“My body is a mess,” I told my nurse practitioner. “I’m bloated, my cycle is crazy off, I’m getting some of the worst headaches I’ve ever had, and I’m so irritable. One minute I’m fine and the next I’m crying. I’m so moody and I notice that I’m super forgetful too.”
When I finished listing off my complaints and concerns, she said quite matter of factly, “Perimenopause. That’s what’s going on.”
We reviewed my symptoms again, including my irregular bleeding, and determined I needed some further testing, but it was pretty clear. I was entering a new stage in life.
Although women begin experiencing perimenopause at different ages, the signs leading toward it—such as menstrual irregularity—typically begin in your 40s. Some women notice changes in their mid-30s, others experience it later. And what might those signs of perimenopause be?
The biggest change a woman will notice is that her menstrual cycles may lengthen or shorten. The level of estrogen in her body rises and falls unevenly during menopause, thus the irregular and sometimes brutally heavy (or barely there) periods. If you have a persistent change of seven days or more in the length of your menstrual cycle, you may be in early perimenopause. If you have a space of 60 days or more between periods, you’re likely in late perimenopause.
Perimenopausal women also experience menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes, sleep problems, urinary urgency, joint pain, weight gain, hair loss or thinning, and vaginal dryness. Oh joy! Don’t forget mood swings, irritability, decrease in sex drive, difficulty concentrating and remembering things, and possibly mild depression. But hold on, most women don’t experience all the possible symptoms of perimenopause (I had to leave several off the list)! So before you totally panic, just know that perimenopause in your body will look different than someone else’s.
I’m smack-dab in the thick of perimenopause and it stinks (to be honest). The good news is, I did find a doctor who is helping me through this new phase of life. I also sought out a friend who is an expert on nutrition and exercise in women going through perimenopause. Her resources have been invaluable to me as I seek to stay physically and emotional fit during this season in life.
Honestly, I’ve found the best resource of perimenopause to be the wisdom of women who’ve been “through it.” These are women who are ten, fifteen, thirty years older than myself, who are open about their “own change” and how it impacted them.
On the field, I often found women of all ages eager to talk about their life experiences, including their health issues. Perhaps this is because I’m a nurse, so it seems a little more natural, I’m not sure. I do know, talking about our bodies is one way women connect and can find support. Hearing other women’s experiences with perimenopause makes me feel not so alone; it reminds me that I’m normal. THIS is normal. The changes in estrogen, the hot flashes and headaches, the long days between periods, are normal. This is how I was made.
My perimenopause journey is unique to me, but I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone. Talking openly with my husband about it, and even our older kids has helped all of us navigate this new phase with grace and patience. Asking advice from my older female friends and doing some research online has also been extremely helpful for getting the support I need. Most importantly, God is certainly not surprised by the changes happening in my body, and like a loving mother, is holding me graciously through this period in my life (couldn’t resist the pun). Even though the symptoms of perimenopause are not the best, it is a time to reflect and embrace the changes my body is going through. I can praise God that my body is doing what it is designed to do. I am fearfully and wonderfully made!
Depending where you are in the world, there may or may not be resources at your fingertips for support during perimenopause. But I would encourage you to talk about it with others—perhaps in a Connection Group, with a female mentor, or a friend back home who is a doctor or nurse. And again, there are lots of resources online—including what is normal and NOT normal during perimenopause (like when the bleeding is TOO much, go to the doctor!). Seeking out a good OB/GYN in-country might be a helpful step you want to take as well. No matter what, just know you are not alone during “the change.”
We women are in this together!
Have you experienced perimenopause? If so, please consider sharing how it impacted you and what advice you might offer women how are going through it.