As moms, we’ve all likely discussed our reproductive health with our partners, our doctors, our baby group, and some of our friends. But what was probably left out of a lot of those conversations is perimenopause. And the challenges of perimenopausal motherhood.
Perimenopause is the transitional period before menopause, and it can bring a variety of symptoms due to changing hormone levels. Most of us reach menopause around age 51. Perimenopause can start many years before we achieve that milestone. Most of us don’t realize it’s happening. Some of us can experience a range of symptoms like mood swings, lower sex drive, or hot flashes (just to name a few) as early as our mid-thirties.
While anyone with ovaries will experience perimenopause provided they live long enough, most of us know very little about this phase of life. And the signs like troubled sleep, mood swings, and brain fog can so easily be dismissed as part of of the chaos of parenthood.
Perimenopause and Motherhood
Motherhood can cause sleep deprivation, trauma from vaginal birth, sustained stress levels, mental health challenges and put strain on your relationships. Turns out that the fluctuating and ultimately declining hormones characteristic of perimenopause can do the same. The every day stresses of motherhood can exacerbate perimenopause symptoms. Similarly, perimenopause can amplify the challenges of motherhood.
It can be a lot. Especially if you aren’t aware that you are in fact in perimenopause. And if you don’t understand, and have support to address, your symptoms.
To my fellow mothers: if you aren’t already doing so, it’s likely you’ll soon be juggling parenting with the subtle, or extreme, symptoms of perimenopause.
The good news? You aren’t alone.
Want hilariously truthful mom wisdom… check outThat’s Inappropriate.
Postpartum and Perimenopausal Symptoms
Symptoms in each of these stages can be very similar. Many of us didn’t realize everything that can happen when we are postpartum. And most of us don’t realize that new and strange symptoms we are experiencing are because of menopause. Here are some examples:
Vulvar and Vaginal Symptoms
Postpartum and perimenopause have similar symptoms like urinary incontinence, vaginal and vulvar dryness, and pain with sex.
You may or may not have known to expect changes and trauma to your vulva and vagina after a vaginal birth. Despite the significance of my own trauma, I had just assumed everything would go back to normal. That didn’t happen. And it took me a while to pay attention to the signals my body was sending me.
I did finally pay attention and got my incontinence issue resolved. And I thought that would be it.
But years later the issue came back, along with several other symptoms. In my case perimenopause caused the return of my incontinence issue. And brought along several new symptoms that were challenging. I suspect that trying to juggle of all the balls that come with parenting, made my symptoms worse.
Symptoms as a results of hormonal changes at either stage, and trauma from giving birth, should never be ignored. It’s important to be informed and reach out to your healthcare provider for help with these symptoms.
Anxiety is common symptom of both perimenopause and the postpartum stage. But women who’ve experienced anxiety in the past are more likely to have similar challenges when hormones fluctuate. They may also be prone to other mental health challenges like depression and panic attacks.
I had anxiety prior to giving birth that I was able to easily manage. But becoming a mother caused a new level of anxiety. Consumed with worry, all I could think about were all of the bad things that could happen to my newborn. I now know that I had postpartum anxiety.
A good therapist, and I suspect the time for my hormones to return to ‘normal’, helped ease this symptom.
Several years later, I started getting very intense feelings of anxiety again. But it was different than the postpartum anxiety I experienced. This new anxiety was more intense, but not constant. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I now realize that I was in the early stages of perimenopause. And the anxiety coincided with my menstrual cycle.
This time progesterone was the key to managing this symptom.
Today, my anxiety is percolating again. And this time it’s specific to fact that we now have perimenopause and puberty happening in the same house. Will this be the ultimate perimenopausal motherhood challenge?
This stage could be tricky. Where more than one of us is struggling with emotional, physical and hormonal shifts. As if dealing with our own identity shift wasn’t enough…
Developmentally, teenagers need to push you away and develop their own identities. But on the flip side, they still need you as the safe, accepting figure in their life that they grew up with.
Those feelings of warmth, love, and privilege when your child confides in you will always be there. But this new “cold shoulder” can be hard to accept, even more so when you’re going through a hormonal roller coaster due to perimenopause.
It’s Okay, To Not Be Okay
With all the challenges of being a parent and being in perimenopause at the same time, we must learn that it’s okay, to not be okay.
The times that we feel anxious, numb, disconnected, or emotional due to perimenopause are all too common, especially as a parent. And between the hot flashes, the brain fog, and the stress of parenting, it’s no surprise most of us feel exhausted.
One day you can feel on top of the world, but by the next day, the chaos of life paired with (often unpredictable) perimenopause symptoms can feel like way too much to handle. This is all okay. There are good mental health days, and there are bad mental health days. What you’re feeling is valid, every single day of this journey.
Accepting the Feelings (all of them)
They say that during perimenopause, we may experience sudden changes in our emotional state or difficulty regulating our emotions. This is all due to our fluctuating hormones. But the fact is, there are so many feelings that come with trying to raise children and deal with perimenopausal symptoms at the same time.
Trying to figure out our mood swings’ meanings can be a source of stress itself. And on top of the crazy feelings of parenthood? Of course it can feel like too much!
If you experience mood swings, this could include feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, or shame. But sometimes these feelings are just a normal part of being a mom. Just like feelings of pride, love, excitement, or nervousness.
Parenthood is already a roller coaster, so perimenopause can make the highs even higher, or the lows pretty low.
Leaving Shame Behind
Despite feeling like an overwhelming change, perimenopause doesn’t have to be isolating or shameful. Let’s start by throwing the societal rules out the window so we can:
- Accept our feelings, no matter how extreme they might feel
- Have courage to express ourselves, even if just to ourselves
- Speak up and empathize with each other
It’s okay, to not be okay. But what’s not okay? Feeling isolate and alone. Not sharing your experience with anyone. The reality is, we’re all going through something. The moment you mention it to a friend, you’ll find that there are parenting struggles, perimenopausal symptoms, or more that they want to share with you. They also need a friend to talk to.
It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Despite the pressure that every mother feels to live up to expectations, it’s important for us all to remember: you’re doing enough. You don’t have to strive for perfection. And it’s important to give your family the opportunity to understand what you’re experiencing, as well as the opportunity to give you support.
So take a deep breath and forget about striving for perfection. Show yourself that it’s also perfectly fine to just be you. Accepting yourself helps create an atmosphere where it’s a little bit easier to focus on the good during the difficult times.
It’s also okay to ask for help. Actually, it’s better than okay. It’s essential to your health and wellbeing. And you can’t take care of anyone else if your health is compromised. Asking for help from your friends, family, and community helps create a circle of emotional support. It creates an incredible opportunity for connection, and is something we should all be trying to model for our children.
How can we normalize asking for help?
- Let’s encourage each other and ourselves to try new things to support our wellbeing. Ask for ideas from your friends. You never know what might give you the extra oomph you need to get you through a difficult day.
- Let’s learn to advocate for the care and support we need. Seek medical advice if you think you may be experiencing perimenopause. Finding the right, experienced healthcare provider can make a huge difference. If you’ve already found a rockstar healthcare provider or clinic, share their details with the women in your circle. You never know who needs better medical support to manage their symptoms.
- Let’s make therapy cool. It’s not out of the ordinary to feel like you need some extra support through the perimenopause journey. We think therapy is essential for anyone experiencing unpredictable physical or mental symptoms. Investing in objective and supportive help to support your mental health during your menopausal journey is time and money well spent.
The days can feel long, but the years are incredibly short. Let’s not waste anymore more time that we have to struggling.
Understanding our bodies. Promoting awareness. Asking for help. And learning to treat ourselves with compassion and grace. Let’s work to make attributes the new norm for perimenopausal motherhood.