I was actually looking forward to my (pre-global pandemic) OB/GYN checkup this year.
Weird, right? But unlike most years—when I just come in, tolerate the discomfort, count the seconds until it’s over, and move on—I was armed with questions, because I am in a new stage: perimenopause.
I didn’t really know about perimenopause before. Menstruation is discussed ad nauseum when you’re the right age: at school, among your peers, with your mom if you’re lucky (I was, mine was a nurse). Menopause is more of a sitcom punchline, so the basics we get are that your period stops and you can’t have kids anymore. Oh, and there are hot flashes—also punchline fodder.
But when I started experiencing weird symptoms with no slowdown of my period, I couldn’t go to my best source, my Mom, because she died in 2013. My older sister reminded me of the term “perimenopause,” which I’d first heard from one of my all-time favorite office mates with whom I used to swap stories about pregnancy, child raising, and embarrassing bodily functions. My sister told me it can last up to ten years (!!) and that yes, some of what I was experiencing sounded familiar. I started stacking up questions for my doctor as the check-up approached.
I had Googled up a storm, but I resisted posting my queries on social media. In addition to being a freelance writer, I’m also a TV producer, and the last thing I need is for potential co-workers to see me as OLD, which is pretty much the worst thing you can be in the entertainment industry. So I could not consult the collective, I could only keep adding to my list.
I had my check-up about a week before New York City was shut down. I’ve been going to the same group practice for over two decades, but over the years, each of the doctors I’ve had has left the practice for one reason or another, so the one I have is really by default.
Full disclosure: I was starting to panic. I’d gotten a second period two weeks after the last one, and knowing that my mom died of endometrial cancer gave me some terror; I always had her physiology, and cancer looms large on her side of the family.
When I brought up perimenopause, my doctor scoffed. “I don’t know why they use that word,” she said. Maybe because it’s a thing? I thought. Then she explained that menopause is what they call it when it’s been a year since your last period. I know that, Doctor. That’s why I’m asking you about PERIMENOPAUSE, because despite your attitude, it’s a thing, and it might last TEN YEARS.
When I asked if perimenopause would explain my mood swings or if I should be concerned, she seemed suspicious that I was after some sort of medication. Same to my descriptions of hot flashes, metabolism changes, headaches, and more. When I brought up the extra bleeding and my mother’s history, she said yes, that should be looked at, and prescribed an ultrasound. But now that has to wait, as we’re all self-isolating thanks to COVID-19 and all of my doctors and facilities are in New York City. Terrific.
But here’s the thing: I don’t understand why doctors aren’t talking to patients about this. Some are, I assume, but my friends are experiencing similar treatment, and doing their own research to find out what’s normal, what needs attention, and what solutions might exist to help us through some of this uncharted territory. Because that’s what my doctor seems to have forgotten. Imagine if you were pregnant for the very first time, and your doctor spoke to you as if she was already tired of discussing the symptoms and stages because she’d been through it a million times already. This is how I felt bringing up perimenopause, which my doctor apparently thinks doesn’t deserve its own name.
So yes, when things get back to normal, I’ll be switching doctors. I didn’t like her suspicion that I was after a mood-altering prescription instead of simple answers. I remember her doing the same thing when she took me off birth control pills and I asked what to expect physically and psychologically. Again, I faced confusion about why I was asking. I don’t know, maybe a little perspective can help when I’m having an internal meltdown. Maybe it would help to know I’m not losing my mind, and that it will pass and isn’t just my new How Things Are. It might help the folks who live with me, too.
I hope this isn’t happening with your doctor. But if it is, SWITCH.
And then can we please start talking about this? Can we do something about the prevailing view that women going through this are (a) ancient; (b) done with anything meaningful; (c) overreacting; and (d) no longer worthy of attention?
Is anybody out there?