). What eventually has helped is Synd, an oral contraceptive containing only drospirenone, which is a progestin. I’ve been taking Slynd for 3 months, and besides some initial weight gain, I haven’t noticed negative side effects. A very positive side effect has been stopping menstruation, which is significant for me due to the distressingly heavy bleeding I was experiencing. I have n