I distinctly remember the first time I heard the word perimenopause. After several negative pregnancy tests that resulted from a late period, I called a friend for advice. I was expecting she might suggest I visit my obstetrician, instead, she said, rather flippantly: “It could be the start of perimenopause. How old are you now… like 42?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” I replied, as if I knew what she was talking about. A frantic Google search soon revealed perimenopause to be the time in a woman’s life, leading up to menopause, in which she can experience menopausal symptoms: night sweats, hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycles. It can last for a brief period of time before the full onset of menopause (which is defined as not having a period for 12 straight months), or, it can last as long as a decade. I immediately recognized all of the symptoms and realized that I was, in fact, not pregnant. In fact, the opposite was happening. I was aging, and so were my eggs. They were drying up, and if you wanted to be morose about it, so was my time on the planet.
It’s been a few years now since I’ve been dealing with this perimenopause bullshit, and it is no sleigh ride in the park. There have been many months where I have skipped periods, and all of the above-mentioned symptoms have gotten worse. Hot flashes seem to creep under my skin out of nowhere, and I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night needing to change my pajamas because I was sweating so profusely. (I know. Seeexy.) Oh yeah… the sweating. Let’s just say it doesn’t only happen at night. I never used to be a person who sweats much (which I wore as a weird badge of pride), but now, I go through more deodorant than a teenage boy on a wrestling team. Or perhaps the entire wrestling team.
In the last couple of months, shit has really gotten real. Not only have my last few periods been short in duration, my flow has, more often than not, been a sad, inconsistent little trickle, further proof of my impending mortality. The big box of tampons I bought from Costco last year sits, unopened, on a high shelf in my bathroom, mocking me from above. However, the physical symptoms are nothing compared to the emotional crap. I just don’t understand… how am I here already? Wasn’t it just 1989? How could my period, that annoying, painful, often unwelcome visitor dare to leave me before I was ready to see it go?
I remember, like the great literary figure Margaret before me, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my period. Was my whole life going to change? Would my boobs suddenly grow bigger? Would the boys at school figure it out, making me somehow more desirable? When the big day finally arrived, it was exciting, but also surprisingly uneventful; it quickly became the new normal. I do, however, remember my mother crying, just as I would, years later, when my daughter first got hers. I now wonder if my mom cried not only because of what it signified for me, but what it meant for her as well. Was she dealing with the end of menstruation at that time, just as I am now, realizing that the end of her cycle meant she was that much closer to death?
The thing is, of course I’m not going to miss my actual period. I won’t miss getting it at inconvenient times (meaning, any day of the week), or the embarrassing stories of its unexpected appearance at inopportune moments (like the time I was on a city bus and realized my period had arrived and was going to leave the bus patrons with a little present on the seat. When my stop was finally called, you better believe I Forrest-Gumped the hell out of Dodge.) I certainly won’t miss the mind-numbing cramps, heavy bleeding, or the panic that arises from running out of menstrual products at 2 am. What I will miss, though, is the commonality it brings with other women. The inside jokes, the bonding, the way it sort of humanizes us to one another; the sympathy sounds a bad period story can elicit from a table full of women. Also—it’s yet another reminder of the impermanence of everything. Time is passing. This chapter in my life—the sweet, exhausting magical years of growing babies on the inside and then watching them grow on the outside—is coming to an end.
I’m not suggesting that my worth in any way rests in my ability to have children, or that it would have been diminished had I not had them. However, there is no denying having my three kids has a big, happy, messy part of my story, and this part of the story is ending. I’m coming to terms with nature, as we all must, in all of its power and beauty. I know this is part of the natural cycle of life, and that does bring me some peace. As time goes on, I’m sure I will learn to embrace the positive aspects, since I’m a firm believer that good things come with change, even if I’m terrified of them. When I do get there, I will proudly pass off that box of tampons on my shelf to my daughter—when she too, is ready (right now, she’s still at the “Eww mom tampons are gross,” stage of teenage-girl-life) as a symbolic passing of the torch. I’m sure I will cry—for what is, what was, and what will be.
Emily Loeb is a wife, a mother of three, a yoga teacher and a freelance writer. Among other publications, her work has appeared in Long Island Pulse Magazine.