Menopause: What’s the Big Deal?

woman taking a mirror selfie
Just me, post menopause

It’s official.

After counting the months between periods for well over two years, I can confidently announce that I hit menopause. I can give away my remaining tampons and pads and stop using birth control.

Here’s how hitting the big M milestone has felt: bewildering. Why? Because nothing’s changed. Life goes on just the same as yesterday.

And so, as anyone needing answers to life’s confusing experiences would do, I asked Google and ChatGPT, “What’s the big deal about menopause?”

Out of the infinite information I sifted through, this from dictionary.com topped the list:

Only humans and four types of whales are known to experience menopause — when the body stops being able to reproduce but life continues. (JULY 28, 2021 | POPULAR-SCIENCE)

The article focused on orcas and triggered a strong, short-lived feeling of sisterhood toward the whale — short-lived because the words “are known to” jumped out when I re-read the sentence a few days later. Those three words erased the kinship bond. What they mean is that scientists simply don’t know when fertility ends for the other 80-something whale species in the vast seas and oceans.

More importantly, whales don’t even menstruate! This means that no whale, including orcas, experiences menopause as understood for human females:

Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. National Institute on Aging

As it happens, the only species known to menstruate are primates (including us of course), the spiny mouse, three to five species of bats and the elephant shrew; thus, only they go through menopause.

You know what else irritated me as I sifted through online content on the big M? The frequent use of the word diagnosis. Here’s an example, with underlines added:

Generally, no laboratory tests are required for the diagnosis of menopause. The diagnosis is clinically based on the patient’s age, symptoms, and ruling out other conditions for patients older than 45 years old. (National Library of Medicine)

Call me ignorant but I didn’t know menopause was a disease.

Sure, it can come with a variety of experiences that could signal a disease, but that’s not the same thing. A migraine could be caused by menopause or a brain tumor, but only the latter is a disease. I’ve never heard a woman say “I went to the doctor because I’m having migraines and was diagnosed with menopause.” Replace “menopause” with “brain tumor,” though, and the sentence makes frightening sense.

Also, the fact that you can treat symptoms of menopause doesn’t mean you’re sick. It means you’re getting older.

Is aging a disease then? Does living past your reproductive years make you unhealthy? Quite the opposite I daresay.

Anyway, just to be clear: I. AM. NOT. SICK!

Some menopausal symptoms are indeed no joke. Still, I for one am ever so thankful that human females hit menopause a good three or more decades before our lives end.

Just imagine if we had to worry about getting pregnant between the ages of 51, the average age for menopause, and 82, the average age a 51-year-old woman might live to. If I had a baby today, she’d be in diapers until age 9 and drinking from a bottle until 12. Also, I don’t think very many women would choose to reside in a U.S. State with limits on contraception.

Another matter of confusion is how long the stages of the menopause transition last.

First comes perimenopause, when the whole thing begins and the symptoms emerge and get worse. In my case, it was the epic night sweats I couldn’t get over. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, two and three times, as if I’d stood in the pouring rain for five minutes. It was INSANE.

Then comes menopause, the point where you haven’t had a period in twelve months.

And finally, there’s postmenopause: basically, the rest of a woman’s life after she has not menstruated for twelve months straight. I’ve entered and will live in postmenopause until the day I die.

It follows then that menopause lasts one day, doesn’t it? Menopause is the day between peri and postmenopause. Which made me think there should be rituals and perhaps presents surrounding that special day, am I right?

Now that menopause has come and gone for me, I will tell you I’m relieved to no longer have to keep track of periods, and to never again experience the explosive menses of the peri stage. I’m thrilled not to pay for or worry about birth control and feminine hygiene products.

I can finally wear white pants with confidence. Woohoo!

My leftover pads and tampons are now in a bathroom drawer at my mother’s home, where my nieces and sisters will surely find them when they visit Abuela and suddenly realize “Uh oh, I need a tampon!” Just like I did many times.

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