Today is World Menopause Day. Awareness about menopause, its symptoms and treatment options are still subjects that aren’t talked about enough. Hence the need for a day (and month) to raise awareness. It’s not something that was on my radar when I became a mum. Which is why it took me so long to recognise my symptoms.
This is going to be the first of several articles in the coming weeks about menopause. I’m going to start by sharing my experience and future articles will look at treatment options, tips for managing symptoms, and how it can impact our ability to parent.
When we started our adoption journey, I had just turned 40. When our eldest came home, my age didn’t concern me at all. I was a new mum and felt like I had no idea what I was doing!
As we prepared to welcome our youngest daughter, I felt more prepared. Whilst I wouldn’t say I was parent of the year, I felt I knew more about how to be a mum.
I was almost 46 when she came home. Menopause was something I knew the basics of, but I thought it was something that would affect me when I was much older. I therefore didn’t make any connection between the way I felt for a lot of the year leading up to her coming home, and the following few years.
Becoming a mum of two
The first few months after our youngest daughter came home were tough. I put it down to adjusting to being a mum of two. Juggling their very different needs and being in an endless cycle of school runs.
I experienced post-adoption depression but didn’t feel I could talk to our social worker about how I was feeling. We’d had a really difficult road to panel second time around. Our original social worker retired just as things started. She was more like a family friend, and we were gutted she was leaving and therefore couldn’t do our assessment.
Our agency was short-staffed so after a lengthy delay, we were allocated an agency worker who’d never done an adoption assessment before. She only stayed with us until Panel, and then our case was taken over by a manager. Although she was very nice and we had met her a couple of times, she knew very little about us.
So, I didn’t feel I could talk to her about how I was feeling and just carried on. That’s what we do as parents. We just carry on, putting everyone else’s needs before our own. But if we don’t look after ourselves first, we’re going to struggle to be able to meet everyone else’s needs. If you want some ideas about how to deal with the mental load of motherhood, Claire Mac has some great tips.
Looking back, I think that was when I first started experiencing perimenopause symptoms. Things got harder when I went back to work after a year of adoption leave. I put how I was feeling down to that. And learning how to do my job again. And then the pandemic struck. I was living in a constant state of anxiety. But then, wasn’t everyone?
Fast forward a few years, I left my job and was starting a new career as a self-employed writer. Whilst that was terrifying, it was something I’d wanted to do for years. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was excited about the challenge, and leaving behind the stresses of a job I hated.
Connecting my symptoms to perimenopause
I was sitting at my desk one day, a few weeks after I’d left work. I was feeling relaxed and enjoying writing when I felt a sudden wave of heat creep up from my stomach. It moved up to my chest and covered the top of my back too, all the way up to my head. And then I felt anxiety like I’d never experienced before. I started to cry and felt like I was never going to be able to stop. That went on for about an hour. And then, as quickly as it came on, it just went.
This happened again regularly over the next few months, at the same time in my menstrual cycle. I’ve always been very regular, but that had started to change, and my periods were very irregular. It was only then that I started to put everything together.
I had struggled massively at work for about 18 months before I left. I’d lost all my confidence, felt very anxious, and often felt very hot. Because of everything that was going on with the pandemic and various other things in my life, I’d put all of those symptoms down to that. I worked in a courtroom. My job meant I had to wear a suit. I’d regularly experienced what I now know were hot flushes. But because my clothing wasn’t particularly cool, I’d assumed it was just that and the heat from the courtroom which had no windows or air conditioning.
It was only when I was working from home, doing something I really enjoyed, and experienced those things, that I started to think it was something else. I did some Googling and came across Menopause and Me. That’s when everything started to make sense.
I monitored things for a few months to go to the doctors armed with evidence of how I felt at certain times of my cycle. My worst days were just before I came on, and just before I ovulated. Some months, I only had about 5 five or six days of feeling “normal” before the anxiety kicked in again. My cycle ranged from 14 days to 28+ so it was a rollercoaster of a time.
Getting treatment for perimenopause
I’d read some horror stories about GPs not taking symptoms seriously and women being sent away without any help. So, I was very nervous about going to see mine. I burst into tears as soon as I started describing how I’d been feeling and was prepared for a fight to get the help I knew I needed. But I needn’t have worried. My GP was brilliant. She listened intently and agreed that what I’d been experiencing were perimenopausal symptoms.
I practically skipped out of the surgery. We’d talked about the options and agreed that HRT was the best course of action for me. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
It’s only now, after three months of HRT, that I’ve realised how long I’ve been experiencing symptoms. It took about a month for the medication to start to work. And once it did, I couldn’t believe the difference.
As women, we often just get on with things and ignore how we’re feeling. Because there were so many other things going on around me, I’d put everything down to that. If I hadn’t left my job when I did, I suspect I’d have continued to suffer in silence.
Perimenopause can look very different from one woman to the next. And because it is something that isn’t talked about that much, we don’t really know what to expect. At least I didn’t. I’ll never know if I would have made the connection between how I was feeling and menopause, if I had the knowledge I have now, five years ago. But I suspect I would.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
There are many, but the most common ones include:
- changes in your periods
- hot flushes, when you have sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest which can make you dizzy
- difficulty sleeping, which may be a result of night sweats and make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- palpitations, when your heartbeats suddenly become more noticeable
- headaches and migraines that are worse than usual
- muscle aches and joint pains
- changed body shape and weight gain
- skin changes including dry and itchy skin
- reduced sex drive
- vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
- recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- changes to your mood, like low mood, anxiety, mood swings and low self-esteem
- problems with memory or concentration (brain fog)
A lot of these symptoms are caused by other things. But being aware of them helps you know what to expect. If you start experiencing several of them, it may be worth going for a chat with your GP.
The NHS website has lots of information and advice and is a good starting point. Menopause and Me is also a great site with a lot of help and support from booklets to coffee catch-up videos.
I’ve been reading Mariella Frostrop’s “Cracking the Menopause: While Keeping Yourself Together” which is blooming brilliant. I wish I’d read it years ago! If there’s one piece of advice I’d give my younger self, it’s that you are never too young to start learning about the menopause. Your future self will be very grateful you started early.