The “it takes a village” proverb originally referred to raising children and getting them through to their own adulthood. But I'm a big believer in extending the concept to the phase of a woman's life known as menopause, including both perimenopause and postmenopause.
I thought menopause was a singular milestone. I imagined my period slowly fading away month by month until it gracefully exited altogether, after which I'd start “Life After Menopause.”
While the textbook definition of “menopause” is indeed a point in time (one year with no periods), the lived experience of it is a seemingly never-ending journey. I didn't know this perimenopause stuff could last years. But the more I talked to friends, the more I realized that a lot of us were in the same boat, feeling frustrated and isolated — for a long, long time.
Being a community builder by nature and profession, my first instinct was to build a village to help me travel the road with fewer bumps.
So, who is in my village?
I have turned to women who are solidly past menopause … women who, in most cases, give me hope and a sense that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.” If you're lucky, this may include your mom and other relatives.
My postmenopausal women friends talk about how freeing it is to be past menopause. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It's not that there are no symptoms or issues to deal with, but they often get less intense and less erratic, a welcome trade-off.
It has also been gratifying to identify how many women in my age cohort and sphere are going through a challenging perimenopause, too, and to encourage us all to have more open, matter-of-fact conversations about what that looks like and how we are coping.
Finally, and surprisingly, there are women 10 and even 15 years my junior who have been eager to join this conversation. I think these younger friends are surprised (and possibly dismayed) that someone of my “advanced” age (55) is still dealing with perimenopause. But the wide range of women in this community helps us all realize that while experiencing significant perimenopausal symptoms may be “normal,” we don't have to suffer in silence.
My meno-village provides me with sustenance in the form of:
Solidarity. I'm not alone in this journey, and the number of women who have stepped forward to tell me so is heartening. The more I talk about it, the more women step forward.
Humor. I don't always have a sense of humor about the journey but, rest assured, someone else in my village does. We can take turns at it, and it really helps.
Advice. I've gotten advice on supplements to take for a variety of symptoms, on the best products to enhance my sex life, on how to phrase questions to my doctors, on medical procedures, on cannabis as a potential menopausal catch-all cure-all, on how to talk to my spouse … you name it. Most of us aren't medical professionals, but since my own doctor hasn't started this journey herself yet, hearing stories from personal experience rounds out and augments the medical information my doctor shares.
How can you build your meno-village?
Be curious. If you have a woman friend anywhere from 35 to 55 years old and she's mentioning complaints of fatigue or changing skin or increased anxiety or new migraines or cramps like a teenager, just go ahead and ask her if she knows very much about perimenopause. Most women aren't going to come straight out of the gate talking about tsunami periods or a dry vagina, so learn about the other symptoms and be on the lookout for friends expressing concern or exasperation with those symptoms. If they're like I was, they may not be attributing their symptoms to perimenopause.
Be vulnerable. When you want to build community, sometimes you have to be the first one to take the risk of opening up. Telling my perimenopause story has created more intimate relationships, even with women with whom I'd long been friends.
Be helpful: The exchange of experiences, advice and ideas should be just that … an exchange. Spread your knowledge. But also, sometimes, be an empathetic ear. It's nice when people validate that what you're going through sounds challenging, so do the same for them. We're not wimps for speaking out and for asking for solutions! (I'm mostly talking to myself on that last point, since I have a propensity to expect myself to suck it up and deal.)
With our village by our side, we can get through to the other side. I hear the grass is greener (and we can dare to wear white all year round)!