Drafted vs Enlisted into the Menopausal Militia?
You may have noticed in the declaration poem on the home page a reference to being “drafted” into menopause versus being “enlisted” into menopause. We wanted to be certain to acknowledge and provide resources for the women who are not “of a certain age” but find themselves a part of this sisterhood ahead of schedule and sometimes unexpectedly and frighteningly so.
Drafted – You have entered this stage of life and your body simply takes over. You have no choice in the matter. It is happening whether you like it or not. Some women go sadly and reluctantly into menopause while others embrace it fully and are glad to be moving beyond their childbearing and menstruating years. For a deeper understanding of how you are ‘drafted’ go to THIS page of the NAMS (North American Menopause Society), a very reliable source for medical information regarding menopause.
Enlisted – You have made a conscious choice to initiate menopause ahead of schedule usually due toa health issue that necessitates it. Or menopause has been induced as a ‘side effect’ of a treatment regimen for a medical issue. Your gynecologist, oncologist, healthcare provider and/or surgeon has acted as your “recruiter” and together you have decided this is your best option. The decision is not made lightly and can be traumatizing for some women even if the treatment or surgery alleviates serious pain, bleeding or is, in the case of certain cancers or other illness, lifesaving. Entering menopause significantly ahead of schedule has its unique challenges. For a deeper understanding of how you are ‘enlisted’ go to THIS NAMS page.
However you may have joined this sisterhood – this “militia” – we are here to provide you a soft, safe and supportive place to land filled with information, resources, skills, guidance, humor and shared experiences (see your ‘comrades in arms’ stories below) to help you and your loved ones through the tough times. Come back as often as you need and use the form on this page to submit your own story for consideration. Everyone has a story to tell.
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Every woman has a story. Do you have a story you’d like to share with the Militia? Please submit it with the form below and it just might end up here in these pages! Try to keep ot under 1000 words. You can copy/paste into the Story field – thanks!
Janet S. Drafted age 47
My menopause story began when I was about 47 years old and my monthly periods became quite erratic, they weren’t regular anymore and sometimes they would last for eight to 10 days. I was not prepared for this. I knew about menopause, but it was not happening yet, was it? I did not know that these changes would be a prelude to my period just stopping. I thought that was what would happen. Not the case! I started having really heavy periods. It would just randomly start with no warning, no cramps, moodiness, bloating; so, there were plenty of accidents and this was quite horrifying. Normal methods of sanitary protection were not working. I eventually had to carry tampons and pads around with me everywhere I went! And using two tampons and two pads at the same time became my regular protection because it appeared I was bleeding to death! My lifelong schedule of every 25 days became less, or more, and in-between! I was not sure what my cycle was anymore! This continued for about five YEARS. I felt like I was 12 again, carrying “sanitary napkins” in my purse, waiting for my period to start at any moment, and becoming a woman! Finally, it began subsiding in intensity, but still no regular monthly cycle. I would skip a month or two. Then when I was 52 I met my husband. We dated for a year and then he proposed, and we got married the following July. About three months into our marriage, I started having some other issues. I was counting the months and realized I didn’t have a period for 9 months. I I started having mood swings. This was uncommon for me because I never had that problem before. I’m a pretty upbeat positive person most of the time, but this was different. I was really grumpy with no patience at all! I kept it mostly to myself and it was an effort! This was shocking because I couldn’t seem to control it all the time. Then I started having insomnia and night sweats, and hot flashes that were most uncomfortable. It felt like a slow fire starting out at my feet and getting hotter as it rose up my body until my head felt hot and explosive. It was quite disruptive! I would have to concentrate on my breathing no matter when this happened to help cool my body down and get through it. This was happening 10 or more times a day, so I decided it was time to go to my doctor. We talked and she said OK we will put you on some medication for that called Premarin which I would take once a day and it could take up to two weeks to see it working and the symptoms subsiding. I couldn’t wait to get that prescription filled. My doctor said I would probably need to take this for 5 to 10 years, or forever. To my surprise and glee, it only took two days for the drug to take effect. The night sweats just disappeared. I started sleeping like a rock and I was happy! Relief! But 2-3 weeks later I noticed I felt bloated, I stepped on the scale, and I had put on about 8 pounds! I felt sluggish and I didn’t really care about getting up out of the chair for anything. Motivation was gone. That is not me! I started feeling depressed. So, I called my gynecologist and told her I did not like the side effects of this medication, but she said to give it a few months and she could also put me on an antidepressant to combat the symptoms from the Premarin. More drugs? No, I did not think that was a good idea. I stopped taking it that day. I had only been on it for three weeks but that was it for me. So, I started doing some research online and discovered there were alternative natural herbs that can relieve the symptoms like Soy, Wild Yam, Ginkgo Biloba, Black Cohosh and Evening Primrose Oil. There were lots of resources and I read as much as I could with excitement at the possibility of getting help naturally! I went to my local health food store and found that they had several shelves of all of these wonderful products and I did not know what to take first! And although they were not cheap nor covered under my insurance, I was willing to try them all rather than take the Premarin. I had some time to figure this out because the Premarin stayed in my system for so long I did not have a recurrence of night sweats or insomnia for about a month. Then it did come back like before. I continued my daily research online and reading blogs and forums and narrowing down to hopefully what would work for me. I bought a bottle of evening primrose oil and another formulation of the “miracle” herbs. I took the recommended dosage of 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening, plus Evening Primrose Oil in the evening. That is especially good for mood and to help you sleep. After a week they really started to work! I was ecstatic and I was the hot flashes were milder and only a few a day, and I was sleeping much better. I continued this for two years. Then I thought I’d slack off a bit and see if I still needed it, and after a few days I realized I did, so I continued on my regimen for another couple of years and tried again. I found that I could take half as much, so that was great and it saved me some money. After about seven or eight years of gradual weaning completely off of these supplements I was over the symptoms for good. I think it took 8 years. It wasn’t cheap, probably costing $70+ a month but it was well worth it. I tried several brands and formulations along the way, some worked better than others. I definitely recommend going this route because taking the Premarin, which I discovered was derived of pregnant horse urine (!!!!!) and then the depression it caused necessitating antidepressants, is utterly unsatisfactory. My husband was quite patient through all of this, and very understanding and supportive, thank God. I felt bad for him that this all started right after we got married. He is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy and supported my natural remedy efforts. I have been off of the supplements for 6 years now, and very happy I could do it naturally with no prescription drugs.
Patty W. - Enlisted age 37
I was six years old and at a family holiday gathering when a well-meaning uncle sauntered up and asked, “So, got a boyfriend yet?”. To this day I have muscle memory for how my face contorted as I let out a long, drawn out, southern-accented, “Eeeeewwwwww, grooooosssss. No!”. He was undeterred and followed that question with, “But don’t you want to get married?”. To which I replied, “Well, uh, yeah I guess so. But I want to be the husband.” It was the 1960’s and this threw him for a loop. “You can’t do that,” he said, “you’re a girl and you have to have babies.” Even at six I was deeply opposed to anyone telling me what I had to do but I was also already aware that I did not want to have a baby and quite emphatically told him so. He muttered something and wandered off to ask innocently inappropriate questions of one of my cousins.
I had no understanding of gender or gender roles at the time and had simply observed that my Dad, and all my friends’ Dads, got to leave the house every day and go do cool work stuff then come home to a meal on the table and then went out and cut the grass. Everything about that appealed to my tomboy nature, especially the grass cutting part. I really wanted to get my hands on that push mower. It would be thirteen more years before I realized that conversation was somewhat prophetic.
This is as good a time as any to get this out of the way. I’m a big fan of authenticity ala Brene Brown and I have no intention of pretending to be someone I’m not in order to make readers of this, or any other of my sites, more comfortable. I am gay. I respect the term lesbian and its origins, but gay sounds much more festive so that’s the term I use. For some reason that irritates the lesbians and the gay guys. I don’t march in the streets, which irritates the more activist community members. Ninety percent of my friends are straight, which confuses everybody. And I 100% support everyone’s right to disapprove of me or flat out dislike me. My own parents loved me but disliked me for this very reason. Life is short, you do you, and I’m going to be here at MM to support you no matter what.
In college, around the age of nineteen, I finally figured myself out in time to save the amazing guy I was dating from proposing. I had a number of short-lived relationships as I made my way through undergraduate and graduate school and then on to a very long-term relationship and modestly successful career. I love children but never wanted kids of my own. My six-year-old self was right.
Which is why, on the eve of my radical hysterectomy to finally resolve two decades of crippling endometriosis, I was stunned to be curled up on the living room sofa sobbing over the impending loss of the ability to carry and bear a child of my own. I had never desired to experience pregnancy. Let’s face it, I had zero interest in the act that gets you pregnant in the first place. I had older stepsons with my partner and already one grandson. I was confident there would be more grandchildren and that I would also someday be an aunt. I wasn’t concerned that my life would be childless. So, what the heck was happening to me? Up until that evening I had been thrilled at the prospect of no more periods, no more excruciating pain, and no more bloating, irritability or desire to consume all things chocolate on a monthly basis.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you think or what you want. Not only are we part of the animal kingdom and thereby driven by instinctive primitive forces deeply embedded in the subcortical structures of the brain, but we are also susceptible to all the overt and covert messages we receive over a lifetime about what it means to be female. I even found myself distressed about “not being a woman” anymore, which was weird since I had never exactly been feminine to begin with.
Leaving our childbearing years behind us whether by nature or choice is far more emotional than you might expect. It is the primary biological ability we as women possess that men do not (because push comes to shove we can pee standing up if we have to) and it deeply influences our identity and our sense of self-worth. If you are in the early stages of menopause be prepared for some grief reaction to this change of life.
My surgery went well. Nothing was left to chance as my surgeon took ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix. I had to go several months without hormones to kill off any endometrial tissue that might have been hiding behind an internal organ. Those months gave me a deep appreciation for what natural menopause must be like with night sweats, hot flashes, and unpredictable moodiness. Several years of a hormone replacement patch settled everything down to a tolerable level. After that it has been nothing but an estrogen cream for ‘unmentionable dryness’. The only remaining downside is the chin hairs and you can follow that story on the MM Humor page: The Chin Hair That Wouldn’t Die.
Nadine N. Enlisted age 21 and Drafted age 57
I was both drafted and enlisted. I think. Here’s my story.
A few months before my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I just moved from Virginia to California for work. I’d seen my Planned Parenthood clinic doctor for my birth control pills before going but neglected to fill the prescription in Virginia before the move not realizing the prescription would not be valid in another state. Thus, I had to go to a California doctor for my pills and thank goodness I did. When he performed the requisite humiliating examination, a small anomaly showed up in the test result. Hardly enough to bother with, especially as I was so young and had never been pregnant, but he had a feeling and wanted to run a more rigorous test. There it was – positive for cervical cancer.
Standard procedure would be a hysterectomy because most of this type of cancer (at that time anyway) were older women at the end of or past childbearing age. My doctor wanted to preserve my fertility. Then he paid me what I chose to believe was a compliment. He said I was made for making babies, perfect body for it, one of those women who could work in the fields, squat out a baby and go back to work without missing a beat. Lovely, eh?
He scheduled a cone biopsy procedure because the cancer was “in situ” and he was confident that would remove the cancer. The appointment was set for November the 6th. On the 5th, Mom called me in a rage from Virginia because I had forgotten Dad’s birthday on the 4th. The relationship between Mom and me was strained to say the least and I won’t get into that here; I had not told anyone in my circle of friends or family about what I was going through. I apologized for forgetting and told Mom something to the effect that I had something pressing on my mind. “Well, what is more important than your Father?!?” and I calmly said, “I’m going in tomorrow for an operation for cancer.” That shut her up.
Now one thing I will say about Mom is she was THE best person you could have taking care of you when you were sick or injured. If she’d been born a generation later no doubt she would’ve been a doctor. She soaked up anything having to do with healing, she would remember a wives’ tale remedy as surely as the name, use and properties of any prescribed medications she came across. She was both empathic and intuitive in soothing all symptoms. Dad told me later it was everything he could do to keep her from jumping on a plane that day.
The cone biopsy came back with clean tissue all around, they’d gotten it. Yea!! Next follow-up exam a few months later and the cancer was back. Another operation. Successful! Yea!! Next follow-up exam a few months later and the cancer was back again. This went on a few more times, each procedure successful, yet the cancer kept coming back.
The California doctor was loath to perform a hysterectomy because I was so young and otherwise healthy, so Mom talked to her gyno. He got my records and was concerned because the cancer seemed to be aggressing toward my lymph system yet he, too, was reluctant to perform the operation. Mom told him I had never played with dolls (except Barbie) as a child, had never shown interest in becoming a mother and had a very good solid career. He finally agreed to do the operation. I flew home to Virginia; Mom was great, and I recovered quickly. My fiancé in California flew to Virginia to be with me, but also to break up. He loved me but wanted a child of his loins. (Fast forward a few decades and he never did have kids, of his loins or otherwise.) I never married, either. My most significant other has two wonderful sons from his previous marriage, and we are all a well-blended happy family.
I never ever went for a follow-up after that last operation because every time I did the cancer came back and now, well, there was nothing else to cut. I decided that I’d live and if symptoms of cancer began, I would take my great credit and credit cards, travel the world until I couldn’t stand it anymore and then end my own life. No chemo, no radiation – I’d seen what that could do to a person and the odds would not be in my favor.
No uterus or cervix, but I still ovulated, so I never needed any kind of hormone therapy. As I learned to explain it – they “took the swings but left the playground.” From the age of 22 on, I could go hiking, swimming, traveling, canoeing whatever and not worry about checking into the Red Roof Inn. The way the Dr. explained it, the ovaries would just toss the eggs into empty space. That picture bothered me for a while thinking of all these eggs just accumulating in my gut. He assured me they were cell-size small. They wouldn’t interfere with anything and just sort of disappear.
I never had to think about lady business until my mid 50’s when I started getting hot flashes and night sweats. My most significant other, a person well versed in natural remedies, got me some things to take like Black Cohosh, Red Clover and Ginseng. The supplements helped and my symptoms while annoying and disruptive were relatively mild and only lasted about a year.
So, you see, I both enlisted (had the operation) and got drafted (went through the sweats). Anyway, that’s my story.
Kyra F. Drafted age 46
My menopause story could begin at a variety of times since I was not paying attention to my body. I was busy with kids, career, community, failing marriage, etc. I’ll start the story in 2015. I didn’t know it at the time but a year later my period would just abruptly stop. Or maybe it wasn’t so abrupt.
In April of 2015 I filed for divorce. I do not remember any hot flashes but rather my whole life was on fire. I felt surges of power and anger and deep instinctual protectiveness as I waged battles in all areas of my life. Looking back, I have to ask: was I that much of a hot mess? Or was it menopause silently descending from the shower ceiling like a spider? I was battling for my job in the public school system, I was battling my soon to be ex-husband, I was battling for my struggling teenage daughter, I was battling our leaky old house. I did not sleep much. I started dating again after 20 years. I felt like the whole county knew about my hot mess of a life. I remember my mother telling me: “You should land another man before menopause. Women are less attractive to men after menopause. They’ll know by looking at your skin. Men want someone to make babies with.” I was livid, but secretly I started taking evening primrose oil, in case she was right.
My sex drive went way up. I thought it was freedom but… maybe it was peri-menopause. I was 45. I remember noticing myself moving through space feeling so alive and so absolutely gorgeous and desirable. One of my dates from match.com called me “a battlement of Kyras.” I felt like the goddess Kali with many arms each holding a weapon. I was told I was vibrant, “Kyra the enchantress.” I remember another telling me I was emotionally dangerous, and yet another one explained my energy as post-divorce euphoria that would soon pass. I also remember inviting a man home and having sex in the bed that I used to share with my ex-husband. That month my period was late. I began to fear that the condom had leaked. All tests were negative. I hadn’t needed to worry about whether my period was late since my ex-husband’s vasectomy a decade earlier. I spent time worrying about my daughters having periods, not my own cycle. A few weeks later, my period restarted. I chalked it up to stress.
Several months and several men later my period came normally… and never arrived again. It was spring of 2016. I was 46. It was easy.
I remember standing in the tiny copier room at the elementary school where I worked as one of my coworkers fanned herself with copier paper. She cursed menopause and confessed she was bleeding intensely and hot flashing at the same damn time. I told her how it was for me. She was jealous. I thought I was just lucky. Now I know better.
That fall my doctor was worried about my non-existent period and my new sex life. She gave me all the STD tests. The HPV one came back positive. She also re-started me on anti-anxiety meds. I met yet another match.com date. I told him about my menopause-ness, my hot mess life and my HPV. Although he was 39 years old to my 47, he was very interested in me. (So, there, mom!) A few short months later we were engaged. I remember I kept having fevers, especially at night and thinking it was strep throat. My fiance, the nurse, remembers me as, you guessed it, night-sweating.
I was optimistic and starry-eyed and still incredibly busy. By March, I was admitting to hot flashing during the day. The hot flashes came with slight nausea and complete brain-farts. My weight began to creep up. I noticed my joints aching. I also began to realize that my former marriage had not just been unhappy, but emotionally abusive. My kids were not okay and neither was I. I began to look at everything through the lens of abuse. Emotions were high but that did not stop us from our August wedding on the rocky banks of the Ripton Gorge.
I was not well when I began school that year. I was exhausted. My joints ached. I lost faith in the public school system. Complete burn-out set in. My face was red all the time. I was either overheated or freezing. My libido plummeted, as did my confidence in general. My husband encouraged me to go to my doctor. I was tested for Lupus, which I did not have. He encouraged me to ask about hormone replacement, but I brushed it off. Menopause had been so easy for me, after all. Part of me thought that by marrying and changing my last name from my old husband’s name to the new one would put the past behind me. Cue more night sweats and sprinkle in disillusionment.
I quit my job. I sold my house. We moved from Vermont to North Carolina. I remember being warned against making such rash decisions. I remember being told that I was leaving behind every piece of my support system, which was madness, but I just could not imagine living any part of my old life. Was I insane or brave? Maybe both, with a heavy dose of menopausal mid-life crisis in the mix.
It was hot down south, and I don’t just mean Carolina. Unemployed, with no local social outlets, I was hot flashing dozens of times per day. I put on 30 pounds and out-biggered all of my clothes. I felt like a fat frog. When I looked in the mirror my mother stared back at me. I started buying more supplements. My right hip, my feet, and my ankles started to hurt so much that I was nervous to hike, something I have always loved. My HPV ramped up and became high-dysplasia cervical cells. I started to flip out about cervical cancer. My new GYN was reassuring about the LEEP procedure taking care of things. I did not mention any menopause details to her. I was focused on “possible pre-CANCEROUS cells!”
In early 2020, the HPV was back, as were the concerning cells. I was scheduled for a hysterectomy but COVID arrived to save my lady parts. The “elective procedure” was canceled. My GYN performed the most aggressive in-office cervical LEEP of her career. We hoped for the best. At my last appointment in 2022 I am HPV and abnormal cervical-cell free. I am also unapologetically menopausal. I do not have a fever. It is a hot flash. I have become more aware of my own body. I lost weight, back down to the size I was before my period stopped. My sweat smells different than it used to. I love it! I love never having to worry about being pregnant. I love not being cold all the time. I feel good in my body when I dance around the basement. I feel strong, so strong that I switched careers from school librarian to massage therapist. I feel sexy. I am more aware of my own beauty than I was when I was in my twenties. I like that I can go a week without washing my hair, as it does not get greasy the way it once did. I like that my leg hair is thinning out so I can get away with not shaving it. My boobs are fabulous. I am okay with sometimes appearing flaky or just plain weird. I bought fairy ears, fairy wings, and horns. I wear them. I write poetry. I have found friends with whom I can be a fairy goddess if I feel like it. My joints still hurt a bit, especially my right hip. I do not sleep well at night partially because I have to get up and pee a million times. Is it menopause, interstitial cystitis, or another mysterious combination of factors? I am still anxious, but who isn’t these days! My husband, the hot sleeper, and I have “Sweaty Betty” contests at night. I am not ashamed to win.
Maybe this hot mess is nothing short of magical alchemy. I lit my whole life on fire just as my body was heating up with the chemical reactions needed for transformation. I am learning more about myself every day. I am learning to take care of myself. I am learning to trust myself. As my brown hair glints with silver threads I will put on my fairy ears and dance to the music of this precious part of life.
After that, I have to get going to my urologist appointment……