EARLY MENOPAUSE AND ME

HEALTH

After recently watching Davina McCall tell her menopause story on Channel 4, Nicola Walters has found the courage to speak out about her experience of suffering from early menopause. 

Struggling through years of debilitating insomnia, brain fog and anxiety, and heartbreakingly while trying for a baby, Nicola discovered she was postmenopausal – aged just 38.  

The menopause is something that will affect half the population but you assume it happens later in life, right? Nope, not always the case. And so thanks to people like Nicola, the more it’s spoken about, the more the silence is broken and the more we can all help each other. Which can only be a good thing.

 

  • I was 38, when after much deliberation, we decided to try for another baby. We had been married almost 13 years and our sons were 10 and seven at the time.

  • I had had that urge, longing for another child for a long time and had literally taken years to finally make up my mind because pregnancy is fraught with complications for me and in truth I was terrified. But frightened as I was, this need for another child wasn’t leaving me.

  • So I got my coil removed. I’d had my first for the full five years. I accidentally got pregnant when my youngest was four months old using the patch. I knew nothing of the pregnancy till I had a miscarriage so I decided I needed something more reliable.

  • The coil for me meant no periods. Nothing. It was truly liberating because mine were horrendous, like turning on a tap and I’d bleed through a towel and a tampon within an hour.

  • But I had no idea that that meant I could completely go through the menopause without knowing because there were no periods to notice changes with. Women should most definitely be made aware of that when choosing the coil as contraception.

  • I was 18 months or so into having the second coil when I decided to go and get it removed. I was 38 and felt it was now or never and I needed to have at least tried. If I didn’t fall pregnant ok, it wasn’t meant to be but I could always know I’d tried.

  • Well no periods came. Months passed and nothing. Initially I was ok with that as I had holidays and days out planned and was frightened I would somehow get seven years worth in one go.

  • Eventually I called the GP in the August who said it was normal and could take some time.

  • Trying for a baby and no periods meant I continually thought I was pregnant. Wondering if this was it. I didn’t feel pregnant but maybe I was. Continually imagining symptoms. The constant negative tests became soul destroying.

  • So I went to see a gynaecologist privately the next month.

  • She took bloods and arranged for a scan of my ovaries there and then.

  • She was very upbeat and when I mentioned menopause she thought it would be unlikely because of my age.

  • The scan revealed that my ovaries were tiny. Naive me said: “Oh, do some people just have small ones?” No. No, they shrink postmenopausally. Also my womb lining was incredibly thin, showing no indication of any period due soon. I was told that I needed to wait on my blood results but I was showing signs of being POST menopausal.

  • Not perimenopausal, not menopausal but postmenopausal. It had most likely already happened and I didn’t even know.

  • I left the clinic stunned, shocked and devastated.

  • I had the coil out because I wanted another child and I was basically being told it was likely that could never happen. It had taken me years to get the courage to have another baby and now I finally had done that, Mother Nature had closed the door and taken the decision out of my hands.

  • I was 38. I hadn’t considered menopause.

  • I turned up on my friend’s doorstep, sobbing. She was wonderful and let me just be. Let me cry and deal with my shock whilst consoling me as best she could.

  • The next week I got my blood results. My FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) for my age should have been around 15 and it was 55. That combined with the scan meant there was no doubt I was postmenopausal.

  • Officially you are postmenopausal when you haven’t had a period for a year but we didn’t know how long it had been in reality because of my coil. It could have been several years.

  • I was delivered this bombshell and sent on my way. No offer of further appointments, suggestions of what to do. Nothing.

  • So I went home and tried to process it all.

  • I had suffered severe insomnia. I mean chronic, since I was about 31. I’ve always loved my sleep and one night I just couldn’t sleep. I could go three or four nights on the trot still being awake at 5am. Seeing every hour on the clock. I blamed it on the kids having me up in the night when they were babies and somehow disrupting my sleep cycles. I would often get really hot during the night as well. Insist on windows open in the depths of winter.

  • I can’t tell you how awful that lack of sleep is. I felt like I had a permanent hangover. Brain fog. My eyes would throb. It made me anxious, irritable. Headaches were a common feature.

  • I would constantly cancel arrangements – coffee with friends, running, training sessions because I hadn’t slept the night before.

  • I had severe anxiety about bedtimes not knowing if I would be able to sleep or not.

  • It sounds excessive and dramatic but it actually made me feel suicidal and I said to my husband several times that I couldn’t carry on living like this. I couldn’t see an end to it and it was so debilitating.

  • I didn’t go to the GP because I am one of these people who doesn’t really like tablets and I thought I would just be offered sleeping tablets that I didn’t want.

  • I’ve always exercised, running, HIIT, Pilates and watched what I ate but I couldn’t shift the weight around my tummy.

  • It suddenly dawned on me that all this was likely menopause related. Like a lightbulb moment.

  • I had a lot to process. I was grieving for the child I could now never have. I felt I had been dealt a horrendous gynaecological hand as I’ve had to deal with high risk pregnancies, neonatal deaths, cervical sutures, the terror of a rainbow pregnancy – all of which are lists for another time.

  • It all felt so unfair and I’ve sat and cried to my husband many a time, simply saying “It’s not fair.” And it isn’t but it’s my reality and I’ve had to deal with it.

  • I didn’t really tell many people about my early menopause. It isn’t something that is widely discussed and I would joke to my husband and close friends that I was an old bag now. In truth, that’s how I felt. I felt it labelled me.

  • I carried on with things for another year or so and then I started to think that I was incredibly young to have gone through this and maybe I needed to explore HRT or some other options. I was aware of osteoporosis and it worried me.

  • I run several times a week with a group of wonderful ladies and menopause became the topic of conversation. Them sharing their experiences of menopause but also of HRT gave me the push I needed to make a GP appointment.

  • I have explained my reluctance to take tablets and I wasn’t sure if HRT was for me. I didn’t just want to be handed a prescription. I wanted to be able to make a fully informed choice.

  • I researched for myself and found that there is a menopause clinic at Birmingham Women’s Hospital which is where I suffered my premature labours, had all my after care and procedures to find out why, was supported through subsequent pregnancies. They had all my history and I felt safe going there so I decided to ask my GP for a referral there.

  • I had my phone consultation, prepared to do battle to get my referral but I didn’t need to. My GP was excellent, very understanding. I had my FSH bloods repeated and they had risen to 66 and I still hadn’t had a period. By now it was 18 months so we knew I was definitely postmenopausal.

  • It wasn’t until I watched Davina’s programme that I became aware of how few menopause clinics there are and how lucky I was to get a referral to one.

  • Due to Covid, when I eventually had my appointment, it was a telephone appointment. I was actually in Tesco doing a pre-Christmas food shop with my dad when I took the call.

  • The doctor was really good. Discussed my circumstances in depth and then went through all the HRT options with me. I had been very reluctant to take it because I had read all the stuff about the breast cancer links. The doctor that I spoke to really explained that there were many other risks to not taking it, especially as I was so young. Osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes.

  • My sleeping had improved since the coil came out and I was scared to take anything that might tip that delicate balance. I couldn’t go back to feeling like a sleep deprived zombie.

  • The doctor suggested trying it for three months and if it didn’t work or made me any worse I could try something else.

  • She sent a prescription in the post. I duly took it to the pharmacy but sat with medicines (oestrogen gel and progesterone tablets) at home for a full month before I persuaded myself to take them.

  • I realised I owed it to my future self to at least give them a try.

  • The effects of them have honestly been life changing. My sleep is almost normal, I still have the odd bad night but compared to what I was, I feel like a new woman.

  • It took me a long time to find peace with the fact that I couldn’t have another child and the unfairness that this happened to me so young but I have found acceptance.

  • Things would have been easier for me if I had started the HRT earlier. With my diagnosis and especially at my age, I should have been signposted to a specialist.

  • Definitely a lesson learnt not to listen to so much hearsay and arm myself with the full facts in future.

  • I’m aware HRT won’t be for everyone but it is for me.

  • We all need to be aware of menopause symptoms, and that they can affect much younger women too. If I had been, I might have recognised what was happening and sought help sooner. Instead, I do feel I like I lost a chunk of my life in a sleep deprived haze.

  • I’ve not wanted to speak freely about my early menopause because honestly, I thought it labelled me old. That it was something that somehow I didn’t want to be associated with. It’s a bit cringe and nobody wants to talk about it.

  • The truth is though that it is real, its symptoms and effects differ vastly between people but it is something that will, at some point, affect half of the population. Therefore, we need to break the taboo and speak freely about it. Women need to be informed and educated but so do men because every woman is someone’s wife, partner, colleague, friend or sister.

  • Thank you Davina for giving me the incentive and courage to speak out. If my experiences can help even one other woman, it’s worth putting it out there.

 

HELPFUL RESOURCES:

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/early-menopause/

The British Menopause Society: https://thebms.org.uk/

* “But why… but why is there blood in the toilet?” is one of the many tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to preorder now  and also on audiobook.**

FANCY READING SOME MORE?

–  Read Louise Daniel’s eye-opening account of the menopause and why she sees it as both a curse and a privilege.

–  Listen to author and menstrual expert Maisie Hill on But Why as she chats perimenopause and learning to embrace this transition.

OR HOW ABOUT WRITING A LIST?

Find submission guidelines here.  All writers and topics  are welcome, but we are currently particularly looking for lists on:

–  Internet trolling

–  Prison

–  Pain killer addiction

–  Extremely large families

–  Estrangement

–  Lottery winners

 

 

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply Dsisoo May 24, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    It is very sad that we have very few information and research about early menopause. I found out I was menopausal at 19yo. I had a similar background in my family (mother and grandmother menopausal very early on), but no-one thought about checking in depth why an adolescent was having daily migrenes. I started having severe migraines at around 15yo, but my GP always ignored my complaints about it. Years later, when I moved to a bigger city, with only a simple blood test my doctor was able to say I am menopausal and thus my migraines were induced by the hormonal imbalance. They told me at 19 that children were then out of option and that I need to start HRT as soon as possible. I was lucky to be able to have my children, random postmenopausal ovulation it seems, but I am taking daily pills since then. 17 years later, I am feeling good, sleeping good, no more migraines, but the only imbalance present is related to my weight. I cannot lose it and if I am not careful, I gain weight very fast. I still need to take HRT until I am at least 45, but nevertheless it allows me to have a functional life. I wish there would be more studies on this problem and more money invested in developing better HRT pills, with fewer side effects. In my case, an inherited autoimmune disease provoked all this, but honestly it took me a lot of time to process it, to escape the thoughts that I am old, just because of my condition.

  • Leave a Reply to Dsisoo Cancel Reply