Truths & Lies
When A Menopause Diagnosis at 47 Sent Her Reeling
She fell for fearful stereotypes–which turned out to be wrong
Several months ago, I received a phone call from a well-meaning nurse practitioner in my gynecologist’s office. She announced in a pert voice, “Your labs are in and you have no estrogen. That means…” I actually have no idea what that meant, because a strange panic had set in, and the lack of estrogen had also apparently caused immediate deafness.
As she dove into the 30-second sales pitch on why I should consider Hormone Replacement Therapy, I was still trying to absorb the fact that she had just told me I had no estrogen. Running through my mind were these facts: I am only 47 years old (the average age of menopause in this country is 52); I haven’t experienced major symptoms; and my mother went through menopause at age 55, which is still the best predictor we have of when a woman will enter her own menopause.
I was also thinking: This isn’t fair!
Though I’d already been informed many years earlier that I wouldn’t be able to bear children, I had assumed, based on previous lab work, that I was at most peri-menopausal, which can start in your thirties and last for up to 15 years. Peri-menopause sounds like a nice, safe, fluffy place to linger between optimal fertility and the rock-hard crash that is menopause.
Shockingly, my usually reasonable mind was downloading every possible negative stereotype and worst-case assumption about menopause it had ever encountered, such as:
●I’m old and decrepit.
●I’m no longer sexy.
●My lady bits will dry up and become useless artifacts.
●My collagen supply will decline overnight, leaving my face a hideous wrinkly facsimile of what it had once been. I might suddenly look like one of those wizened viejitas from the mountains of Peru (despite the fact that I am a fair-skinned Caucasian of northern European descent).
●I will sprout bushy, old man ear-hairs and probably a moustache, too.
●Without collagen, bones can become brittle, so I will become dust inside, powdered concrete without a binder. And since one in five women over the age of 75 dies following a bone fracture, I will now have to don heavily padded garments and sensible shoes.
●My heart is already weakening and I’m developing cardiovascular disease.
●I will develop a deep voice and become as aggressive as a pit bull mama whose puppies have been stolen.
●I’ll wake up one day and find that an abdominal pooch–that very unflattering meno-pot—has colonized my existing abdominal fat, which will mean I’ll now look four months pregnant–all the time.
●My hair will thin and fade, and I’ll have to overdye it blue, lavender, or pink, as well as add a weekly wash and set to my routine.
●If I take HRT, I’ll become a junkie, begging my doctor for extra estrogen patches when it’s long past the point of safety or efficacy. Or I’ll be hanging out on the dark web, trafficking in black market patches. Or I’ll stand on highway median strips and freeway exits, holding a sign that says “will work for estrogen.”
The stereotypical losses and cultural assumptions associated with aging slammed up against my pride and vanity, making me equate menopause with death. Even when I tried to focus on images of hot 60-something role models such as Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, and Jane Fonda, I just could not erase the negative biases in my mind.
But in the end, my girlfriends in their late forties and fifties and my 72-year-old Aunt Judy welcomed me into this advantageous new phase of life and reminded me that this is just another hormonal life phase, like being a teenager–only you’re smarter and wealthier! They shared secrets such as: after menopause your relationships get stronger and your confidence soars (which equates to feeling – unexpectedly! – sexier), your bones can be protected, electrolysis does work, and you will be able to sleep again when your hot flashes fade.
And here was another surprise: both my alternative-oriented naturopath and old-school gynecologist agreed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was the way to ease into this phase for me. I chose a low-dose estradiol acetate vaginal ring, which I change quarterly.
That means I no longer have to schedule my vacations around my period, worry about an unexpected deluge leaking through my clothes, or beg for a spare tampon on an international flight. As I have begun to experience the positive aspects of menopause, I now see the absurdity of my initial panic. I can laughingly accept my Aunt Judy’s congratulations that she gave with only a touch of irony, “My dear, you were always amazing, but now you’ve really arrived!”
Gretchen Kubacky is a health psychologist with a unique approach to health that includes the body and mind. Visit her site here.
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