A door closes

It began in January.

We’d gone out of town shopping for the day, and were on our way home. I don’t remember feeling pain, though I often had stomach upset when we ate in restaurants, so I can’t say for certain that I had no pain. I do remember my underwear feeling sticky, but that wasn’t an unusual occurrence; weird things had been going on in my underpants for a couple of years. But what I found in that gas station bathroom was a shock.

“Mom?” I remember saying. “Come look. There’s something in my underpants.”

I’d started my period. Only it didn’t look like any blood I’d ever seen. It looked more like I’d crapped my pants. Nobody had prepared me for that.

I knew about periods, sure. My mom was open and honest from early childhood about such things. And I’d had that sex ed class the year before, where they separate the boys and girls and show each group a movie about what’s going to happen to their bodies during puberty, and some kids had to sit out because their parents didn’t sign the permission slip. (We filled them in on all the gory details afterwards. C’mon, parents — did you think you could send your kids to public school and still keep them in a bubble?) The movie didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know, though.

I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, however. Case in point: When I got home that January night, I marked a P on the 17th of every month in my planner (yeah, I had a planner at 12; I was that sort of kid) because I knew periods came once a month and I’d seen my mom track them on her calendar with a P. How cool it was, I thought, to know what day your period would start on for the rest of your life? The joke was on me, though; not only did I not fulfill the February P, I didn’t have another P for a full calendar year.

That one looked like blood. Lasted for more than just one day, too.

The subsequent 30 years brought with them a series of Ps. Some light (not many), some gory (lots and lots). Most painful. Some excruciatingly so. For most of those 30 years, I planned my life around my Ps. Waiting for them to come. Waiting for them to pass. Trying this medication, that diet. Yoga and Tai Chi and Pilates, meditation and massage and supplements. Anything to alleviate the pain. Wishing for pregnancy, for menopause, for some relief from the relentless monthly suffering that is endometriosis.

It’s January again. Not the 17th, but close enough. And that door just closed for good. According to my period tracking app (I haven’t carried a paper planner in a couple decades), it’s been a full calendar year since my last cycle, and the doctor says that means I am done menstruating. I’ve gone through young womanhood, and just plain womanhood, and come out the other side.

I’m in uncharted territory now.

I call myself a mothercrone. Not that I feel particularly old; I don’t. But neither am I in the same place as I was a few short years ago, when pregnancy and childbirth were still on my radar. However, I’m still mothering littles — nursing one of them — so I can’t go full-on crone quite yet. Also, I’m only 44. The crones eye me warily yet. I’m on some odd bridge between the two states. Residing in a constant state of change.

As for that change. Not much has changed, I suppose. The hot flashes and sleeplessness may be a bit more intense now than they were last January, but not so distressing that I feel the need for medication. I cry easily. I’ve become a crier since giving birth for the first time, but now a passing thought is all it takes to turn on the waterworks. I have love handles that I’m not sure will ever go away. Without monthly hormone fluctuations, my fibrocystic breasts are less lumpy and painful. (Also smaller — I guess I really was mostly cysts.) I no longer develop sausage feet for no discernible reason. Otherwise…I’m just me. Only me doesn’t bleed anymore.

I look back on adolescent me, young woman me, with a lot more sympathy now. I felt like such a screw-up, when really I was just a lost kid. I wish I could tell that girl that it’s okay to be lost. That everyone is lost. That if you only admit that you are lost, someone might come along and help you get found.

In a similar fashion, I look back on adult me, and while her failures and shortcomings sting more, mostly I wish I could just assure her that things will be okay. The things she worried most about never came to pass. I wish I could tell her to pause, breathe, and be.

I wonder what old me will wish she could tell current me. I also wonder when I will feel that I have earned my crone wings. Not today, not tomorrow, and likely not next week, month, year. But I’m on my way. A little lost. A little nervous. But doing my best to pause, breathe, and be.

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My closet’s love affair with ThredUp

Historically, I have had the tendency to skip makeup and wear the same 10 or so outfits week in and week out. I thought this meant I wasn’t terribly particular about my appearance. But shifting from a cubicle drone to a WAHM who gets out less and less frequently has thrown me into a funk, and I finally figured out it is because I don’t feel attractive anymore. Before kids, I used to at least go out on the occasional weekend; now thanks to Kai’s threeness, I pretty much don’t go anywhere that doesn’t offer curbside service. And it’s wearing on me.

Anya got me back into the makeup habit when she was a baby (she is that girly), and I have kept it up except when my allergies are in full flare. But I tend to slide into a t-shirts-and-yoga pants rut — sometimes because they’re just comfy, but usually because I intend to exercise and don’t see the point in dirtying a second set of clothes. The problem is that I don’t feel all that attractive in workout wear. Especially since these wacko periods and the progesterone they keep giving me to deal with them have caused my stomach to swell. Spandex is not a good look on me right now. But most of my other clothes don’t fit, or do fit but are cut to emphasize a small waist, not camouflage a belly.

Enter ThredUp. While I do draw the line at some items (shoes, bathing suits, underthings), I have zero trouble wearing vintage clothing. My wedding dress was vintage, and some of my favorite outfits were picked up from Etsy sellers. ThredUp does vintage one better — these are current styles, in great shape, from brands I’m familiar with (so I have an idea of how they’ll fit me). The prices are definitely easy on the budget. Returns (available on most items) are easy. And it’s recycling!

Thanks to the sudden influx in new duds, I’ve been making more of an effort to dress nicely each day. I’ve even started incorporating colors into my wardrobe, which was starting to look very Morticia. My outfit choices are still limited, of course, by circumstance: I have to be able to nurse in it, it has to be easy to care for, and fancy fabrics are out because someone is eventually going to snot on it. (Velvet, I miss you.) But that leaves a surprising number of options. In my size. In colors that are flattering on me.

And I feel just that little bit better about…everything,

Hello, Provera

It’s been…not nearly long enough. I hadn’t missed you.

I’m not that late this time (day 42 and counting), but my endo symptoms have been severe. Bloating like I’m 6 months pregnant. Having to hold on to furniture to walk around the house. A near-constant headache. An increasing feeling that I have a weight in my abdomen that is tethered to my internal organs, sloshing around painfully when I change position. And, probably, the sugar cravings and the emotional roller coasters. Plus hot flashes, because everything’s harder to deal with when you’re hot and sweaty.

I’m seriously contemplating another laparoscopy. You know it’s bad when I’m considering letting them cut me open and burn blobs off my innards. Especially since I only got 3 months of relief last time.

One step at a time, though. First I have to get through the Provera again. Means my aspirations of starting a cardio class are on hold for about a month, but the need to incorporate some yoga and meditation into my day has increased exponentially.

On an unrelated note, my mother’s in the hospital again. Mild heart attack this time. I haven’t talked to her in a couple of days, but she was doing well when I visited Sunday. I’ve certainly seen her look worse. Which says something about the severity of this heart attack versus the severity of the illnesses she’s suffered these past few years. She was tired, because she’d been up all night in the ER, but otherwise seemed…normal. After a heart attack. MAC infections do not play around is the message I’m deriving here.

Anya was sick over the weekend with a virus similar to the flu that was thankfully not flu. She is better now. I’m hoping Kai and I don’t catch it. It’s supposed to be up to nearly 80 today, and warmer all week; spring is on the way. I’d hate for us to be too sick to enjoy it.

 

Dealing with derailments

Before I even got over my sinus infection, I started my period. And it’s the period I expected to have after 90-some days. (I appreciated being let off easy last month, but I knew I’d pay the piper eventually.) So September’s kind of a wash. At the start of the month, the house was clean, I was on track with all my goals, and everything was running like clockwork. Now it’s just chaos.

I’m working on learning to better deal with derailments such as this. I read an article on the topic earlier this week, something about things like this being the down side of relying on routines. But because of the aforementioned chaos, I have lost the link and cannot find it back. You’ll just have to take my word for it: Sometimes routines fall apart, and they take the whole house of cards with them.

The first thing I’m working on is forgiving myself for the lost progress. So far I am not kicking myself too much for the blow to my workout plan; the fact that I actively miss working out means I will take it back up again just as soon as I am able. And that’s really what I am aiming for with these challenges — not to do some weird stunt for a month and then quit, but train myself to exercise each day, just as I brush and floss and clean my contacts each day. I’ve done it before; I can do it again.

Speaking of brushing, I bought a Quip toothbrush, and it’s got me brushing twice a day. I have been trying for years to get into a morning brushing habit, and never managed to pull it off. But I enjoy brushing with the Quip so much that once a day just isn’t enough. It’s amazing what a comfortable toothbrush can do. It takes some of the sting out of failing in all these other areas to have taken on a habit I’ve been trying to cultivate for over a decade.

Yesterday really drove home the need to practice regular self-care. I had just nursed Kai to sleep when I felt a sharp pain in my chest that quickly moved to my back and radiated out to my side. I ordinarily brush these things off, but I’m 43 and a former smoker with a heart murmur and a rotten cardiac family history. I felt I should rule out heart attack before I grabbed the heating pad.

I was home alone with a sleeping Kai; Anya was with my parents. I debated my options. Ask my father, who can barely walk due to an ankle injury, to bring Mom’s SpO2 meter to me, or to watch Kai so I could go to his house and use it? Wake Kai and take him over there? I didn’t think I could safely carry him. Finally, the obvious occurred to me, and I asked Mom to send Anya over with it. My levels were, as always, stellar, so I did some stretches and got on with my day.

Later on, it became obvious to me that the pain was due to stresses from my current work setup (tablet at the kitchen table) and from carrying Kai’s ever-increasing weight. Yoga and time will fix it. And if I continue doing the yoga after my back feels better, the pain likely won’t recur. But I have to make the time to do the yoga.

At the beginning of this month, I’d decided to do yoga on the days I can’t jog, but then I came down with this sinus infection. Derailed again. However, the stretches I need to do for my back do not require me to hang upside down; I can do them even with a head full of crap. So step two in my derailment management plan is to modify the plan in the face of speed bumps. No, I can’t run, or do downward dog, or do crunches. But I can, and should, do some cobras and cat/cows and half moons.

Fall is my favorite season, but it’s also the one most likely to disrupt my progress. This fall, I’m going to work on dealing with those setbacks — forgiving myself for not being able to uphold the promises I made to myself, and modifying my goals to accommodate the snags. I may not get where I wanted to go as quickly as I had planned, but so long as I do eventually get there, what does it matter?

Pausal updates

Hopefully I am close to starting my period; I started on progesterone this past Friday. Which means I should be starting within this next week, though my doctor did warn me it could be three weeks before it does its thing. Hope not, because I am miserable.

I saw my gyno last Friday; he told me he didn’t feel anything in my belly that shouldn’t be there (yay!), and prescribed the progesterone so I’d start my period. After one dose, I was already less bloated and swollen. (Cold, though. I remember that from my pregnancy with Kai; large amounts of progesterone make me cold.) So apparently my issue has been a hormonal imbalance? Let’s hope this course will set me back on track.

Extra progesterone also gives me pimples, apparently. And here I thought I was all but done with those.

Other updates from the checkup: It’s not possible to say whether my crazy periods are the result of perimenopause or lactational menopause. Not that there’s a huge difference in terms of symptoms now — the end result is the same, regardless of the cause — but the game could renew once I stop nursing Kai. Which, given how I’ve felt as of late, means I could have a fair amount of endo suffering ahead of me. Sigh.

On the up side, I don’t have to have a mammogram until I stop nursing. Pleased to hear that.

Especially pleased to hear I’m healthy, though. Having missed last year’s checkup due to my layoff, I was pretty nervous…especially when all these weird symptoms started cropping up.

Anya has started cooing over nursery furnishings again, and Kai has started loving up babies. And I’m just not there this time. Oh, I would adore having another baby. But it’s not the time, and I don’t think it will be again.

Get a Clue

One of the things I wish had been around when I was younger is period trackers. I tracked my period on a paper calendar, but all I noted was the day it started. I have random anecdotal evidence (letters, journal entries) that refer to the occasional symptom or period duration, but otherwise I’m relying on my memories for details of my periods up until the age of 35, when I was introduced to Fertility Friend. I used FF faithfully (even when I wasn’t trying to conceive) until I resumed my cycles (such as they are) after I had Kai.

I use Clue now, hence the post title. If you look at my tracker, you’ll see I track mostly custom symptoms.

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The black squares are custom symptoms. (I have a lot of symptoms.)

When I was younger, tracking things like how my hair and skin were on a given day, whether I was productive or not, or how energetic I felt (all built in to the Clue app) would have been extremely useful. I remember from my TTC days that days in which I crushed my to-do list were sure-fire indicators that Aunt Flo was en route. Now I track other things: If I have trouble deciding what to wear. If I eat alllll day long. (Toying with adding “sweet or salty?” to that one, on the off chance that there’s any significance.) If my joints hurt. (I’m noticing a connection between achy joints and hormone surges, though I don’t know yet what it means.) If I had hot flashes that day. (Ditto.) If I’m cramping, or if I merely have pain in my lower back and/or my cesarean scar.

I wish more than anything there were a menopause tracker. That I could drop in these symptoms and it’d compare me to other women going through The Change and make predictions for me, like FF does with fertility. I could especially use peer comparision — matching my cycles with women my same age who also are breastfeeding. But alas. So I track my weird little collection of symptoms. Who knows — maybe I’ll notice a pattern to these crazy cycles after a while. Right now they seem so random.

It’s not that I need to track. I’ll start or I won’t, whether or not I track anything. Tracking used to give me a ballpark range for when my period might start. That sort of thing is utterly meaningless now. But it’s interesting to me to see the patterns from the 30,000 feet view. It’s also giving me a greater understanding of the inner workings of my body, much as trying to get pregnant did. (I learned a lot when we were TTC. And I thought I was well educated already!) Which means I’ll have a solid knowledge base when my daughter starts having periods. That’s coming up sooner than I can deal with.

Wishful pausing?

I’m beginning to wonder if I really am in perimenopause, or if my body is simply confused by all this breastfeeding. I haven’t had much in the way of hot flashes these past few weeks, and the rest of my symptoms could simply be related to breastfeeding. Or stress. Or endometriosis.

Let’s be honest: My body never did figure this menstruation thing out, and it’s far too late to worry about that now.

I’ve always assumed, based on my mother’s experience, that I would go through menopause early. There’s no firm basis for this belief; my maternal grandmother died at the age of 49 without having gone through The Change. But as my menstrual experience has closely mirrored my mother’s (we even started at the same age — 4 months before our 14th birthdays), I figured my end would also come at roughly the same age as hers.

But then I threw a curve: Two late pregnancies, and one extended breastfeeding experience. Even if I were close to menopause, I might have altered the end date by continuing to nurse Kai.

It also occurs to me that my interpretation of my symptoms might all be so much wishful thinking. I want to go through menopause. I love being a mom, don’t get me wrong, and it wouldn’t be awful (thought it would be rather inconvenient at this point) to have another child. But I am done with endometriosis. Done with the pain. Done with the swelling, the bloating, the mood swings. Done with wearing a panty liner day after day for months on end, just in case I might start, for fear of ruining my clothing. (Also done with ruining my clothing.) Done with periods that last 10-14 days, draining me emotionally as well as physically. Done with scheduling my life around a natural bodily function. But really — it’s the pain. The constant, unrelievable, never-ending pain. The pain that, at best, makes my entire abdomen feel like a hand that’s been slammed in a car door. The pain that feels like a spike in my tailbone. The pain that makes it hard to bathe, dress, walk, hold my children, think, breathe, be. The pain steals my hours, days, weeks.

I’m ready for the next stage. The stage in which I can produce something other than children and blood and pain.

The media bombards us with women who fight time. Who resist aging both inside and out. Women who turn to science to produce children when their bodies are past the age at which they can do so naturally. The women who nip this and tuck that. What of the women who accept it, embrace it, and move into their new role with grace — with enthusiasm?

Because there is a place for women who can’t reproduce. In the animal world, and in the human world, too. (What, you didn’t think animals went through menopause? Honestly, neither did I.)

I want the time and space to create. I find myself brimming with more creative energy than I’ve had in years, and I want to feel well enough to use it. I want to write, make jewelry, paint, garden. This morning, as I lay awake in the predawn hours, I found myself planning sewing projects — me, who barely knows how to use my own sewing machine. I want to try my hand at cooking new dishes, take up new hobbies, learn. I want to put more time and effort into the Etsy store I created with my daughter.

If I weren’t laid up in agonizing pain for great portions of my life, just think of what I could do with all that time. It could be the start of a whole new life for me.

Is it any wonder I’m ready to begin?