It's time we all understand our natural life cycles.
THOSE of you who are women face far more today than was expected of your mothers and grandmothers. Not only must you be an up-to-date homemaker, wife and mother, you must also cope with the mounting pressures of financial responsibility and keep up with knowledge of a rapidly changing world. Yet when you reach those middle years of life, the same physical, hormonal, mental and emotional changes will go on just as women have experienced for thousands of years. For many, it) a devastating combination. Some have hoped, even thought, today's active, fulfilled women aren't supposed to experience irrational anxieties. It seems so out of style. Instead of looking at this stage of life as a time of reassessment — a time to grow and develop some of those interests put aside in earlier years — some look into their mirrors one day and see a vaguely familiar face and a figure they don't like very well. There is a noticeable tint of gray in the hair. There are wrinkles in the corners of the eyes. A few pounds of extra weight. A listless feeling, frequent depressions, occasional hot flashes and night sweats and their nerves are frayed. It all adds up to the "change of life" — menopause as it is more technically called. There is in the life of every God — designed woman that time when the body will no longer bear children. A physical and emotional change is under way. For too many it becomes a crisis.
Battling Fluctuating Hormones
Women entering the middle years, whether they admit it or not, have the battle of fluctuating hormones to fight. Many find it hardly a skirmish. But for some, it's an all-out war. It's up to you whether you will enter the battle prepared and armed or whether you will face this challenge unprepared both physically and mentally. It is an important time in life. The happiness of the remaining one third of your life is at stake. How to pass through menopause and plan for the future is often one of the most overlooked and least considered times of life. Everyone has to realize the middle years are very real. I have a good friend, a male, who until recently believed these sort of changes were all mental and psychological. One night he and his wife were guests in our home for dinner. As we sat by the fireplace after the meal, the subject of menopause came up. He and my wife engaged in quite a discussion on whether the change of life was hormonal and physical or just in one's head. After some time, my friend's wife finally presented the best case to convince him he was wrong. She said to him, "Honey, please don't make it so I have to go through terrible turmoil during menopause just to prove you are wrong." You see, my friend had also thought morning sickness during the early stages of pregnancy was just in the head. They have three lovely children. The first pregnancy was practically perfect. No morning sickness. No complications. A relatively easy delivery. A healthy and happy baby. So, my friend thought they were all supposed to be this way. Easy. Trouble free. And if they weren't, he reasoned, it was because people didn't think right. A couple of years later, they were expecting their second child. He fully anticipated the same carefree nine months as before. That was not to be. During the first few weeks, the expectant mother began to experience nausea — extreme morning sickness. Actually it was morning, noon and nighttime sickness. Not just a few weeks, but most of the rest of the pregnancy. That's why she said, "Honey, please don't make me go through a terrible menopause just to prove you are wrong." I think he was now convinced there was a biological and hormonal change that does take place.
Education, the First Step
Knowledge is one of the most important ingredients to any phase of life — but perhaps more important at menopause than any other. Menopause has been described as adolescence in reverse. A young woman enters into puberty at about age 12 or 13. That is an exciting time of life — and it's important parents educate their children about this new phase. A girl matures into a young woman and her body begins its preparations to make motherhood possible. During the next four decades the fallopian tubes will release more than 400 ova. In those years marriage will usually take place in the early 20s. Many families will have children. Conception can occur on a monthly basis. During a month when conception does not occur, the unfertilized egg does not become attached to the uterus and the menstrual period results. But usually in the mid to late 40s, this all begins to change. The child bearing years over, God designed the body to cease the possibilities of conception. But not suddenly. This marvelous change usually takes a few years. Ancient and superstitious societies believed something was wrong. Some thought a woman's hair turns white during menopause. Many times women were suspected of losing their mental facilities. What a tragedy. Generations of women have lived with untruths and unneeded fears because of improper knowledge. Menopause is a natural and normal part of the life's processes. About 85 percent of women will pass through the change in life with relatively minor symptoms of discomfort. The remaining 15 percent may experience greater difficulty, but can seek proper medical help and guidance to proceed through the few years menopause may take. Menopause is not something to fear. It is a passing stage of life that may offer some discomfort and concern. But it will pass. Women can find the remaining years some of the most personally rewarding, gratifying and joyful years of their lives.
An Understanding Husband
For married women going through the menopause, an understanding husband can be one of the best helps of all. Many men simply are not educated concerning the importance of this time in a woman's life, and do not offer proper support. Some of you readers may wonder why a man would be writing this article on the subject of female menopause. One important reason is that many men have not taken the time to understand their wives in this sometimes crucial phase of life. And I hope all our male readers are reading this article. My wife and I are now going through this marvelous time of life. I pray this gives me not only understanding, but feeling and empathy for others. My wife expresses to me almost daily how much she appreciates me taking the time to learn about and help her through the rough spots that will come in even the best of circumstances. Perhaps more than at any other time in the marriage, a woman during menopause requires love, attention, appreciation and UNDERSTANDING. Without a doubt there is a hormonal change taking place. To a lesser or greater degree there will be changing emotional reactions, depression, hot flashes and lack of energy. Husbands must never let this time in life lead to casting a wandering eye toward another woman or lead to neglect. It is a time for husbands and wives to spend even more time together. It is a time for a husband to reassure his wife she is even more beautiful than ever. Remember you are both growing older together. And if the wife has a few gray hairs, some wrinkles in the brow and has gained a pound or two, so probably has the husband. So in addition to education, the love and support of a husband, children and friends are vital ingredients to help a woman through this changing time of life.
What to Expect
Most women can expect menopause to begin in the late 40s. The average age is 47. Research has shown heredity is a strong factor — a daughter can anticipate beginning menopause at about the same age her mother did. At the onset of menopause the menstrual cycle may change slightly. Monthly periods will perhaps not be as regular as before. The number of days of menstrual flow may change, over a period of years decreasing in days till finally the process stops entirely. As menstruation slows down, the woman's body will usually produce fewer hormones. This, along with other adjustments, stresses and strains of the middle years, may produce increased nervousness and feelings of depression (often for no apparent reason). There may also be weight gain without additional food intake and at times an inability to sleep as well as usual. Sometimes there will be a tingling feeling in the hands and feet. And there may be occasional itching and a feeling of heat in certain portions of the body — most people call these "hot flashes." These conditions should be no cause for alarm. They are brought about by irregular contraction and expansion of many blood vessels in the body. These irregularities, too, will pass in time. Most women will experience a noticeable decrease in energy. The energy level may drop by as much as one third at this time of life. Some women who have maintained a hectic schedule, whirred through the housework and were always ready to go at a moment's notice, simply may not be able to maintain that pace. This does not mean the home should be filled with statements like: "Vacuum the house, Suzie, Mommy's very tired. She's in that time of life, you know." Yes, Mother may well appreciate a little extra help around the house, but she doesn't need those sideswiping comments. If there are still children at home, they should certainly do their fair share of keeping the house clean and other normal household duties. (Fact is, they ought to have been doing that all along.) And it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world if the husband picked up some of the duties of the home and together they would do the dishes once in a while. He can vacuum the upstairs or prepare an occasional meal. And if the family had not been able to afford it before, but can now, hire domestic help to clean the home once or twice a month. Most of all, you can be sure menopause is a passing phase of life. It will end, but it may last a few years. There may be some discomfort. A few women will have more severe than normal symptoms. But it will come to an end. The best years of one's life can be just around the corner.
What to Do
Once again, education or knowledge is most important. Read books and articles on the subject of menopause. Understand the variety of possible symptoms. Your family doctor can often be helpful in giving advice and, when necessary, recommendations on what to do. Then face that wonderful changing time of life positively. Dr. Marion Hilliard in her book A Woman Doctor Looks at Love and Life describes her reaction to women patients who come to her office with the whispered statement, "Doctor, I think I'm in the change." Dr. Hilliard whoops with delight, "The change! Well, you're in for an interesting time. I can promise you that the best years of your life are ahead of you." I'm sure most of her patients are momentarily shocked beyond belief. Somehow, many think menopause is an illness to be treated by drugs and even hospitalization. While that might be recommended in the few cases of extreme difficulty, it is not what a majority of women need. Another important consideration in successfully enjoying the changing years is nutrition and diet. (Not that this should not be an important consideration throughout one's life.) Because of all the chemical and emotional changes being made, a woman must eat a balanced diet and maintain proper nutrition. Wisdom and balance in this area are essential. Most doctors know that chancy and excessive hormonal drugs are not the answer. Yet many women automatically assume estrogen replacement is the thing to do. More often, it is not the thing to do. Why chance chemical side effects that could shorten your life to escape a few years of discomfort? There really is no aid, natural or chemical, to combat growing older. We all will go through the aging process marking the various stages of life as they come. When we were younger we could disregard (but shouldn't have) the laws of good health and not suffer immediate repercussions. But during these middle and later years of life our bad habits take noticeable toll. As we grow older and often less active, our metabolic rates begin to change. We can gain weight on the same diet that formerly left us trimmer. Muscles begin to lose their tone and body alignment is affected. Many suffer resultant back pain. A common complaint of many women in the menopausal years is the loss of calcium and a condition of bone loss called osteoporosis. At this stage in life regular exercise is vital. Coupled with proper calcium intake, the only known way to stimulate bone growth is exercise. Here's where husbands can again be of help. Begin an exercise plan by taking long walks together three or four times a week. Start with a half mile and work up to four or five miles. Almost everyone can exercise in this manner, and the talks you share while walking can strengthen your marriage as well. In addition to physical symptoms and the ability to take care of those physical aspects of menopause, it is most urgent we understand the emotional changes that will also occur. Fluctuating feelings of depression and irritability are not symptoms of encroaching mental illness. They simply, to one degree or another, are emotions one must cope with at this time of life. There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will be times a woman will forget even her best friend's name. She will notice extreme fluctuations in her feelings of anger and love. While hormonal imbalance plays a significant role in the emotional makeup, outside factors can also play a part. A woman overly subjected to stress is much more likely to have fluctuating emotions than a woman who lives and works in an environment of love and understanding. This brings us to the conclusion of the matter. Every woman must accept that she will enter into and pass through menopause. It is not a sickness or disease, but a normal, to-be-anticipated time of life. It is a time when a husband must offer more love, understanding and time to his wife than ever before. Children, relatives and friends must also pitch in to create a stable and loving environment. Then, it is a time to look forward to about one third of a life span of accomplishment and joy. If you have entered or are about to enter menopause, relax. You are going to go through some changes, yes. You will some days be hard to live with. You will have some bad days. But they will get fewer and further between. One day they will stop. Stay active and busy. Maintain a good exercise program. Eat a wholesome and balanced diet. Then you may find, as one woman wrote, "The change begins at age 45 but, believe me, life begins at 50!"