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Thursday, September 8, 2011

8: The Mystery of Menopause

Why is it that, for the most part, menopause is a subject that stays shrouded in mystery and silence? Every other passage of womanhood is openly talked about and even warmly celebrated. Menopause, on the other hand, is barely mentioned outside of the doctor’s office, except as subject matter for jokes: “My wife’s still hot—only now it comes in flashes.” And yet chances are very good that you, the reader, either are or one day will be either a menopausal woman or a man who is living with one.

Because of the awkward silence on the subject, I had no idea what to expect or where to turn when my body began to go through “the change.” It was trial and error; hit and miss. One of the chiropractors I see (who is so much more than a chiropractor) put me on an herbal combination that was mostly black cohosh. For a span of about five years, this kept a very effective lid on uncomfortable hot flashes and a mental state that continually ranged between mildly and extremely distraught. I wondered if I was going to be on this remedy forever, but I was very grateful for its help.

Then, just about the time that some women move past this stage and settle into some kind of truce with normalcy, it seemed that my hormones took a dive from low to out-of-sight. Seriously, when I finally had a hormone panel done several months later, the amount of estrogen in my blood was below the measurable level. Hot flashes came hard and fast at any time of night or day. I remember driving with several kids in the car and getting hit with such a sudden and overwhelming wave of heat that I nearly drove off the road trying to rip several layers of clothing off over my head. (Try legislating that in a distracted-driving law.)

The worst thing about this new hormonal low was that our love-life hit a wall. Physically and emotionally I was simply incapable of going there. And quite aside from this inability, I didn’t even feel like a woman anymore. I felt like an “it,” completely sexless in my internal sense of identity. (It’s impossible to imagine such a thing if you’ve never experienced it.) This was all particularly distressing and ironic because I was poised to release a book about the tremendous healing God had brought to our love-life in the eleventh year of marriage. This project, intended to bring hope and help to those who struggle with the ravages of emotional baggage, now felt like a lie.

My husband, with characteristic objectivity and wisdom, had to give me a little pep talk. “Your book is not a lie. God did do a great healing in our marriage, and we have had fifteen wonderful years of the fruit of that. Now we are going through something again, and God intends to bring us out the other side. We just have to trust Him.”

My GP had put me on a prescription for estrogen for a number of months that did help with some of the love-life issues, but I did not feel at ease about using synthetic hormones, given the HRT controversy in recent years. Then in my online research I came across the subject of bioidentical hormones, which, unlike what I was using, are identical in molecular structure to those originally manufactured by our bodies. When I inquired of my GP and then a gynaecologist, their responses were word-for-word identical: “There is no proof that these hormones are any safer than the conventional ones.”

I have since come to understand that “there is no proof” because the research hasn’t been done—and likely won’t be—because these hormones, exactly duplicating those existing in nature, cannot be patented. Therefore there is no big, future payola for the researcher; hence, no motivation.

As I continued to research, I came to understand that bioidentical hormones are made up on a per-case basis by what’s called a compounding pharmacist. But I couldn’t seem to find anything about doctors in my vicinity who might work with these hormones; in fact, a number of sources told me that this type of treatment was not even available in Canada. The breakthrough came one day when I typed into my Google search engine “compounding pharmacies Edmonton.” Bingo! Up came the name of a drugstore. I phoned the number, and the pharmacist I spoke to kindly gave me a referral to the woman I now refer to as my “hormone doctor.” The mystery and misery of menopause was on its way to being unravelled.