What is perimenopause?
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Hi. My name is Amy, and I’m perimenopausal.
Do you know what perimenopause is? I didn’t know much about it until fairly recently when I embarked on a quest to figure out what this “condition” is all about. By reading a number of over-the-counter medical articles, I’ve learned that it can be a wacky rollercoaster ride caused by a shift in hormones. As a 42-year-old woman, according to the Internet, I’m apparently right on schedule — or perhaps a bit early — to enjoy this midlife experience.
If I sound unsure about how perimenopause works, it’s because I’m unsure about how perimenopause works. The ambiguity is among the primary points I’m aiming to address in my journey to spread awareness for the millions of women who are likely experiencing perimenopause right now — not to mention younger gals, who are next in line for the rollercoaster.
When I told my doctors about my symptoms and suggested that perhaps I have perimenopause, they neither confirmed the possibility nor gave me any hard-and-fast advice, which made me wonder whether I actually had a problem. But I thought, How could this be? I know I’m quirky, but surely I can’t be the only one going through this. Luckily, some of my lady friends are going through this too, and I’ve discovered a handful of doctors and health specialists writing about perimenopause, like Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt. After reading her Medium essay, “Peri-Menopause- AKA ‘The Abyss’,” I now feel a sense of relief knowing that I’m not delusional and also that she recognizes that perimenopause is not a cut-and-dry diagnosis. Dr. Levy-Gantt writes:
When women are in the Age of Peri-Menopause, it is almost always a complicated mix of seemingly random symptoms and processes that are in need of attention. I have heard the following: “I think I’m going crazy”. “My hormones are all out of whack”. “I cannot get out of bed”. “I have suddenly gained 15 pounds”. “I have constant fuzzy brain”. “ I’m in a bad mood all the time”. “I don’t know what’s happening to me!” THIS is the gynecologist’s complicated dilemma — and the one where I have had to come up with a true plan of action to help women who find themselves “falling” into this hole.
Before I unload the laundry list of my own symptoms, I want to state that I view myself as a reporter of my own problems. I’m not so much striving to become a medical expert as I am on a mission to make perimenopause a household term. At this point in time, perimenopause is not part of the public consciousness like her sister delights, menopause and PMS.
I digress, and disclaimers aside, the point I’m trying to make is that while I’m usually disinterested in dissecting health stuff in any form, my perimenopausal experience has become increasingly interesting to me because, according to WebMd, the average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for a decade. Think about that for a second — a decade? That’s a solid chunk of the 88 years I plan to live.
I also find it intriguing that perimenopause is inextricably tied to Gen X women (of which I am a member), what some folks are referring to as an underdog generation or, in the words of the Pew Research Center, “America’s neglected ‘middle child’ … a low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths.” Gen Xers were born roughly from 1965 to 1984, so we’re currently between the ages of 35–54.
Writes Ada Calhoun in “The New Midlife Crisis: Why and How It’s Hitting Gen X Women” on O.com in 2017: “Generation X has long been an outlier. Wedged in between millennials and baby boomers, Gen Xers (ranging from 50 to 65 million Americans, depending on which birth years you count) are far smaller than the generations on either side.”
P.S. I’m looking forward to Ada’s Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis. But, after reading her eye-opening essay, I’m also trying to think optimistically, hoping that we can change the thinking from “midlife crisis” to “midlife re-emergence” or something.
Though I missed it at the time, Ada Calhoun kinda blew up the Internet with her O essay, and I’m glad she did. Speaking of Oprah, I discovered that the Queen of Media was, not surprisingly, a pioneer in raising perimenopause awareness. In a February 2002 Oprah episode, she interviewed women who said they experienced perimenopausal symptoms for the first time aged 31, 37, 38, and in the mid-30s. The Guardian reported that the viewer response was so massive that the Oprah.com website crashed shortly after the show aired.
But that was 17 years ago — what happened after that? According to the Guardian article, many doctors were not impressed with the rude awakening that Oprah ignited. Writes Lucy Atkins in “Hot and Bothered”:
They say that this buzz is more about book and supplement sales than clinical reality (one US market-research survey showed that sales of soy isoflavone supplements — often recommended in perimenopause books — were three times higher in 1999 than in the previous year). These days, according to Dr Wulf Utian, a reproductive endocrinologist and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, such talk is largely just “an attempt to create a new medical condition”.
I get it. Oprah has a slight track record with getting people excited about new things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the hype wasn’t warranted. With this in mind, part of my Adventure will be finding out how “official” perimenopause is.
For now, I’ma keep talking to my ladies about this, because they’re also going through perimenopause. How about you? Share your comments below, follow me on Instagram @jumbleandflow.
In Adventures in Perimenopause #2, I cover how to get a quality night’s sleep when you’re in perimenopause.
Have you found a fantastic perimenopause doctor? Share your recommendation here.
New to perimenopause? Read our empowering guide to everything you need to know about this under-understood phase of life.
Looking for relief for perimenopause symptoms? Read 15 of the best perimenopause supplements, vitamins, drugs, hormones, and foods
Amy Cuevas Schroeder is the cofounder and Chief Content Officer of Jumble & Flow, the new lifestyle brand that empowers women to thrive in midlife. She started her first business, Venus Zine, in her dorm room at Michigan State University, and later sold the company. She now lives in the Chicago area, and is raising twin girls with her husband, Martin, a social worker. She’s worked as a content leader for Etsy, Minted, and Abstract, and has written for NYLON, Pitchfork, The Startup, and more.
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Amy Cuevas Schroeder
We're on a mission to empower women 40 and over. We're redefining midlife like nobody's business.
Adventures in Perimenopause, essays by women in perimenopause and menopause
In My Prime: interviews with women thriving in midlife
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