“The symptoms were subtle at first,” Aileen Weintraub begins. At the age of 44, something came over the writer and mother from New York City that she had never expected. She’d never even been told about it.
But far from making sense of her experience straight away, Aileen discovered a black hole of missing information. The more she learned, the more she realized she had yet to find out. So what was this disturbing experience and why was Aileen in her 44-year-old body feeling like a “freak of nature”?
In response to Aileen’s insomnia, racing heart, a lost word, sometimes a wrong word, and eventually the raging mood swings, the writer’s OB-GYN slapped a name on it. Therein began Aileen’s long search for sense in a world where science, apparently, keeps a little too much information to itself. It was, she was told, “perimenopause.”
“That was the moment I learned that before menopause, there is a completely separate, though somehow related hell called perimenopause,” Aileen writes in her brilliant personal account for the Huffington Post. “According to the nurse,” she continues, “this marked the beginning of a gradual decline in estrogen in my body.”
“And, ‘by the way,’ [the nurse] added, ‘it can last for years.'”
Aileen called up her girlfriends, hoping for answers and perhaps even reassurance that they knew of this strange bodily phenomenon even if she didn’t. But no. Aileen was the “bearer of bad news.”
“I was met with silence,” she said. “We had all been duped. No one had told us.”
I write about pretty personal topics. I mean seriously; half my memoir is about my lady parts, but this is by far the…
So what exactly does science have to say about the perimenopause? Have you heard of it, and why does it affect women as young as their early-to-mid forties?
According to WebMD, perimenopause, otherwise known as “menopause transition,” begins several years before the menopause. “It’s the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen,” the site advises, but the next fact is a real shocker.
“It usually starts in a woman’s 40s,” they say, “but can start in her 30s or even earlier.” Did you know? There’s more; the average length of a woman’s perimenopause is a staggering four years. For some women, however, it may last as little as a few months, or as much as 10 years.
“Perimenopause ends,” the site goes on, “when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period.” That, of course, is when the menopause we are significantly more familiar with kicks in.
At one point, Aileen was confused by her body’s behavior that she thought she might be pregnant. “It turns out the symptoms of pregnancy are almost identical to the symptoms of perimenopause,” she writes. “Weight gain, breast tenderness, spotting. I had them all.”
But a pregnancy test proved negative. For Aileen, the distress accompanying the thought that she might never be pregnant again was almost as unbearable as the hot flashes and mood swings. Not to mention, the confusion.
“When I was pregnant,” Aileen shares, “other women bombarded me with advice, perhaps because that was supposed to be a ‘joyous’ time and people wanted to share in it, but this was different,” she said. “This was the darker side of womanhood.”
Aileen’s brave account is a frank, funny, and vulnerable exposé on a little-known and little-understood phase in a woman’s life, and we applaud her for lifting the veil.
Once we start digging, of course, there’s a wealth of information to be found. Harvard Medical School has even conducted research specifically into the symptoms of the “rocky road to menopause,” as they so aptly name it.
“Menopause is a point in time,” the experts advise, “but perimenopause (peri, Greek for ‘around’ or ‘near’ + menopause) is an extended transitional state.” Fortunately, Harvard medics also extended their investigation to cover options for treating some of the more “distressing features” of perimenopause, such as night sweats, sleep disturbances, and wild fluctuations in mood.
As every woman and every body is different, the very best thing to do is to start a conversation with your physician if you expect the onset of perimenopause. In fact, start a conversation with your friends, your partner, your peers, and even your children.
“Friends and I began whispering about our ‘changes’ at book club meetings and writing groups, and those all too rare ‘moms’ nights out,'” Aileen shares. “Soon I found that this is a dirty secret we keep, walking through life, all of us pretending to hold it together, while inside we are unrecognizable to our own selves.”
No woman should be left in the dark about her own body. Talk to each other; let’s reclaim the driving seats of our own lives.