Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is this Menopause?

I don't know how many times I've heard that question - usually followed by a list of symptoms, physical or emotional, that make a woman wonder if, gee, at 42, I could be possibly experiencing menopause, at such a young age.

Often a trip to the doctor only confuses a woman, who has perhaps never missed a period yet, but is still wondering if the sleepless nights, or increased anxiety, or changes in her vaginal health, or lack of desire for sex, all these vague and indirect symptoms, could possibly be part of The Change. A doctor told my 42 year old friend during a pelvic examination that her uterus and vagina were young and healthy and she could still have more kids! (she already has 3, two teens and a seven year old, thank you very much!). You can't be in menopause, the doctor's say, you're too young!

But perimenopause can begin 10 years before you officially end menstruating. Some women begin in their late 30's! And at the very least, you should be aware that changes will be happening in your cycle in your early 40's - ovulation will be less regular, not 14 days after your last menstruation necessarily - my GP told me to be careful with contraception when I turned 40, because I could not count on my fertility period to be right in the middle of the cycle, it might begin the day after menstruating.

The other vague symptom that hits a lot of women in their 40's (way before they are thinking about menopause) is a desire to leave, to get away, to have more time alone to figure out where they are, who they are and what they want to do. You may call this a mid-life crisis, but it's not often a crisis - it's more likely an underlying angst, a questioning, the beginning of a quest for a self separate from all other relationships - mother, daughter, sibling, wife....

The need for a sabbatical from motherhood or marriage is never considered by most of us. We think the well of love and nurturing energy should be endless. It feels selfish to want to get away. To want to be alone. To fantasize a white room with no outside stimulation in which we could just be still, be quiet enough to hear our own voice.

And what would that voice tell us? That still, small voice so hard to hear in this busy, fast-paced world? It might shock us to think about leaving everything - but you may do as I did - and leave temporarily on retreat, then come back. Leave as often as you need to, and return. It doesn't have to be a year-long sabbatical. Maybe you just need an extended leave from being chief cook, bottlewasher and bread-winner (not to mention caring for aging parents, and in-laws).

So, yes, it could be menopause - or the beginnings of a 10-year long prep period - that is calling. It may be a call for self-care. It may be a wake-up call to prevent burn-out. It may be your body saying, whispering, cooing to you (or yelling): time for me, time for me to pay attention within, time for me to slow down and listen.

"When a woman stops doing she must learn how to simply be. Being is not a luxury; it is a discipline. The heroine must listen carefully to her true inner voice. That means silencing the other voices anxious to tell her what to do." The Heroine's Journey

Find that quiet space to do the questing in.

It is not a luxury. It is time.

take care

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