Local mom Amy Nielsen humorously recounts what it was like for her to experience menopause while simultaneously nursing her child.
“Hi, my name is Amy. I am, uh, here because I am in menopause.” Saying these words feels like an out of body experience.
“Welcome, Amy.” They smile at me, revealing faint laugh lines brought on by years of giggling.
I’m standing before a room filled with silver-haired beauties, grandma-types. Most are bundled up in layers of polyester and wool. I should be in spin class, not at a Golden Girls support group! Why am I here? I nervously tousle my freshly colored brunette hair, attempt to furrow my Botoxed-brow and rock awkwardly back and forth on my black Converse. I have a child in diapers! How can I be in menopause? I start to get more anxious. I don’t belong here. I begin to feel heat radiating from my core and racing out to every nerve ending like a fast-spreading brush fire. My entire body is scorching and sticky. My skinny jeans feel like they are melting into my skin. I’ve got to get out of here!
Suddenly, I hear the faint cries of my child’s voice. I open my eyes and glance at the baby monitor sitting on my bedside table. Whew! It’s just a dream — kind of. No, I’m not at a menopause support group, but I am going through menopause and have a newborn — so contradictory, right? It seems like yesterday that I went through the IVF process. Getting pregnant at 45 was something my doctor told me was likely impossible without the help of a highly trained fertility specialist. So, I sought out that specialist and came out of it with a beautiful bundle of joy and a slew of changing hormones.
The face of menopause isn’t what it used to be. Because of advances in fertility medicine, more and more women are able to have children later in life. This means more and more mothers of young children find themselves just where I am, balancing life with a new baby AND menopause. What years ago may have been an unlikely duo is becoming a more common occurrence.
Women typically go through menopause sometime during their 40s or 50s, being technically in menopause when they haven’t had a period for 12 consecutive months. This pre-menopause stage, called perimenopause, can last months or even years for some women. During that time, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone begin to fluctuate, causing heavy or irregular periods for about six months to a year before menstruation stops all together. Night sweats, thinning of the hair, reduced collagen in the skin, and hormonal imbalances can occur. Pair these lovely gifts of the aging process with sleep training and breast-feeding a new baby, and you can quite possibly have a recipe for emotional disaster.
I began to feel the effects of perimenopause about 12 months after my youngest son was born via IVF. The night sweats started waking me up in the middle of the night just in time to feed him. I guess a mother’s biological clock can have some empathy. I didn’t want to believe it, though. I felt too young. How can I be coming to the end of my fertility when I just had a baby? IVF may make us think we are younger than we really are, but the truth is that as a woman ages, the ability to conceive naturally declines. By the time I decided to have my last baby, I had almost zero chance of conceiving on my own. Luckily, with the help of an amazing fertility specialist, like many women who have children after 40, I was able to defy Mother Nature, and science gave me my precious son.
I contacted my midwife when the night sweats began to interfere with my sleep more than my waking son was. She did bloodwork and confirmed my suspicion. I had, in fact, entered menopause. The plus side—no need for birth control and no more periods! The downside—well, I guess if I really think about it, there isn’t one. I have four beautiful children ranging in age from 3 to 30, and my heart is full. I may be entering my “golden years” a little earlier than I thought I would, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go down without a fight! Advances in reproductive medicine have helped women like me give birth way past our fertile prime. I am optimistic that advances in anti-aging procedures will keep up the pace and help me avoid looking like my son’s grandmother, even though I am old enough to be! Shh! That can be our little secret!