Perimenopause and Parenting: Will it Kill Me? ‘Cause It Feels Like It Will
By Janice Quirt
Photo © laeonl/Twenty20
Aug 22, 2019
I struggled to remain alert while driving.
It was legitimately a concern that the intense fogginess covering me like a gravity blanket was going to result in me driving into a bus.
And in that moment, I had a strong sense of déjà vu.
It was such a reminder of the days of caring for an infant, that I half expected to look back and see a bucket car seat and to hear a newborn’s cries.
Relevant Reading: My PMS is Bloody Real and Affects My Parenting
But no. I am past those days. A lone booster seat sits behind the front row, and the kids are at school during this outing.
I’m not experiencing the exhaustion of being a new mom — I’m living through the fresh hell of perimenopause. And it’s trying to kill me.
Menopause always seemed like something I would encounter once my kids had left home and I had time to deal with its annoyances. But the truth is, perimenopause is the gradual lead-up to the main event and can last up to a decade before actual menopause.
So, just as you’re finally enjoying relatively uninterrupted sleep as your kids get older, and some more time to yourself, your own body and mind start to let you down in a multitude of ways. Here are just a few of my favourites.
First there was PMS, then there were the hormonal swings of pregnancy and the postpartum period, and now I’m the emotional equivalent of a shrieking banshee.
And the timing couldn’t be worse, as my own kids are starting to enter their own hormonal minefield.
"'I just don’t want to feel tired anymore.'"
I’ve read that I should rise above my own emotions and hurt feelings to deal with teen and preteen angst, but that’s easier said than done when my outbursts and mood swings can match and trump any truculent teens, any day.
What I need is for someone to be steadfast, patient and loving with me, too, as I (once again) ride the roller coaster of mixed emotions and self-esteem brought on by hormonal swings. Lots of deep breaths, long walks and explaining to kids that adulthood does not magically grant infinite amounts of patience or saintliness as required. And it’s what has worked for me.
The Exhaustion and Fog
Oh, hello, 4 a.m.! We meet again.
And this time, it’s not because of a baby’s feeding schedule or a kiddo’s nightmare. Now that my kids actually sleep soundly and late, my own pursuit of oblivion is fruitless. I can fall asleep no problem, but if a full bladder, snoring partner or random noise wake me anytime around or after 3:30 a.m., I’m up.
Or still in bed, but wide awake, obsessing over any number of issues: when is swim registration? Buy more deodorant! How are we going to pay for the new cottage roof? When am I going to find the time to read the book club pick?
I usually just get up out of bed and try to be productive, but this does nothing to dispel the dull uselessness of fatigue that seems to be my constant companion. When my chirpy online fitness leader asks us to remember why we are working out, I’m not envisioning a beach body. “I just don’t want to feel tired anymore,” I plead silently.
I’m still trying to figure out how to sleep through the night and would appreciate any tips.
My partner and I have taken to doing crossword puzzles on the weekend. In the words of his teenage daughter, we have hit “peak old age.”
We do them because we enjoy them, but we also both admit that we’re flexing our mental muscles — both of us don’t feel as sharp as we used to. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s alarming how many things I forget. I once had a mind like a steel trap. I could tell you what I ate for every single meal on a vacation I took a decade earlier. Names, dates and details were stored and retrieved with ease. No longer.
"I’m even looking forward to full menopause so I can be done with this."
I go to perform a task and find that I’ve just done the same thing. My friends relate — one recalls texting her husband to ask him to do something. He replied that she had just called him 10 minutes earlier to ask him the same thing, but she had already forgotten that conversation. I’m about to pour cream into empty space as I realize that I haven’t even prepared the coffee. To-do lists are essential. And interwoven among these slip-ups is the worry: is this natural age-related forgetfulness, or something else, like early-onset dementia?
For most of us it’s a combination of too much to do and too little sleep; also, we’ve become so efficient at task completion that we’re not always mindfully aware of all the things we’re accomplishing. But still, the worry persists.
Relevant Reading: A primer on perimenopause
OMFG. I had no idea I could lose this much blood and still live. I never had heavy periods in the past, especially not with the pill and then an IUD. Two or three days, half a box of tampons, done and done. But now. Oh my. I can’t even make it through the night without a trip or two to the bathroom.
And that many nightly journeys just add to the insomnia. I’ve had to increase my budget for feminine hygiene products and for the first time in my life have entered the “super” and “super plus” absorbency cohort.
The cramps are excruciating. And my periods have developed a coy, insolent, unpredictable pattern: they’ll arrive when they want to, with a complete disregard for my life and schedule. I’m even looking forward to full menopause so I can be done with this. All this conveniently coincides with a time when I am supposed to be discussing this rite of womanhood with my stepdaughters and daughters in a positive, empowering way. It’s hard to celebrate something that, quite frankly, sucks right now.
The Physical Changes
Breakouts and wrinkles, what a lovely combination. The hair of my chinny chin chin has me looking anxiously in the mirror to see if it is time for the ritualistic plucking of my lone stray whisker. Grey hairs are starting to sprout up everywhere. Things that I don’t even want to think about are sagging. And my interest in sex ranges from that of a lusty teenager to “don’t even think about it.” At the moment, all of it is somewhat manageable, but I am aware that I might need to seek medical help if any or all of these symptoms become too much.
It’s not easy to feel like you are falling apart when your kids, and likely your own parents, still need so much of you. In more community-focused times, there was greater support to help women get through it all. These days we can talk it over with our friends, be reassured that we are not completely losing our minds, and know that we are not the only ones experiencing the ups and downs of perimenopause. It helps to commiserate. It’s important to tell or partners what we are going through. It’s OK to laugh, cry, scream and dance through it all. After all, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
I will survive it, but I can’t wait until this song and dance is over.
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