Writer, Christa D’Souza, 55, lives in London with her partner, Nick Allott and their two sons. Her new book about the menopause, The Hot Topic, discusses some of the menopause changes that take place as you enter that stage of your life, and how these can affect day-to-day living.
Take a look at her take on the menopause changes you can expect…
I honestly didn’t think the menopause was going to happen to me. I thought I’d be a medical revelation; the woman who never got it.
Then, when it did, I wanted to write about it; I wanted to address the hot flushes, the peeing six times a night and the craziness that you go through in perimenopause. My friends call it the 49-ers club: right before you stop bleeding completely, you experience incredible spikes in hormone levels. Your body is gearing up for one last stab at sprogging and what I found is that you suddenly think, ‘I’ve got to go out there and get laid; I don’t care by whom or what, but it’s got to happen’.
Menopause changes in the body
The hot flushes happened mostly at night. I’ve always been quite sweaty and, although I can’t believe I was that dim, I didn’t put two and two together. Then I went and got my hormones checked and found I had virtually no estrogen left.
One of the most distressing things was suddenly developing this extra layer that just suddenly grew out of nowhere. I have never had back fat but suddenly I did, and nothing fit, regardless of what I ate or drank. Having no control over it at all was horrible.
Also, having always been able to sleep on a clothes-line, suddenly I couldn’t sleep. Even sleeping pills didn’t make a dent. That was terrifying because I need eight hours a night and when that was taken away I felt crazy.
Sex during the menopause
Sex during the menopause is a tricky one. There are a lot of issues: hormone changes can mean many women get vaginal dryness so sex can hurt. And then the other thing is a complete lack of desire, which happened to me and I was actually quite shocked by it, particularly after the peri-menopause, when sex is all you want to do.
You can go one of two ways. You can say, ‘OK that’s it, I’ve done all my sex’. I know some women who just decided, ‘That’s it, no more sex any more’.
Or, you can take hormones, which to a certain degree can allow you to revisit that area of your life. If sex is the cornerstone of your relationship and the desire has waned, hormones are fantastic.
People get muddled up by the phrase ‘bio-identical hormones’. It sounds so organic, but all it really means is that a dose is created for you personally and it’s made of reconstituted yams not horses urine. They are still HRT.
My reservations about taking hormones were entirely to do with having had breast cancer in 2007. It was only stage one and treated with radiotherapy but it was estrogen positive. Some people, particularly Americans, think I’m crazy to take hormones.
But I weighed it up. I am taking a small amount. Hormones help with keeping bones healthy and keeping you sane and they can protect against heart disease and of course I have regular checks.
The thing that swung it for me was one doctor telling me that drinking alcohol has a far worse effect than taking hormones. So I chose to stop drinking instead.
Hormones solved the sleep issue and completely took the hot flushes away, within two weeks. It was fantastic and, for me that is by far the best solution. But if you are suffering my best advice is: wear fewer clothes and wear them in layers. Also, wear your hair up to keep the back of your neck cool.
Hormones also sorted out the extra tog factor! So now if I if I feel a few pounds heavier I know it is just because I’ve been eating too much. Also I think at this stage we are meant to be a bit heavier. I have gone up a size since a couple of years ago – and maybe that doesn’t matter. Acceptance is a wonderful thing.
Post-menopause: Life after the menopause
There’s a kind of power surge, post menopause; meaning loads of energy, focus, and a sharper brain. I find I am more into my work and more into reading books. My concentration is better. I feel that now I can be the person that I probably always meant to be, because I am not so worried about the way I look, my weight, my baggy eyes, or the fact that someone didn’t fancy me. At 55 I know that my pulling years are over. And I use the term pulling years even for women in a secure relationship because there is still an element of flirtation. But now I am on the other side and it’s gone.
But I probably have got another 30 years, and I’d better make something of it: I want to give to the world rather than take and to make the world a slightly better place. I’ve become a tiny bit less frivolous. And I trust myself more. I’ve been around in this body for so long and my opinion is valid, which I didn’t necessarily feel two years ago.
What I observe in many of my friends is that once all the hormones settle down there is an equilibrium you might last have had before adolescence. It’s almost as if the fertile years were an aberration and you become your real self, unfettered by the chains of fertility and hormonal surges. It’s not exactly true to say you become more man like – but in a way you do. You become more measured. Some friends feel that they are free; liberated in a way that they have never felt in their lives.
Is life after the menopause, life post-menopause, different? Yes it is. At the age of 49 I still got rather offended if people called me a woman rather a girl, which is mad, I know, but I did. Now for the first time I am an older woman. I’m a grown up. I am not the person I was five years ago and the difference between 49 and 55 is quite radical. I am five years shy of 60 and that fact can wake me up in the middle of the night sometimes. But it is kind of fabulous too.
The Hot Topic: A Life-changing Look at the Change of Life (Short Books) by Christa D’Souza, is out now.