Carol made an interesting career for herself, doing something she loved and helping people and families who really needed her. Her life wasn’t a box of chocolates (!) but she harnessed her creativity and her kindness to make it all work. How satisfying does that sound?
Her story is important for the very reason that she had a mild menopause. Let’s hear it for those who do! Problems are by no means universal and that’s important for peri-menopausal people to know. For many people, the whole thing is no big deal. Hurray!
My name is Carol and I’m 60 years old. I began going into menopause in my early forties. I had my first period when I was nine, so I seem to have started everything on both ends five to seven years ahead of the usual timetable. I actually had many experiences with drenching sweats in my thirties, so that’s probably when I clinically started going into menopause, and I’d say I was done and finished by the time I reached 44.
Most of my professional life I’ve spent working in my own business providing day care for local families, a job that evolved over time into managing a whole range of domestic needs for multiple families simultaneously. I was caretaker to their children from infancy to adulthood, catered their parties, managed their properties when they were away on business or holiday, took care of their household pets, and even looked after their grandparents. For me it was a good life’s work; it was fun and different, I was never stuck behind a desk, and I was always out and about enjoying what I was doing.
I remember my mother having hot flashes and mood changes in her fifties, but it was hard to know what was genuinely going on with her because she was very repressed and self-centered. My grandmother also lived on our property with us for many years, and I don’t recall her talking about anything like that either. She and my mother were both classic Yankee WASP types who considered it to be in poor taste ever to complain or explain, though I’ll say my mother won the prize on that score. It’s different now with women my age, my impression is that we tend to talk about these types of issues far more easily and openly, regardless of our social backgrounds.
When I started going into menopause the primary person I discussed it with was my gynecologist. I asked him if having had my period so early meant that I’d be going into menopause earlier as well, and he told me no, everyone’s different and one thing isn’t predictive of the other. And then when my daughter started having her period at a young age too I took her to another doctor and he said the same thing. I wasn’t so sure they were right in either case, and I’m still not convinced.
When I was in my twenties my period would be every twenty-eight days like clockwork, except for once a year in August when it would be two weeks early, which was totally inexplicable. When I went to my doctor to discuss this he put me on hormones in an attempt to regulate my cycles, and I thought why is that necessary? I don’t believe they had any real answers for what was happening so they just threw hormones at me, which wasn’t something I had any desire to get involved with. By the time I started menopause my approach was simply to try and get through it, to take it as it came and be practical and deal with it on my own. I didn’t do research or seek out spiritual or psychological guidance, I just headed straight through it and then finally reached that point where I didn’t get my period any more and knew I wasn’t pregnant, and it was hallelujah! And the obsessive, addictive craving for chocolate that I’d had all my life during my periods vanished as soon as I was done with menopause; I couldn’t be less interested in it anymore, but when I look in my daughter’s closet now it’s stuffed with every kind of chocolate you can think of!
Always during my periods, and at times during menopause, my breasts would get terribly sensitive and my whole body felt like an expanding balloon, and it’s awfully nice not having to deal with that. My dominant symptoms were hot flashes and sweating; I’d always be walking around with tissues mopping my brow, even in the middle of wintertime, and though it wouldn’t interfere with my ability to function it was often noticeable to other people, and that was a little embarrassing. Anything regarding my moods would be harder to measure—my husband was always out of the house working, so I didn’t have him as a point of reference, and my children were too young to care or notice. Nevertheless, during menopause I cannot recall major variations or switches in my moods that were any different than during other stages in my life.
Because menopause happened so early for me, somehow it didn’t feel like such a main event, and there were no dramatic shifts in how I perceived myself or my place in the world because of it. I never had any extreme physical manifestations or profound emotional changes, I just stopped having my period, stopped craving chocolate, and stopped bloating, and those were all incredibly good things. After having my two children I chose to have a tubal ligation—it wasn’t as if I was planning on having any more, and the loss of my fertility wasn’t in the least an issue. I think back to the day when women were expected to keep pumping out babies until they’d completely exhausted themselves physically, and even in my own childhood I remember seeing women with ten, eleven, even twelve children. Thanks to the advent of birth control and the more enlightened times we live in that’s no longer the prevailing expectation, at least among the people I know.