Joanne M. Friedman
Forget what your mother taught you. When my mother reached “that certain age”, the whole family held its collective breath. I have no idea whether she endured hot flashes or vaginal dryness—not the sort of thing we talked about over dinner in the ‘50’s. The mood swings, obvious aberrations in an otherwise calm view of life, were blamed on us kids who couldn’t seem to avoid enraging her at one moment and bringing her to sappy tears the next. If there was medication available, she wasn’t taking it.
Skip forward to the turn of the New Millennium, and it was my turn. But the calendar wasn’t the only place a big change could be seen. Boomer women began flashing hot and cold all over the country. Information on peri-menopause and the real deal was everywhere. Gail Sheehy turned her talents from tracking the basic life changes in Passages to taking a round shot at “The Change” in The Silent Passage, and I got the full benefit of the new openness on a closed subject. Not only was there ample coverage of the physiological basics available everywhere, but there were ways to help one round the bend with style and without alienating adults and frightening children.
Perhaps the most important tidbit we learned was that menopause is the end of only one (not very popular) part of the overall process of our lives. Where my older acquaintances fluttered handkerchiefs over their sweaty chests and whimpered about not being “real women” as their reproductive powers dwindled, my generation wrapped those hankies around our heads and went bicycling. For us the advent of goodies like HRT (hormone replacement therapy), hormone-infused suppositories, and high-tech lubricants were just what the doctor ordered to ward off the discomfort of thinning vaginal tissues and those exciting mood swings.
Some of us lucky ones responded well to herbal treatments. I was not prone to serious hot flashes, but the mood swings were enough to send co-workers into duck-and-cover under their desks. Though not everyone responds to all herbals, I got by with regular doses of St. Johns’ Wort and a growing appreciation of the calming effects of yoga. Suddenly life was good. Better than good, life was great! The down side to menopause—the loss of reproductive viability—becomes a huge plus when the other issues are kept at bay. Wait a bit and worries about pregnancy become a thing of the past, opening the door to excellent times. Apply creams and ointments judiciously, and take targeted multi-vitamins, and you’ll find there’s a whole new life around that bend.
Add to the mix one of the largest psychological effects of aging—the ability to cease caring what other people think while simultaneously becoming sensitive to and totally involved in the community at large—and you’ve got one heady experience.
Only one caveat needs to be addressed. It is far too easy to enjoy the post-menopause years too much, to become insufferable to your friends and family as you boldly go where you never before thought you could. Apply the freedom confidently but with a light hand and keep up with regular physical checkups to avoid being flattened by a mid-life ailment. High blood pressure comes with the package for many women, but it’s usually easily controlled by diet, medication and exercise. Cholesterol levels can fluctuate widely and bone density can suffer. Heart disease can rear its ugly head. Again, lifestyle changes will help greatly, but the care of a caring physician is vital to the process.
With a little careful management, peri- and post-menopause can shift from “that time” to Your Time in no time.