Menopause & perimenopause
Post-menopause — what happens after the change
Topics covered in this article:
Who is the post-menopausal woman? Exactly what is menopause, and what does “post-menopause”
mean? Literally, the term means after the menopause, or the stopping of
periods. To be more precise, most providers consider a woman to be post-menopausal
when she hasn’t had a vaginal bleed for one year.
But for many women, it’s difficult to calculate when exactly their last period
was because you don’t know it was the last one until 12 months later. We often
see women who hope that a particular month’s bleeding is the last, only to
have another period several months later and have to start counting all over again.
So it’s understandable how we could conflate what is actually premenopause
with menopause. (For more information on “what is menopause,” see our
article on ending confusion about menopause.)
Aside from transitioning into menopause naturally as described above, some women
have their ovaries removed surgically, and are considered post-menopause after the
operation because there is no longer any chance they will have another period. On
the other hand, women who stop having periods during chemotherapy might resume them
after treatment is over. Even if the treatment causes their periods to stop for
a whole year, most doctors do not consider these women to be post-menopausal without
checking their FSH levels. Also, women who are taking any type of hormone replacement
therapy (HRT), even if they’ve not had a period in 12 months, may not be technically
post-menopausal because once they stop therapy they usually have some of the symptoms
of menopause again.
So are all post-menopausal women the same? The answer, of course, is a resounding
The range of menopause symptoms, related diseases, and quality of health for post-menopausal
women is gigantic. Some women get very few hot flashes; others have night sweats
into their 70’s. We don’t even know what the average age is when women
stop having hot flashes because the number is affected by too many variables to
Post menopausal and what it means to women
But then someone should be asking: Are you post-menopause until you die? Theoretically,
yes, but the same could be said for post-puberty and post-partum. The difference
is that these other life stages seem to have natural endings when a new one begins.
But what is the new stage after menopause?
We are considering offering a contest to pick a new heading for the time in a woman’s
life that we now call post-menopause. The present terms just are not satisfactory!
For the possible 40 or even 50 years of life after menopause to be labeled as simply
post-menopausal seems terribly anticlimactic.
The years between 20 and 50 are often referred to as “the childbearing years.”
This term is not perfect either, but at least it carries none of the negative connotations
of menopause, because we are creating. But what are we doing if we are “post-menopausal?”
The female midlife crisis, or a new beginning with menopause?
Society allows men to have midlife crises and buy red sports cars or find new wives.
Women’s midlife crises are bracketed by hot flashes, weight gain, and a vapid
sex drive. But what do both sexes discover? Usually that those times of crisis were
just a transition, beyond which lies so much more. They may reexamine their values
and redefine what they really appreciate — it’s different things for
different folks. They realize that the journey is what’s important and that
it is far from over!
We contend that menopause brings many benefits along with its changes. But unfortunately
we see and hear the negative side effects of menopause emphasized while the joys
of post-menopause are neglected.
Our grandmothers and even most of our mothers did not talk about their bodies, let
alone their periods. Several famous women share their experiences of menopause or
post-menopause in autobiographies. Jane Addams took to her bed in the 40’s
with undiagnosed fatigue and headaches. Was it menopause, or just rheumatism as
thought at the time? Eleanor Roosevelt never once mentioned a hot flash in her diaries
or columns. Margaret Mead did write about post-menopausal zest, but then, anthropology
is a holistic science, and perhaps this gave her greater license! (For more cross-cultural
insight, see our article on menopause across cultures.)
Discover the joys of post-menopause
There are many things to love about being post-menopausal. There is a light at the
end of the tunnel of heavy bleeding and hot flashes. No more Kotex pads or Tampax!
No more worry about pregnancy. Most women find their voice and have no qualms about
raising it. This does not happen overnight of course, and for many women it takes
time to stop feeling bad about speaking up — but they realize they have nothing
to lose and much to gain!
Many women find another avocation of sorts for their second act. With children out
of the house, they can spend time on themselves, go back to school and take a class
in the area they have always dreamt about. Many pick up a paint brush for the first
time or try a musical instrument. One woman who was formerly an accountant
for a large university, decided to resign and open a knitting café
that sells organic coffee and green tea! Of course, this wasn’t a snap decision
and took months if not years of meditation and consultation with family and friends.
But the possibilities are endless. Another woman, once her youngest was in college,
enrolled in theology school to satisfy her spiritual quest. Yet another
for her 60th birthday packed up her husband and her house and began a year-long
trek through Europe to explore her ancestral heritage and leave a legacy for her
Post-menopausal women are not going to be invisible anymore. There are too many
of us to just slip away into anonymity. As a collective we are rediscovering ourselves.
Some, maybe including yourself, are going through a lot of angst and discomfort,
and we don’t want to trivialize that. But there are answers, and once you
begin to feel better you can re-live your passions and really explore with zest!
There is no need to grin and bear it — instead, go ahead, scream and dig into
it. Let’s make these years truly golden ones. Send your ideas and let us know
what you love about being in post-menopause.
Last Modified Date: 06/02/2011