health

'I'm 43 and I'm scared to lose my best feature during perimenopause.'

I’m not a conventionally beautiful woman. I have a larger nose and small breasts, which is not the look you’ll see represented in many magazine and Instagram models, or female actresses etc. (It totally should be! Bring on more Sofia Coppola bold, beautiful large-nosed women!)

I look different to the women I see in the media, but with my tiny waist, I’ve always felt sexy enough. The idea of losing my best feature during menopause feels like a grief point. 

Watch the best bits about being in your 40s. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

We’re allowed to grieve.

It’s not anti-feminist to acknowledge change is hard. And menopause is a damn huge change for most women. 

The menopause symptom I’m most worried about is shallow and vain, but I don’t care.

During menopause, more of your fat is redistributed to your waistline. “The thickening” I’ve heard it called. Ew.

As a pear-shaped woman, my waist has always been small and 'feminine'.

I’m not as worried about the other parts of me inevitably changing along with my waist. I’ll resist, of course. It’s hard not to protest your runaway youth.

My face, boobs, and butt already feel like a slow-moving landslide. But I’ve accepted I’ll get wrinkles regardless of what wonder creams I apply. I’ll still apply them. (I’m hoping retinol and vitamin C are as good as the hype).

I’ll be tucking up saggy breasts with the best gravity-defying bras I can afford and keeping other parts up and in with flesh squeezing shape-wear.

Ageing is normal, as much as we’re told it’s not. I plan on embracing it boldly, without surgical intervention. But I know the loss of my girlish waistline will hurt my ego. It just will.

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Then there are the pregnancy scares.

In your 40s, your periods go haywire. I hadn’t had a period in almost 100 days. 

“Are you prepared for baby number five?” I asked my husband. We pulled equally horrified faces at each other.

“I thought your boobs looked bigger.” 

“I think it’s perimenopause,” I offered. “Hopefully.”

I’m 43, around the age many women enter perimenopause. But it’s hard to be sure why you’ve missed a period at this age. Your cycle is impossible to track. Many women have surprise “geriatric pregnancies” thinking they’re menopausal. Part of me hoped I was, I guess for many of us that desire to procreate never fully goes away. 

But I really don’t want more babies. 

A half dozen pee-stick pregnancy tests and an extra I-really-need-to-make-sure-it’s-negative blood test later…

“Not pregnant!” The nurse almost high-fived me. 

Pregnancy scare over, I decided I must have slipped stealthily into the next stage of womanhood. 

A second puberty?

Perimenopause is the more quietly disruptive stage that happens up to ten years before the noisy shebang of menopause hits.

Since entering my 40s, I’ve lurked around stories about menopause. I’ve been telling myself, maybe, like my mother claims hers was, my menopause will be symptom-free. I can just ignore it and carry on like normal. 

But only a quarter of women get that luxury. 

Another quarter have awful symptoms and the rest of us (50 per cent) fit somewhere in between. 

So, today I stood in a bookstore in front of a pink display of Don’t Sweat It – a guide to perimenopause and menopause by New Zealander writer, Nicky Pellegrino – and performed the awkward dance of denial, picking up and replacing the book repeatedly on the shelf. 

“I don’t want to know what’s coming for me in the next two to 12 years.” 

“But I need to know what’s coming and how best to manage it. Not knowing just makes it worse.” 

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Side note: The Very Peri Summit, presented by Mamamia is coming soon. It’s an online event with everything you need to know to navigate perimenopause, the super fun (sometimes) decade long phase before menopause. It’s streaming over two evenings and is available to catch up on demand anytime. Discounted early bird tickets are on sale soon. Join the waitlist to make sure you don’t miss out when help finally arrives!

I bought the book. 

I don’t know how to feel about menopause, honestly. Scared, excited, full of dread? 

Going through another puberty (in reverse) doesn’t thrill me – my first puberty was bad enough. 

Apart from waist thickening, I’m also worried about another common symptom. Hot flushes sound uncomfortable but not too scary, and forgetfulness I’m used to already, so I’m not as concerned about those or the long list of other symptoms. 

And the list is long! 

Insomnia, anxiety, loss of confidence, aching joints, and vaginal dryness are a few of them. 

Listen to The Quicky's episode on menopause, Menopause: Misunderstood, Mysterious & Magnificent. Post continues after podcast.


But one mood symptom very much concerns me.

Severe irritation and rage is something many women in their 40s and 50s experience due to perimenopause. It goes hand in hand with the anxiety and depression symptoms, according to the Australasian Menopause Society.

I’ve been there before. In my mid-30's I experienced hormone-based rages (most likely postpartum rage) and it’s not something I want to experience ever again. 

I’m normally a mild-natured, patient person, but during the space of a few months I went from gentle panda bear to fierce black bear. To avoid ripping my family members’ heads off, I confined myself to my bedroom, a self-imposed quarantine, and made a sign for the door that said “Danger. Do not enter!” in red pen. 

My kids describe my moods in that period of time as “monster mum”. 

After a desperate crying episode in my doctor’s office, I was booking in for a procedure on my uterus, an endometrial ablation, and emerged with my hormones miraculously rebalanced. 

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None of us want the return of monster mum. 

Anti-depressants or menopausal hormone therapy can help with perimenopausal rage apparently, and I’ll be jumping on those if I need them. 

On the other hand, perhaps a little rage is what’s needed.

Women, traditionally, have been taught not to express anger. Even to the point that many of us aren’t able to at all. We cry or get sad when anger would be the more appropriate response. I found that incredibly frustrating in my younger years. Why did I cry when I wanted to be mad?

I like Pellegrino’s attitude to menopausal rage. In her book, she says:

“.. there are gifts, too, (with menopause) and rage might even be one of them. 

If — rather than clenching our jaws — we harness that fury and use it to get where we need to be.”

As long as I’m not Monster Mum to people I care about, and not damaging work or family relationships, I don’t mind using my perimenopausal rage for good. 

We can use it to get where we need to be, to resist invisibility, to fight inequality, and to highlight in society what needs to be highlighted. 

***

My mum and step mum, both in their 60s, complain about their changed bodies. They were slim and stunning in their 20s. But when I asked them about post-menopausal life, they both enthusiastically reassured me it’s so much better once your periods and monthly hormone swings stop. 

As Pellegrino reminds us in her book, it’s not the end of our womanhood. It’s not the start of invisibility or the end of our sexiness. It’s a stage and we pass through it. There are post-menopausal women running countries, heading up successful businesses, writing into their 80s, etc. 

It might be uncomfortable, sweaty, infuriating, and moody for a while, but she says, once we’re free of the monthly hormonal cycling “we may even end up better versions of ourselves”. 

I’m just at the start of my change, and that’s a little daunting, but I think it’ll be alright in the end. 

Think you’re in perimenopause? Hot? Sweaty? Brain fog? Help is on the way! The Very Peri Summit, presented by Mamamia is coming soon. Join the waitlist to be the first to know when discounted early bird tickets go on sale.

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Feature Image: Supplied