Apparently, baby boomers have been keeping a huge secret. Gen-X and Y are claiming that we boomers never forewarned them or talked about menopause or perimenopause and now they’ve been blindsided by the impact of its symptoms. Hah! They’re acting like they’re the first generation to experience that change-of-life cycle we boomers are grateful to have left behind.
The thing is, we did discuss it—loudly and extensively. Our boomer contemporaries like Dr. Christiane Northrup wrote about it definitively in The Wisdom of Menopause (now in its fourth edition). The reason those Gen-Xers and Ys never heard us is that boomers have become the invisible generation and no one ever listens to us.
One or two of my own friends breezed through menopause without symptoms but most of us experienced the whole smorgasbord—hot flashes, sleep deprivation, weight gain, and mood shifts. I first blogged about it in The joy of menopause . . . the honest-to-goodness truth in July 2014, nearly ten years ago.
Lordy, lordy. Do we know menopause! And, we are happy to share. Baby boomer women went through it in the days when there weren’t workplace menopause awareness seminars and support groups, which I also wrote about in October 2021, Should employers institute menopause sensitivity training?
Boomer women entered that phase of life at a time when there was a lot of misleading publicity about hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer which has since been disproven. This resulted in countless numbers of skeptical women perhaps suffering needlessly.
So, for any post-baby-boomer women reading this, here are the facts, once and for all:
Most women will have debilitating hot flashes that will have you sweating rivers from your scalp, your torso, legs, neck, and face. The inner furnace erupts as often as several times a day, to several times an hour, and will cost you sleep. This can sometimes cause embarrassment at work when you’re sitting in a meeting and you start stripping off your power suit and asking for blocks of ice and electric fans to be brought in.
- On the subject of fans, for the next few years, you will sleep with a ceiling fan over your bed blowing air around your sweat-drenched body.
- Toss the duvets. You will never again need more than a sheet and a blanket on your bed, at least not until you’re about eighty years old.
- Your hair will start to behave as if it belongs to another person. Seriously! Your once-thick and shiny locks will resemble a strip of thin, dried grass along a highway median. You will, however, grow lustrous crops of hair in exciting new places, primarily your chin and upper lip.
Toss or consign your expensive leather belts. Your waistline will disappear forever and all the ab crunches and carb-cutting in the world will never change that. Accept it and buy comfortable and stylish clothing with hip-length tops. Stretch waistbands will become your forever friend.
- Everything dries up—your vagina and other lady parts, your skin, your eyes, your nails, your hair, even your feet. Buy stock in companies that manufacture moisturizers because you will have tank trucks of every kind of lubricant invented delivered in bulk to your door in the never-ending fight against creeping dryness.
- Your libido will probably take a time-out until the above-mentioned dryness issues get sorted out. You may need to warn your partner and consult your doctor for help. It can be helped.
- Your moods may change. I did not experience this symptom (says me) but my friends who did liken it to nuclear-grade PMS. You may want to warn your family and coworkers.
- Your bones will thin and become more susceptible to cracks and fractures, so watch your step and think twice before skiing the double diamonds. Even pickleball could spell potential injury.
- Speaking of joints, celebrate them. Whether they’re the medicinal kind that provide pain relief or the kind that keeps you moving and enjoying physical activity.
- You will never again be able to wear high heels. Donate those stilettos. Your arches will give out and your shoes will now need industrial-strength arch supports and cushiony rubber soles. You will understand when that first attack of plantar fasciitis hits and you will face thre rest of your life in “comfortable, supportive shoes”.
Your physical and mental stamina will be temporarily affected and you will find you’re no longer prepared to put up with life’s bullshit and demands on your time. The duration of this state varies but when you come out the other side, you will be energized and experience mental clarity, self-satisfaction, and levels of confidence previously unknown. Hang in there.
- You will gain weight and your body will change shape—guaranteed. I put on about twenty pounds which I have never been able to shed. A few die-hard exercisers and conscientious ladies who eschew sugar and carbs forever will put on fewer pounds but it’s a lot of work if not impossible to maintain your pre-menopause weight. Accept it and size up.
- Time is and is not on your side. Symptoms can sometimes (as in my own case) last for several years or just as often for only a few months. There is no definite timeline but when it’s over you will be relieved and feel reborn.
I suffered all the common symptoms and toughed it out for quite a while before I sought medical help. As mentioned above, I entered this phase of life just as the doomsayers were wrongfully condemning hormone replacement therapy. While I put up with the ferocious hot flashes and unwanted weight gain, what I found hardest to tolerate was the lack of sleep. I would go to work exhausted and feeling like a zombie which made work and even daily functioning very difficult. So, for the sake of keeping my job and paying the mortgage, I paid a visit to my doctor.
I am most definitely not recommending HRT for everyone; it’s a personal decision between you and your doctor. But, from the day I took that first pill, I began to feel normal again. It felt like a miracle. I slept like a baby and my hot flashes disappeared. I didn’t lose the weight but two out of three ain’t bad. I took the meds for seven years and when I stopped, my symptoms were mild and manageable.
Many women make life-altering changes once they pass fifty and experience menopause. Sheryl Sandberg, uber-executive at Meta (formerly Facebook) and author of the best-selling book Lean In, Women, Work, and The Will to Lead is a major example of women breaking through the glass ceiling and reaching for the sky. She packed it all in when she hit her fifties (Sheryl Sandberg isn’t the first woman to realize that work in your 50s is no walk in the park) to devote more time to family and philanthropic causes, which is code for “I’ve had enough and I’m not going to take it anymore!”. Welcome to our world, Sheryl.
Apparently, medical schools spend little time on menopause, its symptoms, and treatments. If men were sweating buckets and rendered unable to sleep, complaining that their penises were dry and painful to the degree that sex was difficult if not impossible, or they stumbled to work cranky and exhausted, you can be sure science would jump to attention and relieve their discomfort. As long as andropause (male menopause) continues to present as just wanting a younger wife or girlfriend or as a hankering for a red sports car, nothing will change.
It is difficult to understand and explain to someone who has never undergone perimenopause and menopause. Even female doctors admit they were not as sympathetic and helpful as they became after they experienced it themselves.
Perimenopause and menopause are disruptive and difficult but when you come out the other side, you will feel reborn—new and improved. We only spend a fraction of our lives being fertile. Remember how you felt as a young girl—beautiful, confident, brave, and invincible? And, you didn’t have a waistline then either. The person you were before you started menstruating is your authentic self and after menopause, that person returns for the rest of your life. Celebrate your reborn self.
I encourage you to read the links in this post. For solid advice and support, read Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book, The Wisdom of Menopause. For a good chuckle, read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Click on the book links to order from Amazon.
Share this post with your daughters and granddaughters and never let them say we boomers did not warn them. Any questions?