Like pregnancy, the menopause is one of those life situations that in spite of all the information that’s out there, you kind of have to experience it yourself to really know what it’s about.
A recent survey by ITV’s Tonight programme highlighted that a quarter of women considered leaving work due to menopausal symptoms. Quite worrying when you consider that up to 3.5 million women over 50 are still working.
Science and technological advancements may have given women more power and control over their fertility, but one thing we can’t control is Biology! Whether you dread the day your periods stop once and for all, or you are looking forward to the day it’s all over, the menopause is going to happen!
Without meaning to sound patronizing, menopause is basically when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
The truth is, most women know what menopause is but like with menstruation, the time they have to prepare as well as the information that they receive does not necessarily guarantee the experience they will have.
Abiola Abidekun, has been there and done that! At the age of 45, she is well and truly into, if not over her menopause. She talked to Melanmag.com about her experience of making the change, but to understand the significance of the process, it’s important to acknowledge Abiola’s journey through womanhood.
“I grew up in Nigeria as a child and I enjoyed the freedom and fun of being a kid until one day, at the age of nine everything changed. I remember the panic, and crying as I told my mum that I was bleeding. Mum immediately gave me a stern lecture, giving me ‘the talk’ which basically was ‘don’t go near boys, change your sanitary towels regularly and keep yourself and the home tidy’. At the time, I was comfortable talking to my mum about having a period but I didn’t know what it was all actually about.
The amount of time and frequency with which I was allowed play out with my friends was suddenly restricted.
It was clear, I was a woman now and had to be ‘responsible’.
My periods were more or less regular from the onset. Five days of heavy bleeding, once a month, backache, tommy ache, brain ache, doubling up on sanitary towels which never had the convenient sticky bit that you get today and instead was held securely in place by a piece of string fastened around my waist with my mothers assistance. My flow was so heavy, I had to be very careful with my choice of clothing and also walked around in discomfort with this bulk between my legs.
Eugh… I hated my periods!
There were days when I was in so much pain, but there was no medication, and taking the day off to recuperate at home was considered lazy, so I just got on with it. I constantly asked my mum and older women in my family, ‘when did they stop?’ My mum’s periods didn’t stop until she was 50.
I arrived in the UK at 21 and found a temporary solution to my dreaded monthly period #tampons. Although they didn’t ‘solve’ my problem, I could at least relax a little bit and wear what I wanted with a thin sanitary towel as back up. It’s ironic, menstruation is a significant symbol of womanhood yet the only time I hated being a woman was when I was on my period.
As life went on, I got married and had three children between the ages of 30-35 years. My pregnancies were easy (let’s not talk about childbirth though) and a welcome break from my periods. I didn’t breast feed for long, which meant that within two months of childbirth, my periods were back and my normal routine ensued. I always felt as if my periods stopped me from being me; care free. I was self-conscious every time I bled.
I noticed an irregularity for the first time since starting my menstrual cycle in January 2015, when my periods become irregular. I’d bleed twice a month, sometimes for two days, sometimes for up to five days, but I never really paid much attention. The irregular pattern continued and I eventually went to my GP a year and a half later #DontJudgeMe. I had a stressful year, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and eventually passed away. I was grieving whilst keeping it together at work and at home for my children and my husband.
In June 2016, I discussed my symptoms with my GP who predicted fibroids or menopause. My blood test revealed that the levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) had increased and my estrogen levels had decreased, this confirmed the latter #Menopause.
By August 2016, my periods officially stopped. It all sounds so swift and simple but this was not the end.
As my periods officially stopped another symptom of menopause kicked in BIG TIME! #HotFlushes. I was certainly NOT prepared for the reality!
I’d be sitting down, minding my own business when a wave of intense heat, from deep within would emerge from my stomach and quickly spread all over my body. Within minutes I’d feel like I was on fire, sweating palms, glistening face, if my cheeks could go red I’d be crimson. The anxiety of the anticipated flushes and the desperate urge to strip or make a dash towards the nearest fan/exit was distressing. I was having flushes that would be gone as quickly as they came, nearly every hour of the day for three months! I can’t quite articulate the intense sensation of heat but it was enough to wake me up in the middle of the night to take a cool shower, which of course began to deprive me of sleep.
I work within a predominantly male team and so I would have to force myself to act calm and not draw too much attention to myself every time I had a flush because I didn’t want to become the butt of all their jokes. I didn’t want to share my personal business aka my menopause, and knowing what they’re like, I could just imagine the insensitive comments like ‘Biola, you are officially old’. Not what I wanted to hear.
At the end of each day, I’d find myself getting emotional for no reason and my energy was drained. I did some research and found out that being emotional was also another common symptom of menopause.
I spoke to my GP who suggested Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which tops up low levels of oestrogen and progesterone hormones, helping to alleviate the symptoms of the menopause. Yet, I did my research! Having recently lost my mum to cancer, I was concerned about the possible drawbacks; breast cancer, ovarian cancer, deep vein thrombosis, blood clots, stroke and lowered libido.
My husband and I discussed my options and I opted for the homeopathic method of managing my symptoms. I visited Holland and Barrett and purchased iron tablets and sage tablets. This seemed to help a little. I also altered my diet, reducing my intake of coffee from seven cups a day to one and cutting back on spicy food, I generally ate healthier and this helped a lot too. Exercise also played a fundamental part in the management of my menopause and I would walk everywhere (this also meant that I could experience my flushes in peace with no added pressure of witnesses). I considered acupuncture however I managed to get a handle on my symptoms.
Towards the end of November 2016, just three months after officially being told I was going through menopause, the flushes subsided, occurring around once or twice a day and then eventually stopped.
I was so relieved! Thankful. Excited. Happy. FREE!
Menstruation and menopause officially over at the age of 45!!!
As I reflect on my experience, I realize that I am more patient than I give myself credit for. Previously I would have described myself as the kind of person who looks for ‘the easy way out’ but I stuck with my decision to see the process through as naturally as possible. My husband was and remains very supportive, my children showed me nothing but love and kindness. Menopause reminded me that I am truly blessed. And yes, I can say that confidently. I have a good career, my husband, my children, my home.
Whilst it is increasingly common for women to delay having children to pursue their career and enjoy life, it is important that biology is considered.
Throughout my life I couldn’t wait to stop my periods, yet I didn’t expect to start menopause at the age of 43.
Women experience the menopause in a variety of ways. For some women, the symptoms of menopause begin months or even years before their periods stop and last around four years after their last period, with some women even experiencing the symptoms for much longer. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone.
I’ve been there.
You CAN manage and WILL make it through”.
For more information visit www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Menopause/Pages/Introduction.aspx