CHAPTER 1Understanding Our Menopause Experiences When I was fifty-two, my youngest son had just started college, my mother had relocated to a continuing care community close to me, my husband was stressed at work, and I was trying to define my next career steps. In the midst of my life, my body took over and signs of menopause began: very heavy irregular bleeding due to fibroids, occasional night sweats, and some vaginal dryness.... I had to acknowledge I was aging and couldn't take my body for granted. I needed to take care of it. When I stopped having my periods, I was really happy about that. I realized that I could relax. I didn't have to worry about getting pregnant. I'm looking forward to the times ahead. I have vaginal dryness, but I use a range of lubricants so it is not a huge problem. Sex has changed but not in a negative way. Sometimes I feel great joy, other times less joy. But that's the way life is, isn't it? The younger women I knew all thought it was never going to happen to them (ha!). And all my older women friends insisted, "Oh, it's nothing." So I had no one to talk to. That was very hard on me. Late in the process I found an excellent online support group, but by then, I realized that I was in a better position to give advice than to receive it. I think more women need to talk about this. Those of us who are approaching menopause may wonder how it will affect us physically, emotionally, and socially. Most of us have questions, whether we anticipate the end of our periods with excitement, anxiety, or a combination of the two. While talking about menopause used to be considered taboo, women today are sharing our experiences more openly, through discussions with friends and family, in support groups and online chat rooms, and in the media. Women's health advocates have long pushed for better research on midlife and menopause and worked to raise awareness of the biological, social, and political factors that influence our menopause experiences. This book offers the information, resources, and support we need to make informed decisions and take care of ourselves as we approach and experience the menopause transition. When we learn more about menopause, we can proceed with increased confidence, the knowledge that we are not alone, and a critical perspective on the cultural messages that surround us. For most women, menopause is a natural biological change that occurs at midlife. For others, menopause is the consequence of a health condition, medical treatment, or surgery, or it occurs naturally but earlier than usual. Because such a transition is earlier or more abrupt, it may pose different challenges. Our experiences as we go through the menopause transition vary greatly. For some women, the transition is quite rapid; for others, it is slow or intermittent. It is impossible to predict with certainty what changes our bodies will go through or precisely how they will affect us. Most of us, if we have not already experienced sudden or early menopause, begin to undergo a number of physical changes when we are in our forties. We may wonder if these changes are normal and if they are associated with menopause. A forty-eight-year-old says, I think I'm in the beginning of my menopause. I've noticed a change in my menstrual cycle. In the last two or three months my periods have been a bit irregular and my flow is a lot heavier than it used to be. I'm normally just like clockwork. In addition to changes in our menstrual cycles, we may experience other signals of the menopause transition, including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and insomnia. Some of us also experience problems such as memory loss, mood swings, and reduced sexual desire, although evidence suggests that these problems are more likely correlated with the aging process, other medical conditions, or life stressors than with menopause. TPinn, Vivian is the author of 'Our Bodies, Ourselves Menopause', published 2006 under ISBN 9780743274876 and ISBN 0743274873.