I remember, from the moment my children were born, feeling lost and confused. I had entered a new stage of life, and all my old insecurities came back to the surface. (The feeling was akin to the day I got my period. I had more questions than answers, so unprepared was I for this mysterious phase of my life. My mother was uncommunicative and emotionally absent through most of my teenage years. So when the moment came, she was nowhere to be found. With the help of my older sister, I got an abbreviated lesson in How to Use a Sanitary Napkin. The rest? Trial and error).
Pregnancy was easy. There were doctors to check in with periodically to monitor my – and my unborn baby’s – progress. But once the child was born and the protection of pregnancy faded into oblivion…the doubt came to the surface with the force of a torpedo.
How do I do this? Am I doing it right? What if I make a mistake? There’s a line you cross when you enter a new phase of life, and here it was: There were new things to deal with– some wonderful, some troublesome and confusing, some downright disgusting – bombarding me every moment of every day. “Why doesn’t childrearing doesn’t come with a manual?” I remember lamenting night after sleepless night. And that feeling, that utter confusion and adjustment – lingered for years.
I’ll admit that now that my sons are in their 20s – and despite all my reservations about my performance as a mother – I feel like I must have done something right. They’ve surprised me with their competence, decency and level-headed ways they navigate the world. They’re good, honest people; steadfast and dependable, considerate and kind. All I wished them to be.
And then, right around the time I felt I could breathe, another new stage of life hit, with a dizzying array of newness. But unlike a baby, I didn’t exactly welcome it with open arms.
Menopause. Take me back to childrearing, I lamented, night after sleepless, sweaty night. Take me back to the time when the only reason my sheets were soaked was from a toddler sleeping beside me because he crawled into my bed after a bad dream and wet the bed. Take me back to the time when the only thing that sagged was my too-full diaper bag; the only thing that felt dry was the dishes as they emerged from the dishwasher; the only thing that I couldn’t see was that I was really young, unlined, energetic and capable.
Why doesn’t menopause come with a manual?
It does. I just finished reading The Menopause Makeover: The Ultimate Guide to Taking Control of Your Health and Beauty During Menopause. A long title, yes…but so is menopause a long haul. It starts with the “peri” when you have intermittent periods and doesn’t really become official until you’ve enjoyed 12 blissful months of being period-free. Oh, and then there’s the third stage of menopause, which is the time when you can finally wear sweaters again and have a better shot at a good night’s sleep.
And because menopause takes so long to get through – kind of like a winding river filled with alligators and other perils – it’s worthy of a manual, or guidebook of sorts, don’t you think?
Consider this. There are the hot flashes, the mood swings, the new (and improved? No) body, the head-fog, dryness (inside and out), weight gain, loss of libido, depression…feel free to add your own to the list.
What the book’s authors, Staness Jonekos and Wendy Klein, M.D., seek to do with this book is to provide a user-friendly sourcebook to help you design a personal plan for “navigating the rough waters of menopause.” Why? Because Jonekos, while planning her first wedding at 47, was hit with unpleasant symptoms of menopause and wanted to regain control over her health and beauty before the big day. She tackled menopause with the same determination and effort she used while tackling her wedding, creating a 12-week plan. Weddings need a plan to run smoothly; why shouldn’t menopause be worthy of one, too? Personally having survived both, I think it’s a lot harder to learn how to deal with hot flashes and mood swings than flowers and which song to play while you walk down the aisle.
Part One, “Your Menopause Survival Guide,” explains the changes going on in your body leading up to, and during, menopause, and discusses treatment options like hormone replacement therapy and complementary and alternative therapies. There’s also a diet and exercise plan and beauty tips. The information is pretty straight-forward and obvious (like sleeping in cotton PJs and lowering the thermostat so you can sleep better), but sometimes things do bear repeating, like the list of alternative therapies (black cohosh, ginseng, ginkgo biloba) and their accompanying side effects and warnings. Because, face it, we all do not feel comfortable relying on the old standby fix of hormones.
Part Two, “Planning Your Transformation,” gives you a blueprint for creating a personalized Menopause Makeover, using tools for calculating things like BMI, ideal weight and target caloric intake. Here, you’re treated to the uplifting fact that it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose just one pound (which translates into 500 fewer calories per day if your goal is to lose 1 pound per week). But that hopelessness you suffer from such knowledge may be eased by the authors’ philosophy that “you have an ideal weight unique only to you,” and a way to calculate your healthy weight, taking your frame, bone structure and body composition into consideration.
And then, the final chapter. “Your Menopause Makeover Essential Planner” doubles as a workbook to make keeping track of all the hard work (menopause takes work!) easy. There’s room to keep track of your emotional and physical concerns, your personal and family medical history, current medications and medical tests – even recipes like dark chocolate-covered strawberries. Included is a helpful guide to supplements and how they benefit your body, which foods to find them in, the recommended daily doses and other information.
Too bad this book was not around a few years ago when I was at my most desperate. It might have saved me a few unwanted pounds, some sleepless nights and those unpleasant and unnecessary nitpicky fights with my husband. But the way I see it is this: As my children emerged intact from my stomach-churning doubts as to how I was raising them, so will I similarly surface from the shaky, challenging rollercoaster ride of these menopause years.
But I sure could have used some help back then.
Read more from Sheryl on www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/midlife-matters