Menopause…What a scary word. While I have yet to reach that stage of my life, I watched my mother struggle through this journey, and it frightened me to my core. She was met with a barrage of symptoms that hijacked her life and left her cursing womanhood. I remember her crying frequently and often feared she was losing her mind. She gained weight, developed acne, (which made her avoid going out in public) and she would fall asleep if she sat down for more than a few minutes. The worst of these symptoms for her was the hot flashes. I would hear her get up in the middle of the night to change her pajamas after sweating through them right down to the sheets. During the day, I would see her face suddenly flush, and she would begin pouring sweat. She would have to stop whatever she was doing to shower and change. Yet another reason she never wanted to go anywhere. It was like being a prisoner to an unpredictable and debilitating disease.
Beyond the physical symptoms of menopause, there is also a long history of postmenopausal breast cancer on my mother’s side. I think that is what truly scared her and what truly scares me. The concept of our own mortality is painful and difficult to accept. As we age it becomes an inevitable fate we can no longer outrun. Can we age gracefully when it can be terrifying and well, just plain ugly?
I asked my mom how she got through menopause and how her life changed when it was over. She surprised me with insight I didn’t expect from her. We have always had a difficult relationship, and I have always felt like the mother, but it seems something in her has changed with age. The role of wife was stripped away after my father’s death and the demands of raising six children have subsided as we each make our own way. She has been left with just herself, and I think she has finally found a sense of comfort in who she is without looking to others.
Will Menopause Ever End?
When I asked her about her struggle with menopause and what comes after the storm, she told me, “It is like I am finally free. The end of menopause marked a new chapter that was just about me, and what I wanted.” I asked if it made her fear death now that she was past the prime of her life, her reply: “NO”. For her it was the opposite. “I’ve seen enough death, and I have come to accept the inevitability of it. The older I get just means I get to be part of life that much longer. The best part is I am past the point of making mistakes that can change the rest of my life. I get to pass on what I’ve learned and hopefully help my kids have better lives.”
“As for menopause,” she said with a shake of her head, “you have to ride it out. It will get better.” I had to laugh as I recalled an incident with her sweating, swearing and crying one afternoon when she couldn’t get the remote to work. (I think my mom has forgotten some of the awful details when she was at the height of menopause.) My mother also told me it has only gotten easier for women to openly discuss menopause and all female issues in general. She had never even heard her own mother utter the word menopause, but now people openly share their experiences.
Take Heart: Relief is Available
There are a variety of options and products to help women through the transition and allow them to realize they aren’t alone. Haralee Weintraub is one such woman with a great idea to help women during menopause. Suffering from hot flashes after her being diagnosed with breast cancer, she cut apart a pair of sweat wicking bicycle shorts and made the first sweat wicking nightgown prototype. After sharing the idea with other women from her cancer support group, it turned into a business. Check out the incredible pajamas here: Haralee.com. It is women like this that are providing a sense of relief and making it easier to age with confidence.
Editor’s Note: I stumbled across haralee.com in my fourth year of menopause. To steal Dr. Phil’s line: “It was a changing day in my life.” I bought two pairs of pajamas, tried them out and immediately ordered two more pairs. One for myself, and one for my mom. My only comment on the product is that I prefer the V-neck style over the rounded collar. I found the rounded collar ones with the ruffles a bit irritating to my neck. I have been wearing these pajamas for two years – highly, highly, recommend them to everyone I know who is counting down the days for the hot flash/night sweat horror to end. It does end right?
In my own life, I realize I continue to change and think differently about life and aging. Most of all, I realize I want to age gracefully and carry myself into old age with dignity. As I reflect upon these hopes, I understand that aging is happening right now. So often we think of aging as it happens later in life when you really begin to see the effects, but I think by then it is too late to start aging gracefully. I need to take care of myself now and ongoing so that I may be able to climb the ladder of age with energy and wisdom to share.
In this, I believe what my mother said about openness is true. We live in an age where it is ok to talk about the issues that affect women’s health. The stigma and sense of embarrassment are disappearing. It is showing other women we are not alone and that life changes like menopause are not mile markers at the end of the journey. It is only a new chapter. A chapter with a new sense of liberation and a new journey in which to define our lives. As we go through transitions in life it is important to be aware and mindful of how we treat our bodies and to share with other women. It is not about shaving twenty years off your looks with makeup tips or getting a facelift. It isn’t about dressing like you’re twenty or keeping up with popular culture. Aging is about learning to be comfortable just being yourself, accepting age with honesty, and caring for the body that has carried you through so much. In many ways, aging is a privilege, and I think more women should think of it that way.
What does aging mean to you? Is it scary or just a part of life? Are there products that have helped you ease through life’s transitions? Have the stories of other women changed how you feel about aging?