By Toni Brannagan
Historically, menopause has been associated with a ton of negativity — the loss of fertility, along with aging, can be emotional for women because of personal reasons, societal factors, and as usual, the good ol’ patriarchy.
In the words of Gwyneth Paltrow, “Menopause gets a really bad rap and needs a bit of rebranding.” I’ll try to dial back the *kumbaya*, but entering a new phase in life should always be celebrated.
Understandably, it can feel incredibly isolating when it seems like you’re the only one going through something, no matter what it is, and that’s why destigmatizing conversations around perimenopause and menopause are essential.
…wait, what’s perimenopause?
A common misconception is that menopause occurs overnight without warning, when in reality it’s a far longer process.
Officially, menopause is when your ovaries stop producing enough estrogen to release eggs, meaning you’ll no longer menstruate. But it takes a while to get there — your estrogen levels slowly decrease in the 10 years leading up to menopause (typically in your 30s or 40s, but menopause can also occur earlier). This phase is perimenopause!
Basically, if menopause is the end of a sentence, perimenopause is more like an ellipsis. (Punctuation humor anyone? My fellow grammar nerds? No? Alrighty.) Here’s another blog we’ve written in the past, where you can learn more about symptoms, timelines, and way to manage perimenopause.
so, where does your ~flow~ go?
Do you remember your first couple of periods? They were probably irregular — that’s similar to how menopause goes.
One common change is shorter cycles: bleeding a few days less and with only two or three weeks between, give or take. This is due to the uterine lining getting thinner as less estrogen is produced (kinda how your hormonal birth control works!). However, estrogen levels during perimenopause are alllll over the place, and the higher they are the heavier periods can be.
When the time comes, your doctor will be able to help you figure out a plan for balancing your hormones with supplements, if that’s what you need. When it comes to heavy bleeding, it’s super-important that you keep your gyno in the loop — never assume that prolonged bleeding, or soaking through your period products faster than usual, is something you should just have to deal with, whether you’re approaching menopause or not!
Perimenopause can also cause spotting between periods, changes in your period blood’s usual color and consistency, and, of course, missed cycles entirely. With so many potential changes to your body and cycle, a good tip is to start a detailed journal to track your periods when you notice things shifting. This will help keep you informed as to what’s going on with your body, and will make it easier to update your doc (again, probably a good idea).
I know, you’re probably *super-excited* to re-live the stress of getting to know your period all over again, but just like puberty, educating yourself on what’s gonna happen before it actually does is key! A recent op-ed in The New York Times even makes a case for revisiting *the talk* for middle-aged women.
why aren’t we talking about it already?
Every person who menstruates will eventually stop menstruating. So, how come it’s hardly ever discussed openly?
It’s especially important for people with periods to share their experiences, because we’re not exactly talking a one-size-fits-all situation over here. As we know, *every body* is different, so no one undergoes menopause in the exact same way. There are a number of symptoms, and how people experience them can vary tremendously.
Some people lose their libido, some wanna do-the-damn-thang more than ever. Others have difficulty concentrating, or sleeping for a while. And a few people’s periods go gently into that good night with no symptoms at all (I’m 25 years old and am already jealous).
Like understanding your first period, turning to your family tree can help inform your own perimenopausal and menopausal experiences. Call your mom, or your big sis, or your aunt! If they’re comfortable, ask about their perimenopausal years, and how they managed the changes to their bodies. Chances are, they’ll be happy to guide you through this new phase.
Have you started any conversations about perimenopause and menopause with the ladies in your life yet? Share your thoughts and questions with us in the comments!