Remember puberty? Somewhere between 11 and 14, your breasts finally started to grow! Forget the acne. Your first period arrived! Hair began to grow Down There! So exciting! And every advancement was shared in detail with your best girlfriend.
Yeah, well. Menopause ain’t nothing like that.
Except, it is another grouping of years when your body…changes. If we can’t be excited this time, can we at least acknowledge that for better or worse, we’ve reached another milestone of life. It ain’t ALL bad.
It was women’s health champion Dr. Christiane Northrup, speaking on an episode of The Oprah Show years ago, who first introduced me to the idea that puberty and menopause are comparable life phases. Puberty can take up to age 20 to turn a girl into a woman, inside and out. Menopause “ends when it ends,” according to About.com. The process of shutting down the baby factory generally starts in one’s 30s or 40s. Here’s the truth no one told me about:
“Women have reported having hot flashes even into their 60s and 70s, but it’s more common for women to stop having them after about 5 years.”
Sixties and seventies?! My (lady) GYN explained it this way: If approximately 85-90% of women stop having hot flashes and other symptoms after 5 years, that means that about 10% of women just. keep. having. them. Until they stop. Or don’t.
And, one more piece of wisdom from my treasured, personal GYN: Menopausal women experience sleep patterns that resemble those of medical interns.From Medical Center to E.R., to Grey’s Anatomy, we’ve seen what happens when overworked young med students find a cot in a storeroom, or the floor of a broom closet, to catch snatches of sleep. My doc blames the bitchiness of 50-something women on lack of sleep, not menopause itself.
I know there are women in their 30s and 40s — and definitely in their 20s — who are sick and tired of hearing about and from Boomers. Nevertheless, this is the generation that’s still shaking up dusty paradigms and systems. We can’t make things perfect, but we can make them better. As Dr. Northrup says,
“Think about it: more than 48 million women, all undergoing the same sort of circuitry update at the same time. By virtue of our sheer numbers, as well as our social and economic influence, we are powerful — and potentially dangerous to any institution built upon the status quo.”
I often think of my mother’s generation, aging in the 60s when everything was open and groovy…except getting old. A popular bumper sticker was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” So, what woman was gonna talk out loud about hot flashes? And the generations before that? Forget about it.
Me? Recently, I was buying a package of CVS-brand Menopause Relief pills (generics don’t waste money on cutesy re-naming) when the 40+ cashier asked, with some desperation, “Do these work?” I told her that I could only speak for myself, and I don’t wake up at 4:00 am when I take them. Luckily, there was no line behind me as she launched into the story of her own sleepless nights and sweat-drenched nightgowns. I told her to get a copy of Dr. Northrup’s The Wisdom of Menopause. We bonded.
Today, women are vocal and darned near in-your-face about their disrupted sleep, weight gain, drippy cleavage and frequent forgetfulness. How much sharing goes on about it between girlfriends? Depends on the girlfriends. I’ve seen Whoopi Goldberg use a sheet of paper to fan herself live on ABC’s The View, and then announce that she’s on fire and doesnt care who knows it. But then, she’s also the spokesperson for LBL (light bladder leakage) for Poise.
Menopause is as natural, and unavoidable, as menstruation. For sure, there’ll be fewer surprises for Millennials and every woman to follow. Meanwhile, watch the boomer women re-define another life stage. Have you seen Jane Fonda lately? Tina Turner? Rockin’ till they can’t rock no more.