I’ve been thinking a lot about menopause, specifically, about what my grandmother experienced during her “change of life” and how that was different from what my mom experienced and how that was different than what I’ve experienced so far; how going through “the change” should be better understood and more straightforward now than it was even two generations ago.
In some ways it is. At least now we can talk about it and seek more information about what might be causing some of the crazy symptoms of menopause instead of assuming we’re losing our minds. Women in past generations often thought they were going insane and some were even institutionalized during menopause. My own experience and education since being on this long menopause road has brought to mind some interesting questions.
First of all, what does “menopause” mean? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term evolved from Greek origin menos, meaning “month” + pausis, meaning “pause or stop”. Makes sense. Monthly cycle stops.
The way I see it, menopause is the transition to another phase of life, like adolescence. During adolescence the body transforms from child to adult and is nature’s way of preparing the body to have children, to procreate. From an evolutionary perspective, adolescence prepares individuals to fulfill the necessity of ensuring that the human race thrives and doesn’t die. Menopause ends that child-bearing ability in a woman’s life. So when does this “change” happen?
According to the North American Menopause Society (NASM) in a 2014 Journal, menopause can be spontaneous, [usually as a result of a medical procedure such as hysterectomy], or natural. The average age of menopause is 52, but natural menopause can vary widely between the ages of 40 to 58. That’s an 18 year variation in the age a woman may enter natural menopause!
And…there’s also what’s called perimenopause, when estrogen levels decrease and get the whole process started and that could last up to 10 years.
Those answers also got me thinking about the purpose of menopause and why it happens at all. If “the change” is something that all women will experience, why does it seem like taboo and why does it seem so complicated?
Here’s one idea: Menopause is on the other end of procreation. It’s what happens to a woman’s body when she is done having children, when she is past that evolutionary role she plays in the promotion of the human race into the future, the next generation. So what’s at the other end of menopause; to what is a woman transitioning? Something that’s such a big deal in a woman’s life must serve some evolutionary purpose, fill some requirement to propel the human race forward. But what?
I had no idea that scientists have asked these same questions for years and there are many theories, including the “grandmother hypothesis” which theorizes that women live past child-bearing age to help care for grandchildren, thereby continuing her genes.
So what has any of this got to do with hot flashes, mood swings, fits of the blues, depression, forgetfulness, or night sweats? Not to mention changes in libido and all that goes along with that! What can be done about those annoying symptoms?
The standard recommendation is to consult with your Health Care Provider (HCP) for answers and treatment options.
My experience with HCPs varied. I had a hard time finding a doctor who listened to me and considered that I could be perimonopausal or even menopausal . Most doctors’ (I saw several) only solution was hormone therapy, which I used for a while but no longer wanted.
Menopause and the whole process of aging is as unique as each of us are and there are no easy answers for any of us. We have to figure it out as we go along, use our instincts, listen to our bodies, ask lots of questions, and know that there are things we can do to help ourselves.
A healthy lifestyle is important through all stages of life but especially important during this transitional time. The big four factors are nutrition, exercise, stress-management, and attitude. I also discovered a high quality supplement that’s made a huge difference for me.
This road has been long, unmapped, and difficult at times, but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned and for what I continue to learn about “the change”.
I’d love to hear your comments about what you’ve learned through your transition to menopause.