Talking to my mum about menopause transformed our relationship

Talking to my mum about menopause transformed our relationship

When I first started working at Phenxx, we were talking a lot about menopause and this transition the woman goes through. I was learning so much about it and how important this transition is for women. As a young woman in my twenties, I had never thought about or cared about menopause. Because of my work at Phenxx, I realised I had rarely spoken to my own mother about this, and only really spoken to her about it in passing. The team suggested that I take this as an opportunity to get to know my mum, her journey and what menopause is all about. 

This conversation between me and my mum about her transition to menopause was transformational. It was amazing to talk to her about everything I never knew I wanted to know about her and it has been an opportunity to connect to her in a way we had not done before. I am so grateful to my mum for being open, honest and patient with me and sharing her experiences with me. I am so grateful for Phenxx for creating a platform for these important conversations to happen. 

How do you feel about menopause in general?

It's just normal, really, that one goes through the next phase. It might be easier to understand than when you're a teenager and all that hormonal stuff starts. It can be overwhelming. And then, yes, as women get older, they usually say they can't wait for the bleeding and all that stuff to stop, until it really happens. Then you realise that it can all be quite exhausting. And it's not necessarily well explained that this exists and what the signs are. There's not much talk about it, sometimes just in passing. My friend once said something like, oh yeah, that happened to her too, and that was it. As if it were something embarrassing.

So can you tell me what you noticed or how you first realised that you were in perimenopause or menopause?

Yeah, I was worried because I suddenly got extremely heavy bleeding. I've had extremely irregular periods my whole life, sometimes no period at all. So I never really had to worry about it. It was never very exciting, unlike other girls. I didn't have much pain or heavy bleeding. Maybe I was just lucky. Yeah, for me, it's minimal. And then suddenly, I had such heavy bleeding that a tampon wasn't enough. You know, sitting on a horse for my job and suddenly having a waterfall of blood is not great. And then I started to get iron deficiency, for the first time in about 40 years of my life or so. But I didn't connect it with menopause. I actually thought something was wrong. And it was extremely uncomfortable because where I work, there are often no toilets, or if there are, definitely not clean ones. So it made it extremely difficult. And it was also sometimes a bit frightening because it was a large amount. And yes, I started to have sleep disturbances. What I didn't notice at first, apparently, I also changed behaviorally and emotionally. I only realised it when we had that one evening where I completely lost control over myself, and afterwards, I just thought it was a bit like a toddler overwhelmed by emotions for the first time or a teenager who eventually can't control themselves. And that's when I started reading about menopause and such. Probably because it bothered me so much that I hurt you so much. And yes, then I went to the doctor, they did a blood test, and he just said, yeah, it's a bit lower, but I'm not in menopause yet. I haven't stopped cycling. That was his idea of it, and that was it. And he said, yeah, we'll check again in two or three years. And then there are medications that can be prescribed. So it wasn't even like he explained anything to me at all. And then it was by chance that I went to a new doctor eventually because of COVID. She was the only one available. It was hard to get appointments at that time. She looked at everything and gave me printouts from menopause websites. She sent me links to information centers. She also talked to me about all sorts of therapies, especially because menopause can affect heart health. And that got better. But yes, the sweating was terrible. That started later. And general sleep disturbances. I didn't think my sleep cycle would be affected so much by my female hormones. 

What do you mean? Just waking up in the middle of the night for no reason?

Yeah, and constantly not being able to fall back asleep, being awake for hours. I've had that for several years actually. It just got worse. But I never connected it to menopause. Yes. There's not much straightforward information about what to expect or what can happen because, as I understand it, every woman has different symptoms, and it can also depend on their personality, certain things can be worse or not so bad for someone, depending on their job. So this thermoregulation issue was a problem for me at work, especially because every time it got warmer, I suddenly got terrible heat strokes, and in previous years, I mean, I work outside all the time, since we've been in Australia, I never had such problems with hot weather, and this time it was different. Something for you to look forward to, my dear.

What main symptoms or changes have you experienced, and how have they affected your daily life? You've already talked about it a bit, but is there anything else?

Yeah, the sweating at night was really bad. That was awful. So I had to change my clothes at night. And it wasn't great with the bedding and the sheets. That was not good. So that was almost the most unpleasant thing for me, along with the sleep disturbances. What I also didn't like was this emotional ups and downs. Because, in my profession, I basically have to be emotionally balanced at work, at least. And with the sleep disturbance, that wasn't so bad. I can get by with less sleep, but in the long run, it's not pleasant. The bleeding was uncomfortable for hygiene reasons. And annoying because I didn't really have any experience with it at the beginning, how to manage something like that. And especially, I mean, if you're sitting on a horse and then you realize it's flowing down, it's not great. Especially, you don’t want to ruin the leather gear, and that's the worst.

What didn't you know before? Did you just not know anything about it?

So, let me put it this way, the hot flashes and sweating is one of those things you always hear about. What you know and how it feels when you experience it is something completely different. I also knew that emotional changes could occur, but what that actually means wasn't clear to me. It can also be different from person to person. What always annoyed me was that when I thought about how upset I was getting over something small, I said, why are you getting so worked up now? But I just couldn't turn it off. It's like when someone cries, you say, stop crying, and then I can stop crying. For me, it was like I often got quite agitated and aggressive, which I really don't like. And I don't think I'm actually an aggressive person.

So, I found that somewhat concerning, and it's just not good for the family. It's definitely not good for the marriage, all this menopause stuff. Sometimes I think that when I see acquaintances and friends, where marriages often fall apart when the kids are older, I don't know if it's always because the kids don't need their parents as much anymore, or if it's also coincidentally the age when women go through menopause and undergo personality changes, becoming irritable, as Dad always calls it, difficult, and suddenly the wife is different from the woman the man knows. Yeah, other things change too. So, things that are important for a marriage, like having a desire for sex or something, can also change, which may not necessarily be advantageous, depending on the husband, don't you think? Or how the relationship was before. Yeah, many changes. I mean, it's a shame that women don't talk about it.

It would be quite interesting to know if, for example, problems in marriages have something to do with it. Because I know many married couples who have been together for a long time, and then suddenly, when the women are in their late 40s, they experience marriage crises. I wonder... Is it really a marriage crisis? Or is it that the woman has so many problems that she's in menopause and essentially acting like a teenager again? And men don't know much about it, or even less.

Because as they say today, we should actually educate young men about what it means for a young woman to have her period and the days before or after it, and what physical symptoms that entails, or even pregnancy, how a pregnant woman can behave. But with menopause, people always think that the woman is already grown up, she can handle it on her own. 

Yes, it's just as important. So you mentioned that you had quite a few problems with hot flashes. So what did you do to deal with it or what was the best thing that helped? 

The best thing that helped was to stop having hot flashes. That's quite good because I'm now taking a hormone supplement. 

What I also didn't know is that women, it's often said that when they go through menopause, they gain weight and all. There are many reasons for this. I thought it was because they eat more or because hormones prevent weight loss. But the body wants to gain weight because fat tissue produces oestrogen. Although in very small amounts, the more fat you have, the more oestrogen your body produces. And since my body had less oestrogen, it tries to form fat cells. Yes, and then you get hungry and gain weight. But you can't lose weight as easily because your metabolism is going through a transition phase, unlike when you're 15 or 35. If you go on a crash diet, you actually worsen the whole menopause process. 

Your entire metabolism is undergoing a transition. So, what helped me before I got the medication was using damp towels at night, placing a wet towel on my chest to cool down. Obviously there weren't Phenxx's options for me then. I had to change what I wear. 

For emotional crises, I tried to meditate, but I always just fell asleep. Those kinds of things didn't work super well. Having a somewhat consistent day-night rhythm and routine helped a bit. 

You mentioned that you feel like not many women talk about this. So would you say you don't feel comfortable discussing it with other women? Why or why not?

It's not really your typical coffee chat conversation, “so, how’s your menopause going?”. Sometimes the topic does come up with people you know a bit better. My friend and I were out for a walk, and I still had hot flashes. Then I got one while we were walking by the lake. She mentioned that she had it really bad too.

Then, I said I also had it with the heavy periods and she said she had it extremely as well but only for a few months, and then it was over. So she seemed to have had a relatively easy menopause, but maybe we always talk about how it was easy once we are through it. Like a woman talking about her birth, it is always easier once it's over than when we are in it. She was quite open to talking about it while we were walking. But with other women, I don't know. Sometimes, when you're experiencing symptoms yourself at that moment, another woman might say, "Oh, I had that too." Another of my friends, she’s much older than me, she's already 70. She mentioned, "Oh yes, it was terrible for me. I was in meetings, sweating profusely, and dripping onto the paper while I was trying to give a presentation."

But that's about it. If you're not showing symptoms, the topic doesn't really come up. 

Yeah. It's difficult when you can't really know if your experiences are normal or how others feel about it, or at least have a conversation with someone.

Yeah, in hindsight, I would say everything was completely normal, and it might have been easier if, for example, I had known more and been more prepared.

A bit of exercise, it helps with the metabolism, which is all confused during that time. In essence, your body needs to completely reset itself, which is why it's so challenging. Unfortunately, women are not told that calorie-restricted diets are not necessarily helpful during this period. I mean, women are constantly pressured by the media to always look young, slim, and fabulous.

And then suddenly, your body not only starts aging but also goes completely out of control, and you do what you've always done in your life. Depending on the person, it could be a zero-diet or a shake diet or whatever. Do you know a woman who doesn't constantly want to change her body somehow? But those are precisely the things that don't work when you're going through menopause because they make the problem worse. But I didn't know that, and I bet most women don't know. Maybe I was lucky to have this doctor, she's super young, fresh out of university, but because she's so young, she's up to date with the latest research and talks openly about it. 

How was it in your school? You have that Health class, right? They talk about the menstrual cycle and maybe a bit about the development of babies and childbirth, and that's where it ends. Everything about women stops when they have their children. I mean, it's as if that's the ultimate goal for a woman. That's where the education stops.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To love myself a little more and actually admire myself for what I've achieved in my life.


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