Louise, 58, shares her experience with us.
I am 58 (gah!) and my menopause is in its second decade! Hurrah!
Like Meg, I had never been debilitated by periods, not particularly heavy flows and free from the pain that some of my school friends, colleagues, girlfriends and even daughter have had to endure. I’d pinged out two kids 24 and 21 years ago without too much angst – although my son was an undiagnosed breech that had me hitting the high notes.
However, since the production side of my body commenced shutting up shop, my previously tranquil plumbing has decided to rebel – evidently, I’d got off too lightly in past years. The flooding started in my early forties, and I didn’t even know about perimenopause until a mate with two older sisters let me in on it. Subsequently, white trousers, cotton shorts and skirts became garments non gratae as I became responsible for rivers of blood that were biblical.
As this walking furnace, I have climbed into fridges, slept on the toilet floor because tiles are cooler than sheets and put ice cubes down my tights.
Then the sweats. Yes, night sweats where you wake up doing doggy paddle in a puddle were one thing, but the burning furnace that would start as a spark in the small of my back and then spread like fire along a gunpowder trail up my spine, across my chest and burst out through my cheeks meant having fire fighters on standby at the office, in the supermarket and outside my house. As this walking furnace, I have climbed into fridges, slept on the toilet floor because tiles are cooler than sheets and put ice cubes down my tights. The tube became a no-go zone, shopping malls turned me into Godzilla, and the only reason I didn’t open an emergency exit on a Boeing 757 was because we were at 35,000 feet. The memory was shot – puzzlement as to where the car was parked, the poor dog tied up outside Sainsburys’ for six hours, forgotten birthdays, suppers, appointments and even a funeral, and, most heinously, no recall of conversations of mega importance to my children. The memory was replaced by a preoccupied logic, to include: the furniture polish in the oven, a sherry trifle in the bath (empty, so I wasn’t too mad), and the binning of precious videos of our babies’ early years.
Perhaps my piece de resistance was on a family ski holiday to Austria. Thanks to a generous legacy of my late uncle, we’d upgraded to a deluxe hotel named after its owner Mr. Oberhoffer, which included seven course gastronomic meals and a splendid spa – although it was unisex and the large naked Tyrolean ladies rolling about in the snow did freak my twelve-year-old son out somewhat. We’d come unprepared for such a fine hospitality and it became clear that we were the Clampetts of the residents as we failed to dress appropriately for dinner amongst the other guests in their twinkly, silky, sophisticated evening garb. I then trumped our status when, enjoying an aperitif in the bar with an affluent family, who only ever skied five star, before one of the very lengthy (and rather tedious) dinners, I suddenly felt my undercarriage open up as I deposited several gallons of menstrual blood all over Herr Oberhoffer’s pale beige suede banquette.
My usually unobservant husband thankfully noticed the fear in my eyes and, having hedged standing up until the other family had gone through, he instructed the kids to follow suit. Then he bade me to stand up as he slid his handkerchief underneath me. Obediently, I did as I was told and sidled up the stairs, my back to the wall and ran down the corridor to our room, slamming the door behind me to commence my mop down. Meanwhile, my poor husband was left to face the music, and bravely he approached Herr Oberhoffer to confess.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, my wife’s had an accident.’
Concerned, Herr O asked John to show him the spot.
‘Oh!’ he exclaimed, as they stood surveying the stain the size of a dinner plate. ‘What is it? Red wine?’
‘Oh my God! Is she hurt?’
‘No. No, it’s um, a lady’s problem,’ muttered poor John, as which Herr O leapt back in horror as if he’d been electrocuted by a dead dog on his furniture. Eventually, he composed himself enough to say that he would ‘get it sorted’.
John followed me up to the room to pull me out from under the bed where I’d curled into an embarrassed ball. Having assured me that there was absolutely no problem over my incident, we returned downstairs to see the area in which we’d sat had been cordoned off with hazard tape and a poor woman with a bucket of foaming bleach had been tasked with exorcising me and my fluids.
The kids, unsurprisingly, had clocked exactly what had been going on and found it hilarious, as indeed had most of the other diners, who clearly didn’t. And Herr O didn’t look me in the eye for the rest of the holiday.
I still get the sweats, the memory’s shot, but at least I’m allowed to sit on the furniture now.
After this, to control the bleeding, having reluctantly dabbled with HRT medication, I was persuaded by my doctor to have a Mirena coil inserted, only for me to continue bleeding, which then turned into the possibility of a cancer concern. It was then they discovered that my coil had been placed incorrectly and was wedged in my fallopian tube like an errant angler’s hook. It had been a bugger to get in, and even more of one to get out – necessitating Mr Fish (the consultant gynaecologist, and boy, what a great name for someone doing his job) and a team of two nurses to work at me as if they were hauling a giant turnip out of the ground.
So, since then I have let my recalcitrant body do its own thing, I still get the sweats, the memory’s shot, but at least I’m allowed to sit on the furniture now.
Interestingly, today there are news reports over concerns that women under 35 are not going for cervical smears because they are embarrassed.
Interestingly, today there are news reports over concerns that women under 35 are not going for cervical smears because they are embarrassed. And in a country where nearly a quarter of a million of women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year, this is worrying news. And, also worryingly, this could well be the case at the other end of the scale. As I’ve got older, I found going for a smear test is even more unappealing because of the pain endured as the practitioner endeavours to retrieve a sample from my battered old uterus. And my misgivings aren’t unique, several, if not many, of my friends won’t go because they find it so excruciating. Of course, I can understand their reluctance, but in taking this course they are putting themselves at risk. John has persuaded me that I must go and so I have persisted with these dreadful appointments. On a recent visit, my wonderful practice nurse located the neck of my uterus as being posterior left, so hopefully next time she can go straight to it instead of having to endlessly prod about while I lie, legs akimbo staring at the same crack in the ceiling, and wishing I was at the dentist instead having root canal treatment without an anaesthetic.
So, returning to Meg’s point that there is a lack menopausal content in film, radio and television drama, please can I take the opportunity of introducing you to The Seasons Quartet: a four book box set of funny filth brimming with stupid decisions made by four intelligent women who are facing middle age and everything that comes with it – a shambolic TV producer, an amoral socialite, a sex-addicted dentist and an embittered model, namely Trudy, Virginia, Lorna & Kat.
It is Virginia who suffers most because she can control most aspects of her life, but not her unruly body, of which she has been immodestly proud for her whole life. I highlight her rage at the temerity of this change in the third book in the series: JUMP SEASON. The sex is tongue in cheek with no holds barred as I endeavour to present the funny, the sensual and the absurd faces of intercourse – especially for women who are stepping further and further away from feeling confident enough to pour themselves into a latex cat suit, hot pants or a bikini thong.