“Just expect a heavy period.”
On the ultrasound table, I knew that my baby was not alive. But just as surely as I knew that my baby was not alive, I was just as sure that God would speak life, breathe life back into my baby.
And then, the ultrasound screen went blank, and I had to learn how to be the mother of a baby not alive.
Related Post: Miscarriage and The Motherhood Identity
“Just expect a heavy period” was the departing recommendation as I stumbled home, trying to make sense of the impossible.
I am yet learning how to be that mother, how to be the mother of a baby not alive.
While the sibling group I mother are more than some climactic culmination of procreation – they are my children – I’ve been mindful in anticipation of the symphony of this season concluding and the curtain falling at the end of an eventful production. I am the mother of five children. Not even the darkness or separation of death can take motherhood away, and transitioning into the later season of my life will never undo the precious power of this one.
And so, of course, I’ve known for some time that my “season of fertility” would eventually end. In time, I’d move into a place of dry barrenness. It is inevitable: I will be infertile.
Now, under forty, I meet with the mysterious and unspoken of symptoms of perimenopause.
And it is not like we think.
Rather than a place of dryness, the menstrual cycles seem to mount atop one another, as if my beloved uterus is enduring some kind of dementia, rushing to her task as if she doesn’t seem to remember she’s just finished it.
“You are released” I cup my belly as if to whisper in her ear, as I nurse the familiar abdominal cramping. “Rest, mama. You’ve done such great work. ”
“Sabbath sweet sister. You’ve been with me since the beginning. You’ve endured so much, you’ve worked so hard, you’ve done such marvelous, mysterious things” I whisper as cloth catches her tears, and mine.
I call my provider. I research. I learn.
I learn what our culture believes about menopause. The “old wives” tales. The inaccurate data.
I learn what our society thinks about perimenopause. The lack of information. The gaps in knowledge.
Friends, let me share some truth with you. I don’t have all the medical answers, but I have the courage to share what I see, what I experience, what I feel.
Perimenopause is not a lack of menstrual cycles. To the contrary, sometimes, perimenopause means floodings of periods.
“Just expect a heavy period. Again. And again.”
The first time I was told to just expect a heavy period, I gave birth to my beloved baby in the first trimester. I experienced labor, contractions, dilation, effacement, the ring of fire, pushing, the birth of my baby, the birth of my baby’s placenta, I experienced lochia, and I endured postpartum depression. These things and more. Much more than a heavy period.
So when I was told to “just expect a heavy period” upon the discussion of perimenopause, I quickly understood that this, in fact, was not how it would be and that I should instead anticipate much more than a heavy period.
Because much more is involved in your menstrual cycle than your period, perimenopause is much more than a red redundancy.
Perimenopause is a normal, physiological and hormonal transformation, the symptoms and conditions of which are real, sometimes alarming, sometimes made more pervasive by underlying or related conditions, sometimes feeling more complex by bereavement, and sometimes mimic serious disease. Often individual symptoms can be treated, lessened, managed or simply honored, with education and awareness. Please consult your provider on the subject of perimenopause.
Here are some general symptoms:
- Infertility, An Increased Struggle of Fertility, Finality of Infertility
- Change in Menstrual Cycle, including Menstrual Flooding. Cycles may get farther apart or closer together, lighter and shorter in duration or much heavier.
- Headaches, Migraines
- Decreased Motor Coordination, Dizziness, Vertigo, Light-headedness, Tinnitus
- Lethargy, Fatigue, Exhaustion
- Exacerbation of any Chronic Illness or Existing Condition, Allergies
- Insomnia & Sleep Disturbances
- Vasometer Symptoms, Breast Sweating, Warm or Hot Flashes, Night Sweats, Cold or Tingling Extremities
- Backache, Muscle Tension & Cramps, Joint Pain, Carpal Tunnel, Arthritis Worsening
- Gall Bladder Pain
- Urinary Discomfort, Incontinence, Constipation, Diarrhea, Slow Digestion, Gastrointestinal Distress, Increased Flatulence, Nausea
- Hypoglycemic Reactions
- Appetite Changes, Food Cravings, Food Disinterest, Weight Gain
- Bleeding Gums, Aching Teeth, Tongue Sensations or Breath Odor
- Fluid Retention, Edema, Abdominal Bloating
- Dark Circles Under Eyes, Facial Pallor, Swollen Eyes, Dry Itchy Eyes
- Acne, Changes in Skin Tone & Texture, Itchy, Crawly Skin Sensations
- Hair Loss or Thinning, Nail Thinning, Increase in Facial Hair, Breast or Back Hair Growth
- Breast Changes: Loss of Breast Tissue, Breast Soreness, Engorgement Sensation, Nipple Tenderness
- Loss of Sexual Energy, Painful Sex
- Vaginal Dryness, Irritation, New Vaginal Discharge
- Changes in Body Odor
- Palpitations, Racing Heart, Irregular Beats, Feeling Faint, Mimics Heart Attack
- Loss of Bone Density, Osteoporosis
- Pelvic Pain or Discomfort. Feeling described as a tipped uterus. Cervical Discomfort.
- Memory Loss, Lapses
- Fear – Fertility treatment without pregnancy can increase the risk of uterine cancer, and perimenopause can mimic these symptoms
- Suspicion – does the provider know what they are doing and looking for?
- Other Big Feelings – feeling unseen, lonely, angry, despair, lost, misunderstood
- Phantom Kicking – worth its own blog post
If you believe you are facing perimenopause, consult with your trusted provider, get support, and know that you are not alone.
Heidi Faith is the founder of stillbirthday and its headquarters The M0M Center. Stillbirthday is the developer of the Birth & Bereavement Doula® certification and free, printable birth plans for mothers experiencing birth in any trimester, because a pregnancy loss is still a birth, and is still a birthday.