As I talk with women I am surprised to hear those of a certain age declare – “oh I’m not there yet – I’m still bleeding” as if menstruating or not is the only indicator of menopause. They are shocked when I inform them that peri-menopause is a gradual process impacting, on average, 15 years of a woman’s life.
Fertility in women is a gradual climb from the time of menarche (first bleed) until a peak in the mid twenties. Just as it was a slow walk up the hill, the decline in fertility is a long one and at first imperceptible. The menstrual cycle usually remains relatively steady and unchanged and unless you are trying to get pregnant you probably won’t notice anything. But then the downward slope begins to gather speed.
Of course the experience of peri-menopause is as unique to each woman as her experience of menstruation, sexuality and giving birth. The common symptoms and changes are also influenced by the everyday factors of life: the food eaten; stress levels; whether you feel satisfied in your job or with your partner; still mothering or not; sense of achievement in the world; underlying illness. The list goes on.
So it may come as a shock to many that peri-menopause begins around the age of 42. The midpoint of life for most of us. Physiologically the female hormone levels, which have been declining for several years, drop further and fertility – ovulation, begins to dance to the beat of a different drum. These changes are subtle at first and may even pass unnoticed for several years but they are occurring none the less. Midlife is an important psychological crossing over, when a woman will look back at her girl self and wonder where that child went. This reflection gives rise to a need to reclaim what may have been lost: a lost childhood dream; a sacrificed career or direction. The need for a “return to self” becomes an urgent questing and is often misconstrued as women acting out or going crazy. Crazy making indeed is a compromised life and as women we have been conditioned to make the sacrifices needed to ensure the wellbeing of others, our partners and children.
42 is also an important astrological phase, when Uranus is conjunct with the position at birth. According to astrology the impact of Uranus falls like a sword of truth determined to upset the apple cart, and we question the status quo – both in our own lives and in the bigger picture. Uranus calls us to dream and will stir the pot of complacency to create change and growth. Whether you believe in planetary impacts or not, there is no denying that the early 40’s is often a time of personal questing and questioning. Combine this with the hormonal changes of peri-menopause and you have a potent mix that, if not stirred with gentleness and awareness, can create havoc in a woman’s life.
Menopause itself cannot be known as it occurs. You’ll never know when you are having your last bleed. Physiologically a woman is said to have experienced menopause only 12 months after her last bleed. So you don’t know if you’ve been through menopause until you’ve been through it! And the average age of that is 52.
Like every major life, and menopause is a major event, women need connection to others to make sense of this rite of passage. Getting support, sitting in circle, making positive change and paying attention to what your body, mind and heart are saying are essential for wellbeing and happiness. And not leaving until you are 52!
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