Ten years ago I laid on the exam table for a routine pap smear and heard the word perimenopause for the first time.
At the time, I was so busy with my life of ‘momdom’ that I gave the whole process of menopause exactly zero thoughts. In your early 40s, who thinks about menopause? And what the heck is perimenopause? I was definitely too young for such old lady things.
I’ve since learned that perimenopause is ‘Latin’ for the process when your ovaries and uterus are thinking about retiring, so they decide to party and act up before they actually quit. They rebel like teenagers and play around with their access to your hormones, forcing you onto a wild rollercoaster ride.
Definition of Perimenopause
I’ve also learned that most of what we think is menopause, it may be actually perimenopause. Let’s get the official definition from WebMD:
Perimenopause, or menopause transition, begins several years before menopause. It’s the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen. It usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but can start in her 30s or even earlier.
Just to be clear, menopause is the magical point at which your period has been nonexistent for a year. It’s when your ovaries are officially done, and are not producing eggs.
Most knowledgeable sites define perimenopause as the 3-5 year period (some sources say 6-8 years) before menopause when your ovaries and uterus are trying to decide what they want to do. During this time, your estrogen and hormone levels are supposed to drop…….gradually. (The word ‘gradually’ sounds alot like gently, doesn’t it? Hmmm.)
My definition is simple. Perimenopause is the time when your own little terrorist group (comprised of your ovaries and uterus) plots to surprise you. Just when your life tends to calm down some from the hectic days of raising children, your body decides to go crazy, much like riding a rollercoaster.
Rollercoasters aren’t usually gradual, or gentle.
Hormones during this time can fluctuate wildly, going way up and way down, wreaking havoc with your moods and your quiet, organized life.
(Sign up for my free printable Menopause: Foods to Eat and Avoid at the bottom of this post.)
Let me just add here, that perimenopause is not always turbulent. Some women don’t even know that they are on the pericoaster until menopause arrives on the scene. With me, strange things were happening with my body, but I had no idea Peri was the cause.
With me, I began to wonder if my ‘off’ spigot was broken when it came to my periods. Seriously. There was no rhyme or reason for it, or way to prepare for it, but some months I felt like there might not be enough blood in my body to continue pumping. And then the next month would be much lighter than usual. Again, crazy.
To those sweet sisters who have no symptoms: We still love you. But, we will probably talk about you behind your back. (wink, wink)
When this rollercoaster is happening, I need to remind you that your ovaries are still functioning. This is code for…..you can still get pregnant. You can just Google countless stories of women who thought they were finished with menopause and became pregnant. (Side note: Babies are ALWAYS blessings! Some are just surprises!!)
I need to pause here for this public service announcement: If your period is suddenly not normal, please visit your doctor and get checked out. Women’s symptoms can indicate many different conditions, so it’s always a good idea to see a medical professional.
If you haven’t reached this stage in your life, I would just like to prepare you for it. BUT, in truth, there is no set standard for how this thing called perimenopause will go. Let’s just say everything is fair game.
Always trying to keep it honest.
Let’s talk about symptoms.
Symptoms of Perimenopause (also symptoms of Menopause)
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Mood changes
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Breast tenderness
- Worse PMS
- Vaginal dryness
- Urine leakage with a cough or sneeze
- Weight gain
- Hair thinning/loss
- Racing heart
Gradually, (there’s that word again) your periods will space themselves out more and more until they give up and stop. The magic number is one year. When your period has been gone for a year, then you can say you’re Postmenopausal. Hallelujah, right? Well, I wish I could say that all these symptoms just disappear, but what’s the fun in that?
My little terrorist gang decided to psych me out and show up after a year. Yep, I had a period exactly a year after it stopped. So I had to start over with the counting. I was not a happy camper. I guess you could say I’ve been postmenopausal twice. LOL
The point of that little story is to show you that everybody is different in how they process through the menopause years. Pretty much everything is fair game. The hot flashes and insomnia were perhaps my biggest irritations. You would think with everything your body was doing, it would just want to sleep, right?
All in all, I understand that my little terrorist gang is tired. They have worked themselves silly for 40 years, giving me 4 babies and feeding them afterwords. They’re strong girls. Just like we are.
Our bodies are amazing and miraculous, and sometimes without explanation. All we can do is be in awe of the birth process. And this ‘menopause’ is actually a part of the birth process.
I see it as God’s provision of taking away this monthly burden so that I can concentrate on grandbabies.
Can I get an “Amen” ?
Who needs some menopause encouragement? Would you take a moment to forward or share? We all need to laugh our way through this stage of life!
P.S. Sign up below for the free printable Menopause: Foods to Eat and Avoid.