by CM Carr
The headache started while I was running errands on a Saturday morning. I was in my early 40s, and this headache felt different than any I’d ever experienced. Within a few minutes the pain worsened and I headed for home. By the time I reached my house—less than 15 minutes—the pain and nausea were so bad I was seeing spots and could barely walk to the bedroom. I’d never had a migraine but I’d cared for a friend who had, so I was fairly certain I was experiencing my first one. Convinced it was a fluke, I went on with life once it passed.
A few weeks later, a second migraine hit; this one even worse. I knew from caring for my friend that migraines normally begin when people are teenagers.
**Why would I get migraines in my 40s? ** The culprit turned out to be hormone fluctuations.
I was given lifestyle tips to avoid triggering future migraines, and medication to alleviate the migraines that broke through anyhow. No one said,* “Migraines are a natural part of life. You shouldn’t go to the doctor for that!”*
The migraines were followed by years of strange symptoms that came and went and made me think I was going crazy: dry eyes, vertigo, a sudden distaste for tomatoes and red wine, bouts of anxiety and/or depression, and urinary issues so severe I knew the location of every public bathroom within 120 miles of my house.
In all those years, not one doctor mentioned perimenopause, and other than the migraines, none of those issues was ever tied to the endocrine system (aka hormones.)
I convinced myself I was a hypochondriac, that it was all in my head, until a series of urinary issues left me practically housebound for almost six months. It was a nurse who told me flat out, “This is all menopause-related. You need to call your ob/gyn.”
I called that day. It took two years before I felt as though I had my life back. Two years of doctor appointments, tests and trying different treatments.
(mySysters was born during those years. I developed the app because I needed it!)
Medicalization We “medicalize” all sorts of things. We go to the dentist for cleanings and to take care of cavities. This is medicalization of teeth care.
Women go to doctors, midwives or other healthcare professionals for prenatal care. Indeed, we would think women negligent if they failed to seek some sort of professional care during pregnancy. This is medicalization of pregnancy and, subsequently, childbirth.
There are commercials describing treatments for men with low testosterone and erectile dysfunction. No one suggests that these men are “‘less natural”’ or that men’s aging is being medicalized.
**And such medicalization has been going on for millenia. ** Roman emperor Caligula took extract of wolf testes when his mojo started to go.
Well into the 1900s, men had goat testes implanted into their scrotums in attempts to hold on to their virility. (Let that sink in a moment.) There were no outcries about how men should age naturally and how surgically implanting goat testes was medicalizing men’s aging process.
Yet mention getting treatment for perimenopause or menopause and all hell breaks loose. ** **There is bemoaning of the modern “medicalizing” what is a “natural” part of life.
Here at mySysters, we once had a conversation about renaming our symptom tracker. Was “symptom” too “medical”? Did it indicate that perimenopause was an illness to be cured?
One definition of symptom is a “characteristic sign or indication of the existence of something else.” Sure we could get all cute and change “symptom tracker” to something such as “indicia tracker,” but would you know what the hell we were talking about?
The reality is that women have sought treatment for menopause for thousands of years. Classical physician Aristotle wrote about menopause in the 4th century BC. Soranus was a Greek gynaecologist in the 1st/2nd centuries AD who wrote about menopause.
Initially when some form of HRT would be suggested I’d say, “Oh no. I believe in natural.” I was so uninformed and wasted so much time. Within a few weeks of starting HRT people would remark on the change in me. It was as though I’d been living in black-and-white for years, and the world was in color again! I had my life back!
No woman wakes up one day and says, “F-ck natural! Give me expensive medications, multiple doctor appointments, and the uninformed judgment of strangers!”
One whisper of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and women are vilified for taking it while the most ridiculous misinformation goes flying—HRT stops menopause! (It doesn’t, it relieves the sometimes debilitating symptoms) HRT causes breast cancer! (The risks vary depending on a person’s history.)
Prenatal care—medicalization—doesn’t make pregnancy unnatural or a disease. Smear tests don’t make womanhood unnatural or a disease. Prostate exams don’t make manhood unnatural or a disease.
Treatment of any kind doesn’t render perimenopause or menopause any less natural, either. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Medicalizing perimenopause and menopause VALIDATES the significance of this stage for women, and gives CREDIBILITY to those of us who’ve struggled to have our symptoms taken seriously for years.
One friend of mine suffered multiple daily hot flashes so strong she vomited, all while she held down a senior management job for a nonprofit, raised two children and took care of a husband with a serious illness. She felt such shame and embarrassment about these hot flashes she told no one about them for six months.
Medicalizing perimenopause takes away this shame and brings the conversation into the open, as well as providing help for millions of women. My friend deserved better. All women deserve better. (Not all women suffer such debilitating symptoms.)
My migraines came and went for two years, then disappeared for a decade, only to reappear a few weeks ago. Now I know migraines are related to changes in estrogen levels, and it is not uncommon for a woman to first experience one in perimenopause. Other women may find their migraines subside during perimenopause.
Whatever we may experience during perimenopause, the key to good health is education and support.
Women sharing information and providing encouragement–that’s natural.