Not My Mother’s Menopause- Chapter Six

Chapter 6

Not My Mother’s Menopause

I’m seated on the examination table, my legs covered in a crunchy paper gown. I take a look at my skinny jeans, which are neatly folded on the chair directly across from me. I notice my People magazine on top of my handbag under the chair; the gossip inside seems less important than it did a few minutes before. 

“Well, it looks like we are starting the perimenopause process,” she exclaims. 

“There is no we in perimenopause,” I answered cynically. 

She laughs at me. 

Because of my dwindling estrogen, I can now be excused for this behavior. 

“So, what’s next?” I worry out loud. 

My gynecologist is well aware of how much I worry about everything. I’ve been her patient for almost 15 years; she delivered both of my daughters and has seen literally every nook and cranny of my body.  

She goes over some basic symptoms that I was already aware of, such as hot flashes and diminishing periods, but she doesn’t go into detail. She mentions that most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for how their own menopause will look. 

“Don’t forget to schedule your mammogram!” she says as she walks out the door. 

I sit there, naked under my robe, the paper crinkling as I anxiously tap my leg. Why didn’t I ask more probing questions? Is this how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life? When will my period be over? Are my migraines a normal part of this? How many pages does this chapter of my journey have?  

I asked my mother about her perimenopause experience a few days after my initial checkup in 2015, just as my gynecologist suggested. I wanted to get a sense of what my perimenopause might look like. My mother said she had several emotional outbursts and would cry for no apparent reason, but that was about it. Her only symptom was a rollercoaster of emotions. Aside from the loss of her menstrual cycle, that is. 

But for the next five years, I kept replaying my gynecologist’s words in my head.  

Most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause.  

The comment would come to mind any time a new symptom emerged. 

Most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause.  

My perimenopause was turning out to be nothing like my mother’s.  

Most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause.  

Maybe my symptoms aren’t caused by perimenopause? 

Most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause.  

What I’m going through has to be related to stress, life circumstances, or mental illness. 

Most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause.  

This can’t possibly be perimenopause that I’m going through.

Can it?   

Or maybe I’m not strong enough. My mother may have experienced those symptoms, but her body handled them better than mine. I began to question myself when I would hear yet another woman describe her perimenopause as “easy” or “relatively non-existent” or “I just lost my period, that was it!” Perhaps I wasn’t equipped to deal with everything that perimenopause was throwing my way. With each new symptom, my self-esteem plummeted and my body grew tired.  

My gynecologist unintentionally took away my individuality when she bundled what I was going through into a neat package of most women can use their mother’s menopause as a model for their own menopause. I felt like I was failing to perform what my body was designed to do naturally: drain the blood from my uterus and the estrogen from my veins.

Something must be wrong with me

I never believed that the information presented to me could have been erroneous or stated out of context, or that my perimenopause would not, in fact, resemble that of my mother. Perhaps my perimenopause was revolutionary because it resembled my own:  an experience that was waiting to happen. Maybe if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with comparing my experience to someone else’s, I might have done a better job of riding the waves. I would have paid closer attention to my inner voice.

Because of my gynecologist’s comparison-that fleeting remark-and the resulting depression, I was too embarrassed to tell anybody about my feelings- including my husband- about what was going on within me. For the majority of my perimenopause, I felt completely alone in my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what I was going through because I had incorrectly believed that I was the only one suffering from these horrible perimenopause symptoms. 

Your perimenopause and menopause will not be the same as your mother’s perimenopause and menopause. Your perimenopause and menopause will not be the same as your grandmother’s perimenopause and menopause. And your perimenopause and menopause will not be the same as your sister’s perimenopause and menopause. Every woman is unique, and attempting to compare the hormonal changes that occur in our bodies is absurd.

I am overjoyed to be standing around a bonfire, with friends, eating s’mores, because my perimenopause precludes me from doing much living these days. This summer, I’ve missed a number of events because my pain is nearly constant. Nonetheless, I forced myself to come, headache and all.

My jaw clenches when I hear the words. 

“I’m having hot flashes and night sweats. That’s all it is, really,” a female friend says authoritatively as she sips her beer. 

I don’t say anything. 

“Speaking of…Kari?” 


“How are you doing?  I know you’ve been struggling lately.” 

“Getting better. I can’t wait to be free of perimenopause.”

A woman and her adult daughter are seated next to me. The daughter asks her mom, “How long did your (peri)menopause last?” 

“Oh, I’m not sure. I just lost my period.” 

“You’re such a strong woman, mom,” responds her daughter naively. 

Invisibility isn’t considered a “symptom,” thus you won’t find information on it in any book or on the internet. In my case, invisibility occurred as a result of everything that transpired throughout my perimenopause. I felt invisible because I was buried beneath all I had been dealing with over the last five years of my life. Add to that a healthcare system that didn’t meet me where I was and failed to recognize the full range of symptoms associated with perimenopause, and my invisibility worsened.  

When I first started writing in 2010, I made a promise to myself not to write about anything too personal because it was a public blog. I concentrated my writing on topics such as organizing my daughter’s closets and preparing four-ingredient dinners. Cousins, high school friends, and former bosses were all likely to read it. I’d strive to keep my public life as “normal” as possible. I didn’t want anyone to think I actually burped, farted, or had dust bunnies in real life, for God’s sake.

However, as time passed, I discovered that my readers liked it when I shared my personal experiences. I noticed that when I told them about my flawed moments, which happened all the time, I was able to connect with my readers on a deeper level. I gradually began to receive opportunities to write for online journals and local websites, as well as undertake freelance work. All of these experiences helped me become a better writer and taught me how to do far more than I set out to do in 2010. I simply wanted to document my life with my husband and children. 

However, it was during perimenopause that I did something completely out of character for me. 

I wrote a screenplay for a movie.

“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I wrote a film about three menopausal women kidnapping The Brat Pack to build a John Hughes Museum in Chicago?” I asked my husband one day while eating lunch at a local diner. 

“Hilarious is a stretch,” he retorted cynically. 

I’ll show you hilarious, I mumbled angrily as I scribbled the first few story lines on a greasy paper napkin. 

I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with who I was becoming and I began to spiral into depression. As a wife and a mother, I needed a method to cope with my emotions while simultaneously carrying out my responsibilities, and writing was the only way I knew how. As a result, in addition to my usual blog posts, I began writing a few scenes for my screenplay each week:  a film about three lifelong friends who decide on a whim to kidnap Judd Nelson and other Brat Pack members and take a road trip from California to their home in Chicago in order to establish a John Hughes museum. It didn’t matter if it made sense or not, it was a magical release for my perimenopausal mind. 

I’d become smitten with John Hughes at the very beginning of my perimenopause. It was entirely coincidental in terms of timing. He was the subject of an article I was writing as a freelancer. As part of the assignment, I went to pay my respects to Mr. Hughes’ at his grave. Despite the fact that the deadline had passed, I continued to visit Mr. Hughes’ grave to write. There is a bench just opposite from his tombstone, so I would bring a pen and a pad of paper and I would write with John Hughes every other month or so. It quickly became my favorite perimenopausal coping strategy. 

It didn’t matter if my screenplay was successful or not. The grave writing and script were merely mental (and physical) destinations for me to escape my tiresome and confining thoughts. It was a safe haven full of characters I chose, or dead ones who couldn’t pass judgment on me. It was a parallel dimension far from the unpleasant physical manifestations that were infiltrating my existence. In the midst of my hormonal tsunami, writing a screenplay was my life preserver. I envisioned myself clinging on to the screenplay for dear life, like a lifeboat. 

My screenplay served as an opportunity for me to rediscover myself–to reclaim my individuality, which had been lost as a result of being grouped together with other females–women with whom I had nothing in common other than my gender. Individuality is lost when doctors group all females together; for we are individuals with unique individual needs. This has been going on for centuries, and as a result of this grouping, society perceives the ability to cope with perimenopause as a choice. There is only one experience to be had: women all go through the same thing. We can either suck it up or fall apart, but that’s not how perimenopause works. We’ve viewed perimenopause through a man-made filter for too long.

When I thought my perimenopause was supposed to look like the average woman’s perimenopause and it didn’t, I began to feel invisible. Just because you may share the experience of a menstrual cycle, does not entitle you to say that you comprehend another woman’s experience within perimenopause. If you cannot relate to another woman’s experience of perimenopause, be compassionate, and realize that her suffering may have a different intensity level. 

Stop complimenting women on their ability to handle unpleasant situations without displaying emotion. Stop sugarcoating things for the sake of the menfolk. This work we women undertake is incredibly difficult. Get into the habit of telling the truth to other women. We never knew how unpleasant periods, childbirth, and perimenopause actually were because women before us glossed over the details of their experiences.

My daughters told me that they thought it was cool that I wrote a screenplay. I had no idea they felt this way while I was writing it, probably because my estrogen was deceiving me and telling me I needed to spend my time more wisely. But guess what? Despite the fact that I believed I was failing, I wrote a screenplay, and I accomplished it while going through one of the most difficult phases of my life. 

My wish for you throughout perimenopause is that you find your own screenplay–whatever it is that you need to get through your perimenopause. Your perimenopause and menopause will not be the same as your mother’s. It might look like your next-door neighbor’s.

Or perhaps you will be a trailblazer, and it will look like yours.