My periods had always been clockwork, no fertility problems, and no history of female issues. So you can imagine my surprise when like a light switch, peri-menopause greeted me suddenly at the ripe old age of 41. I didn’t know it was peri-menopause at first; that was the last thing on my mind. I thought that maybe it was something even worse, pregnancy. My period was irregular and had been for a couple of months, but it always came around. I got hot suddenly with no warning and not in a sexy way. My libido was dead, and my body didn’t even respond to sexual stimulation. Then I was visited by the ghost of sweaty nights. Night sweats showed up with a vengeance. I was so hot, looking for something to blame because I was always a cold-natured person. This must be my boyfriend’s fault, or even my dog, the little furnace that he was. It took two or three nights consecutively for me to realize that the problem was me. I had never had trouble sleeping, and my body was used to a consecutive 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Not anymore; I would wake up sweating, the sheets were wet. I had to change them or lay towels down to get by until the morning. Then I was freezing and couldn’t get warm. I would finally fall asleep for the whole vicious cycle to start over again.
This was when I knew something was wrong, and I still didn’t think it was ‘the change.’ This change my grandmother warned me about sounded like the devil exorcising my soul, and I just knew it would never happen to me, at least until I was super old like my grandma. I was convinced I was pregnant; I was still ripe in my youth, I could still have babies, right? I called my OB/GYN to schedule a visit, fearing that I could be pregnant. I took three pregnancy tests before my appointment, and all were negative. I was confused and subconsciously refusing to even consider ‘the change.’ I arrived at my appointment and explained to my doctor that I wasn’t pregnant, but I wasn’t going through menopause because I had my period off and on over the past few months. She told me to describe my symptoms and leave out the self-diagnosis part.
I guess I was jumping ahead of myself, and after all, I didn’t go to medical school. She drew blood, did a routine pap smear and pelvic exam. She scheduled a follow-up visit for me in one week to go over my lab work. She told me to prepare for peri-menopause, but that was likely what it was. I was stunned and in disbelief. I was 41; did she overlook that? Indeed, it is something much worse. Cancer? Endometriosis? I think I was willing to accept a devastating diagnosis rather than accept that I was approaching ‘the change.’ Some of my classmates were having babies at my age; what the hell was going on with me? I was in complete denial.
I returned to my follow-up appointment with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, preparing to hear that my life was over. My doctor told me that my levels were peri-menopausal. I was numb and irritated. I know it was true, though, because the hot flashes and night sweats were still happening every day. Not to mention, no period. She said that the accurate diagnosis of menopause was a lack of period for 12 months. I had a ways to go for that, and she told me that I could still get pregnant even though she suggested that I continue to prevent it because it would take a toll on my body at this point in my life. She wanted to put me on hormones, basically straight estrogen and progesterone. I didn’t know much about hormones, but I knew that is what my grandma took, and she got breast cancer; it was somehow linked to the estrogen she had been taking. Luckily, she beat cancer, but the thought of me taking cancer pills freaked me out! I didn’t argue with her, took the written prescription and went to my car, and had a meltdown. I called my mom, and she calmed me down as mothers do. She told me that she also went through menopause early in life and suggested that I visit a clinic that specialized in bioidentical hormone replacement. She said it was a safer option than the prescription given to me by my OB/GYN and that this clinic actually monitored my hormone levels and symptom relief to determine precisely how much or how little I needed. I was all in! I called and made an appointment. I had a consultation right away with a practitioner that specialized in hormones all day, every day. I told her that I was not ready to accept and menopausal diagnosis, she completely understood. She said that everyone is different and that even though some of my friends may not be experiencing the same symptoms I was having, their hormones were declining. Everyone’s hormones decline, especially in the 30’s she said. Who knew? We drew labs, and I followed up a week later. The lab results were almost identical to what my OB/GYN had drawn, with the exception of a few things. She suggested that I start with a very low-dose estrogen pellet and testosterone pellet. She said I needed to take progesterone at night as well. She said that normally within a few weeks, I would notice my sweats subsiding, sex drive increasing, and probably more energy and better mood. I did it, and I scheduled my first pellet insertion. The pellets are tiny, like the size of a cooked grain of rice. They are placed under the skin and would breakdown over time by my body. She insisted on the importance of journaling my symptom relief and any side effects I may notice so she could fine-tune my dose for the subsequent insertion. Within two weeks, I had a whole night of sleep again without having to wash my sheets in the morning. My sex drive was back and probably a bit more intense than before, but no complaints there. I felt like I was normal like I had hope. I had to get past that peri-menopause was not a death sentence or an instant law requiring me to ask for the senior discount at the local department store. This is a part of life, and this is the shift my body made. There is no timeline for this kind of thing. My female anatomy had been good to me for years, gave me beautiful children, and made me the woman I am. Now it is time that I nurture it back. Accepting peri-menopause was a mindset, and it is one that I have embraced. If I had not had the advice from my mom to seek out bioidentical hormone replacement, I don’t know what I would have done. I got very little counseling from my OB/GYN; I had no direction and found no compassion until I went to a clinic that specialized in BHRT. They were my lifesaver!