When I asked a friend a few months back whether she’d gotten pubic hair yet, she stared at me as if I’d farted. After that, she never talked to me again. I suppose it means she HAD gotten hair down there.
Why is it wrong to ask my friend in private about hair growing on her vagina if we just watched a movie about vaginas in public? After seeing “the movie”, I felt like it was okay to talk about it. But I guess outside of “the movie” it isn’t okay, it’s shameful.
My elementary school was formerly a manufacturing and office facility that had been converted to a school. Because of the initial purpose of our school, several of the classroom walls were carpeted and hinged so they could be moved.
On the day of “the movie,” all the females in my sixth-grade class were led down the corridor and into another classroom, while all the boys were led into another classroom. We sat in long rows on chairs, while others who didn’t have a chair had to sit on the floor in front of a large white screen on the white brick wall.
Because of the hinged walls, I could hear the boys in the other classroom while waiting for our movie to start. I heard giggling, snickers, and fart sounds. I was curious as to what they were watching. We were warned not to laugh throughout “the movie.” We needed to be “mature” and pay attention. It didn’t sound like the boys were acting in a particularly mature manner.
Our movie began as soon as the lights went out. The narrator used words like menstruation, vagina, and sanitary napkin. My face reddened as I listened to the narrator’s words. I couldn’t picture hearing these words while sitting among the boys who flicked paper footballs at us and smeared boogers on the undersides of their desks. Were they also learning embarrassing words?
I don’t recall ever discussing “the movie” with any of my friends afterward. Maybe there were a few whispers here and there on the bus ride home. But, mostly, I believe I bottled up all that I learned and stored it in my head for when I needed it.
When I first entered perimenopause, I was overwhelmed by how much I had to learn. I needed a perimenopause version of “the movie,” but I couldn’t find one. Because of the tragic pubic hair conversation of ‘82, I never truly felt comfortable talking to females about sensitive topics, so I always ended up doing what most people do after they leave a doctor’s appointment: I researched on my own.
Instead of going to the library, like I used to, I googled the hell out of menopause. There was a lot of information out there, and there were so many google images of older women clutching their heads. Older women in fuzzy robes. Older women sweating profusely.
I felt confused by the terms PERImenopause, MENOpause, and POSTmenopause. Why are there so many labels for one phase of life? I’m not alone in my ignorance; I’ve heard so many women say, “I had no clue perimenopause and menopause were two separate things.”
But it’s not just one period of life (pardon the pun).
Perimenopause is the trip. Menopause is the destination.
Perimenopause usually begins between the ages of 40 to 55. Perimenopause is the typical first stage of the entire pause process. The prefix “peri” in medical terminology means around, so the word perimenopause translates to “around menopause.” I think most women get confused when they say they are “in menopause.” I believe they are typically referring to perimenopause, at least when they are describing the symptoms that are giving them the most trouble.
You will be in menopause (also considered post-menopause) for the rest of your life.
The difficulty is in reaching menopause, since perimenopause can be very difficult. To be in menopause, you must have gone twelve months without a period. While this may appear to be a simple task to the uninitiated, it is not. It’s going six months without a period, then getting one and having to start all over again. This is on top of your regular premenstrual symptoms, which can amplify your discomfort. Your insides are balancing on a virtual tightrope between two stages of life, all while attempting to operate properly on the outside.
I can see why no one wants to inform women about this complicated process. Do you want to be the one to give this news to a hormonal woman? I’d slip the message under the door and run like hell.
Guess what I found out? There are gynecologists who are licensed menopause experts or menopause practitioners. What exactly is that, you ask? A menopause practitioner is a gynecologist who specializes in perimenopause and menopause. While I feel that most doctors are skilled in their fields, a specialist can adapt the degree of treatment to your individual needs.
For example, an obstetrician/gynecologist, in addition to caring for women’s personal needs, delivers babies. If your gynecologist is still delivering babies, their hours will be quite different because they will still be required to visit the hospital.
However, if your doctor is exclusively a gynecologist, their hours may be more flexible, scheduling an appointment with them may be much easier, and they may be able to give you more of their time. When you combine that with a menopausal speciality, you have a doctor who can provide you with even more specialized care.
Personally, I feel all gynecologists’ practices should provide their patients with the option of having at least one menopause specialist. Maybe someday they all will.
So, let’s try to answer some of the questions from Chapter One.
How can you know which information you read online is trustworthy? I’ve listed links for getting medical information online in the appendix of this book, courtesy of Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
What if you’ve already had a hysterectomy? If you’ve had a hysterectomy, your menopause will most certainly look very different than if you went through it naturally. If a hysterectomy is not required, your doctor will most likely be conservative and refuse the procedure. If your gynecologist wants to perform a hysterectomy and you aren’t sure, get a second opinion.
What if you are afraid to go to a gynecologist? My gynecologist told me that many women are hesitant to go to the gynecologist because of past trauma or fear of pap smears. Request to speak with a nurse if you are afraid of the gynecologist and would like to learn more about perimenopause or treatment options. The gynecologist may recommend an office visit instead of a pelvic exam.
Why are so many women today feeling uninformed? This is my personal viewpoint. This is my disclaimer because I am not a medical professional. Hormone replacement therapy, I believe, was the only choice available to the generation before us for surviving perimenopause and menopause.
However, while I believe that estrogen replacement therapy may help women get through perimenopause and that it is something you should consider with your gynecologist, there are certain risks that doctors weren’t aware of even a decade ago.
The back of this book has all the information you need to find a menopause specialist near you. There are also questions to ask your doctor when you first enter perimenopause, during perimenopause, and when you’re in official menopause.
You have more control over your situation when you are well-informed. It’s terrifying to feel you’ve lost control. After removing the misinformation, this portion of your life becomes less frightening.
What happened to the other girls who sat in the dark classroom with me all those years ago? Shouldn’t they be losing their periods as well? I wondered if they, too, felt lonely and enraged. I was saddened that I couldn’t walk single file into a dark classroom with them and gaze at a white brick wall for a shared experience to bond over. I yearned for a support network that didn’t appear to exist. If only I knew how to connect with other females my age. Or maybe I do?
You may listen to my podcast to hear me read this book (you may have to scroll to the episode of your choosing):