Written by Abby Byrd
I’m 38 and I’m in perimenopause. Based on my family history and my symptoms, I may stop menstruating by age 40, which is considered “early” menopause.
About two years ago, I started noticing symptoms of premenstrual syndome, even though I’d never had PMS when I was younger. I began to get extremely anxious around ovulation and again right before my period, and I couldn’t sleep at those times, either. I started to be able to predict my insomnia—on day 14 and day 21, like clockwork. My breasts were tender. The waves of nausea I got right before the first period I had after weaning my son had me convinced I was pregnant.
Then, I plunged into an episode of anxiety that lasted a few weeks. My doctor adjusted the dosage on my SSRI, and my anxiety improved, but I was still battling strange symptoms, and they were showing up at times that didn’t make sense. The soreness in my breasts persisted for several weeks. I was bloated, with no explanation, for almost two months. Even without the bloating, I’d gained so much weight, mostly just around my waistline, that I couldn’t button any of my pants. I had to buy new pants with elastic waistbands. I was crushed to have reached the “elastic waistband” stage of womanhood.
Although I didn’t tell anyone, I was also experiencing deficits in my memory. Most of the time they were short-term memory blips typical of busy moms—I’d go to the pantry, for example, and have no idea what I’d walked over there to get. More worrisome was what I supposed to be a hormonally-induced aphasia. I found myself saying “whatchacallit” and “thingamabob” for nouns I should have known. Street names, names of restaurants, names of famous people—I couldn’t retrieve them from my long-term memory. I’m a teacher, and sometimes I’d blank out in the middle of explaining something to my class. By this point, I’d read about perimenopause, and my memory problems made sense. It also made sense why I was having night sweats. I’d had them in the past and figured them to be a rare side effect of my SSRI, but lately I’d been having more of them.
My cycle, which had always been exactly 28 days, started to vary—sometimes it lasted 24 days, sometimes 31. Then I had a period that was just a small amount of old, brown blood. Knowing that brown blood sometimes came at the start or end of my periods, I kept watching, but the fresh red flow I was used to never came.
Next month, same thing.
This dramatic change in my flow sent me back to the internet. My doctor had told me at my last visit that I was too young to truly be perimenopausal, but now I was sure she was wrong. I learned that the brown periods could mean I was making less estrogen, perhaps that I was even having anovulatory cycles. It shouldn’t have mattered. My husband and I were already 90% sure that we were happy having just our four-year-old son and that we weren’t going to try for another child. But somehow, this tangible proof of my waning fertility made things different. Being “finished” was one thing when it was by choice. Although we were a bit sad about not having a sibling for our son, we believed it to be right for our family, and we knew we still had a two- or three-year window if we changed our minds. Would we still have that chance?
I sat on the toilet looking at the brown smear in my underpants, trying to fathom going through menopause. The marks looked like the ones I’d found in my underpants at 13 when I was staying with my aunt and uncle over the summer. I didn’t even believe I’d started my period. Wasn’t it supposed to be red? I’d wondered. Now here I was, confused again, twenty-five years later. How was that even possible? Since the summer of my first period, every cell in my body had regenerated multiple times, and yet I felt like exactly the same person. I struggled to reconcile the illusion of my identity with the truth of my biology.
Reproductively speaking, I am over the hill.
I am becoming like a child again.
I am moving toward a great void.
I don’t know when I’ll actually stop menstruating. My mother was forced into menopause artificially when she had chemotherapy at age 45 for breast cancer. Her mother went through it 55. My paternal grandmother, however, went into early menopause at 36. So even though only one percent of women experience menopause that early, I could have inherited a genetic predisposition.
I want my grandmother now, more than anything. I’ve always felt a kinship with her; I look like her, I sing like her, I worry like her. She’s bedridden from osteoporosis and sinks further into dementia every day, so I can’t ask her questions anymore. I can only sit and hold her hand and wonder what it was like for her to go through the change of life so young. It’s hard not to imagine myself in that bed. Her early menopause likely precipitated her osteoporosis and may have brought her dementia on earlier, too. Without the protective effects of estrogen on the brain, bones, and heart, will I be as frail and lost in old age as she is?
I try not to worry. I think of the word “cycle,” of how everything is a cycle, how I’m losing my fertility and returning to that great void. How a peculiar combination of genes brought my grandmother back to life through me, how I am like her, and my son is like her son, my father. For me, menopause feels like the end, but to ever-impartial nature, it’s just another stage in a cycle that will continue regardless of how I feel about it.
And so the only thing to do is let go.
About the Author
Abby Byrd is a teacher, a grammarian, and the poster mom for existential angst. Her work has appeared on Scary Mommy/Club Mid, BLUNTMoms, Mamalode, In The Powder Room, and the humor site The Reject Pile, as well as in two anthologies. She is a frequent contributor to MockMom.com. Follow her on Twitter, on Facebook, and at her blog, Little Miss Perfect.
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