My period is six days late. I check throughout the day, hoping, but my old friend isn’t coming. There was a time when I would have been ecstatic it was late, gotten a pregnancy test and peed on the stick anticipating the plus sign. And there were times I would have been horrified I may be pregnant, too afraid to take the test while anxiously waiting for my period to start. But today there is a quiet sorrow, like mourning a loss. It’s possible I’ll never see my period again. Menopause has taken my friend and is robbing me of my youth.
Never in my life have I had the affection for my period I do now that it’s going away. Like most girls, I couldn’t wait for it to start. Menstruating turned a girl into woman, our mothers assured us. What my mother didn’t fill me in on were the cramps, the bloating, the wild mood swings, and the total hassle of bleeding for five days every single month. Once I became sexually active there was the constant concern of getting pregnant, regardless of using birth control. Everyone knew the stories of women who claimed to be on the pill, or said they were using a condom but got pregnant anyway.
My period was more than a minor inconvenience; it was a major disruption to my life. I was one of the few women unable to take the pill. Regardless of the dosage, it made me ill. I felt the full force of menstruation monthly. The gross mess and disgusting smell of the physical bleeding, on top of the intense cramping from passing clumps of bloody tissue were nothing compared to the mental ride every three weeks or so. Like clockwork after ovulation I’d get ravenously hungry, overwhelmingly tired, anxious, bitchy, with sudden burst of manic energy. The closer I got to my period the more intense my feelings, all feelings would get. Right before I began bleeding, I often experienced bouts of deep sadness, wept with little provocation. But literally the moment my period began my darkness would lift as if it never existed.
Thirty seven years of this and I thought I’d be thrilled when menopause came along. It surprised me to feel so differently while waiting for my period to come and thinking it may not. Despite that I was one of those unlucky women with severe PMS, or PMDD, or whatever they’re calling it these days, my period gave me my kids. Having a period gave me the capacity to produce life. And though my two extraordinary children are all I’ll ever want, when my period goes I’ll lose the ability to have any ever again. What kind of woman will I be without the exclusive, inherently female capability to reproduce?
Menopause steals more than our ability to have children. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, as women age our ovaries gradually produce lower levels of the natural sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone until they diminish almost entirely. These are the hormones of youth. They keep our immune system and other vital body functions healthy so we are physiologically able to carry and bear a child, fulfill our biological imperative.
Estrogen accelerates metabolism (to burn fat faster). It increases bone formation for greater bone density, and vaginal lubrication for better sex. Estrogen promotes healthy cholesterol levels. It helps regulate fluid balance which controls water retention. It aids lung function and reduces the risk of several kinds of cancers.
Progesterone reduces spasm. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and regulates the immune response. It normalizes blood clotting and cell oxygen levels, and use of fat stores for energy. It may affect gum health, decreasing risk of gingivitis and tooth decay. It appears to affect synaptic functioning, improve memory and cognitive ability. And progesterone also seems to reduce the risk of several deadly cancers.
And everyone knows testosterone is the premiere sex hormone—that sweet, dense scent that leaches through the pours right before orgasm. It also controls libido and clitoral engorgement and penile erection frequency. It increases muscle strength and mass, mental and physical energy. Maintaining testosterone levels has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, decrease fat and increase lean body mass.
The payoff to enduring my menstrual cycle was clearly much more than producing kids. In losing my period I am not only grieving the loss of childbearing but the hormones that provided me privileges and protections. The end of menstruation feels harder, darker than the onset. Girls speculate in wonder waiting for their periods to begin. In menopause women must undergo drenching sweats, memory loss, weight gain and phantom pain. Get through all that and the light at the end of this ordeal turns out to be a bullet. Perimenopause begins in our early 50’s and last upwards of 10 years or more. With fewer than 15% of U.S. population 65 or older, surviving menopause means then confronting the perils of old age, and coming to terms with my eminently closer demise.
Dye my hair, work out daily, dress casual but chic and still, losing my period means unequivocally, undeniably I am no longer young. I miss my old friend right now, and wonder if like my youth it is gone forever.