As it’s #WorldMenopauseDay today I thought it would be the perfect time to open up more about my experience as a 34 year-old, infertile, menopausal, mum of three (I know there’s so much more to me than that, but this description describes my complex situation well)! Quite honestly, it’s not something I refer to in detail often, which I guess is partly because I’m still figuring it all out, but probably more-so because I still feel pangs of shame and embarrassment at times.
When I was diagnosed with “premature ovarian failure” (or premature ovarian insufficiency) just after I turned 28, I didn’t really hear the early menopause diagnosis. All my brain could process was the fact that I might not be able to have children and, even though it’s intrinsically linked, the news definitely came secondary to my fertility. It’s only post our fertility journey, after I’ve grieved the loss of my genetics in building my family, that I suppose am now grieving the impending loss of my menstruation (I say impending as I’m still peri-menopausal 6 years since diagnosis, with two donor egg pregnancies during that time).
I’ve asked myself what it is I’m actually grieving? I’ve joked at times that I’ll be pleased to never have a period again, but in reality the loss of my periods actually makes me feel quite sad. I suppose it’s the loss of something that reflects my womanhood, something I’m not really ready to let go of two decades before I’m supposed to. What I hadn’t realised was the complex emotional and physical impact that this transition can have, something which has varied over the past few years.
The most difficult phase for me started around six months after giving birth to Eska and Lena, just after I stopped breastfeeding. Aside from the awful night sweats in the early days, it’s the first time I truly recognised the physical and mental impact it was having on me, with the biggest impact being on my mental health and mood. My fuse was so short it was almost non-existent, to the point where I would lose my temper frequently and far too easily. The best way to describe it was almost like an out of body experience – I could see how unreasonable I was being, but had absolutely no power to control it. Around the same time my libido completely disappeared and the hot sweats returned. One thing for sure is I know how lucky I am to have such a supportive and understanding husband in Matt, whilst also having a fantastic consultant to talk to. He retested my hormones and we began to experiment with different types of HRT to try to help me to feel more balanced and ‘normal’ again. After a disastrous attempt with a hormone patch (a form of birth control which in itself was ironic and triggering) we finally found one which has settled my moods and helped me to feel somewhat like ‘me’ again. Now I’m much more balanced emotionally, although more recently I’ve noticed more of a physical impact to my body shape, particularly weight gain around my abdomen, something which has impacted my body confidence.
Reflecting on all of this, I’ve realised that there are so many parallels between early menopause and infertility, which explains why both experiences can be so hard to deal with. Personally, for me they represent my femininity and my purpose as a woman, losing which has led to feelings of grief, for things that aren’t tangible and often misunderstood.
Just as I easily felt triggered when trying to conceive, when it comes to menopause I can equally feel emotionally triggered out of nowhere simply by a conversation about periods. I’ve said many times before that experiencing menopause at this time of my life has made me feel “old before my time”. My biggest trigger last year was sitting in a menopause clinic waiting room full of women twice my age – I felt odd, alone and, in a way, abnormal. I’ve also found that, even as menopause becomes more talked about and less ‘taboo’, I can find myself triggered by images that accompany these conversations – often the typical ‘mid-life’ woman, which admittedly can be hard to relate to outside of my age group.
One thing that has helped massively has been hearing from others, those who have contacted me through DefiningMum and also through the amazing work that The Daisy Network do. As I spoke on a Daisy webinar earlier this year, I listened to another woman speak openly about her experience and grief; instantly I felt less alone as her words and feelings resonated with me.
I realise that this too is a journey where, just like my infertility, I have to process and make peace with the cards I have been dealt. I’ve wrangled with the voices telling me “it could be worse” and “pull yourself together”, but I’m holding onto one of the main things that infertility has taught me – that my feelings are valid, should be felt and shouldn’t be compared to others. It’s thinking about my fertility journey when I realise just how familiar these feelings actually are – the loss of control of my body as it changes, the feelings of failure as my body isn’t working in the way that it should, the shame and loneliness of it being a topic so rarely talked about. That’s why I want to use my platform to share these conversations too, building on the power of sharing and making connections to show that no-one has to experience these things alone. I know for sure from my experience of talking about infertility and donor conception just what a difference it can make and so I hope that this helps at least one other woman experiencing the complex physical and emotional impact that early menopause can bring.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, how has menopause impacted you? If you’d like to share a guest blog on this topic on my platform please get in touch – the more stories we share, the less alone people will feel.