Review: Me & My Menopausal Vagina By Jane Lewis

As women, many of us suffer from annoying vaginal problems from time to time.  These seem to increase with age, culminating in a veritable cornucopia of symptoms by the time you arrive at your menopausal years.

vaginal atrophy - woman looking out to sea whilst standing on rocks

Having written previously about challenges with Vulvodynia and Bartholin’s Cysts, I have often written about the woeful state of gynaecological advice many women receive from their doctors.  This tends to range from “pull yourself together” to “it’s only to be expected at your age” and of course the one I am thinking of having printed on a t-shirt “stick a bit of cream on it”.

Imagine then the pain and distress of having to live with Vaginal Atrophy – think of it like extreme vaginal dryness which gives the sufferer pain that is hard to numb, hard to cope with and impossible to ignore.

Vaginal atrophy (atrophic vaginitis) is thinning, drying and inflammation of the vaginal walls due to your body having less estrogen.

Sex is agony, wearing knickers hurts and even walking causes discomfort.  For many women, vaginal atrophy not only makes intercourse painful, but it also leads to distressing urinary symptoms. It is not a problem many of us would feel comfortable talking about to our nearest and dearest, let alone to our wider social circle.

Like any chronic condition, the challenge is not just physical.  It is the mental dissolving of what was once a stalwart and happy constitution.  The questioning of how one small part of your body can come to literally rule your life.

It can feel as if there is nowhere to turn.  No answers.  No support. Just unending discomfort which nags you at every turn.

What a comfort and a relief, then, to find this marvellous book by Jane Lewis – “Me & My Menopausal Vagina”.  On first picking it up you might think that it will be a dry (if you’ll pardon the pun) read about this medical condition, but actually, it is an open, honest and quite a life-affirming read which pulls no punches and yet manages to offer hope at the same time.

Me & My Menopausal Vagina is one woman’s journey of menopause and vaginal atrophy. It was written in collaboration with her daughter, Penny, in a tongue-in-cheek way to help break taboos of vaginal atrophy

For a start, Jane talks you through the various nooks and crannies of your vagina.  You’ll think you’ll know what goes where, so to speak but can you be precise?  It’s important because if you can’t explain where your pain is, it will be more difficult to get the correct help and treatment.

Jane shares her experience of vaginal atrophy and talks about HRT and other treatments.  She acknowledges the effect that VA can have on your mental health and offers suggestions as to how to talk to your nearest and dearest about this condition.  There is also a very helpful chapter on maintaining some sort of sex life.

If you have vaginal atrophy the last thing you feel like doing is having sex but how guilty does that make a woman feel?  And how difficult is it to get your partner to understand that any pleasure has been replaced with painful burning, chafing and even bleeding?

Jane also shares her daily routine for minimising her discomfort and the products that have worked for her.  I have to say I have already discovered the fabulous Yes company with their range of organic vaginal moisturisers and lubricants and I heartily recommend you check them out.

It’s particularly important to understand vaginal atrophy so that we can help our daughters when they, in later life, may suffer the same problems. And of course, there is no reason why our sons shouldn’t be educated about VA so that they can offer support if needed.

One thing is certain.  Vaginal Atrophy needs to be talked about far more openly and long-term treatments need to be advanced.  As Jane says, topical oestrogen products like Ovestin tend to be prescribed on a short-term basis when they should really be offered on a longer basis.

Like me, Jane is conflicted about HRT although she mentions the famous piece of research which links HRT to an increased risk of breast cancer.  That research has, it appears, been largely discredited but the decision to take HRT is an incredibly personal one and the patient needs to weigh up the benefits against the risks. In Jane’s case, she felt that she could not not take it.  I am not quite there yet.

Me & My Menopausal Vagina reads like a chat with a good friend who tells it like it is and doesn’t pull any punches.  Jane says, openly and honestly, that she will always have this condition but much more needs to be done.

If you have started to notice discomfort or dryness down below then pick up this book.  Arm yourself with all the information and then go and see your GP.

You may be horrified to find how behind the times some of them are.  I recently asked about bio-identical HRT and the answer I got was “oh, I don’t really know about that.  You’ll need to go to a menopause clinic and the nearest one is Bristol”.  I’m in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Something really needs to be done because there must be thousands of us suffering and, as Jane says, what happens to all the older ladies in care homes or living on their own.  Many of them will still be suffering the effects of conditions like this.  Who is helping them?

Think of it like this.  If a man went to the doctor with a split, burning, bleeding penis, would he be told to put some cream on it and consult someone 40 miles away? Would he be told it’s just his age and one of those things?  Would he be told it’s all in his mind?

Exactly.

When you suffer from a chronic condition like Vaginal Atrophy (or Tinnitus or Fibromyalgia) – which seems to vanish to the back of the medical priority pile when it comes to diagnosis, there are some books you return to again and again for their wise words.  And because they give you comfort.

This is one of them.

You can find the book on Jane’s website mymenopausalvagina.co.uk or on Amazon.

You can also connect with Jane on Twitter @mymenopausalvag and Facebook @My Menopausal Vag.

Is it Selfish to Have a Baby in Your Forties?

If you had asked me when I was a young career girl just setting out in the world whether I would be having a baby in my forties, I would probably have told you absolutely not. Back then, pregnancy in your forties seemed to be an accident of fate, not something a woman would, or could actively choose. Despite this, I had my children at 43 and 45 (I’m now 56) and I know that I have been extremely lucky.

pregnancy in your forties - baby on a bed drinking from a bottle

My grandmother had a child at 45 so, whether or not there is a genetic predisposition to being able to have children later in life, I’m still aware that I managed the best feat of my life just in time – which leads me to …

Pregnancy in your forties

Is it selfish to have a baby in your forties?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is “is it selfish to have a baby in your forties?”.  Aside from the fact that, if you are financially solvent and in good health it is nobody else’s business, I think that nature designed us to have babies until menopause – which is, on average around age 51.

The question is, are you happy to accept that you may not be around for your kids as long as younger parents?

Even then, life does not hand anyone a guarantee of a long life span – the COVID-19 epidemic has surely proved that one.

And what about crime rates, poverty, climate change and all the other global issues facing us daily? Is this world really a great place to bring a child into?

History teaches us that our world today is safer than that experienced by previous generations.

Ultimately you must do what is right for you – whether to have children or indeed not to have children is your choice – not that of a keyboard warrior on Twitter!

Oh, and by the way, I rarely see older dads getting criticised.  Usually, it’s a slap on the back and a hearty ‘well done’!

So, that said, here’s my story.

Is natural conception still possible?

What was surprising was just how long it took. Despite being in my 40’s I somehow thought that conception would be nothing short of immaculate and when it took over a year, I found myself reading numerous books on improving your fertility the natural way and taking my temperature every morning to track ovulation.

My temperature never seemed to budge. Tracking the ‘ten most fertile days’ made sex about as exciting as cardboard and turned it from recreational fun to a chore and a duty.

I suffer an early miscarriage

I lost my first child at approximately 6-7 weeks. The charmless consultant gynaecologist we saw made it clear that he viewed this miscarriage as nothing more than a missed period. “You can hang on to see if there’s a heartbeat”, he told us, “or we’ll have you in and whip it out”. A managed miscarriage at home was the option we eventually took, wanting to see if the initial scans were wrong. They weren’t.

Pregnancy in your forties - Caitlin

Caitlin born 2007

It was back to the temperature taking and the headstands for about another year until, one Valentine’s evening, having practically given up, we went out for a romantic meal and got ever so slightly sloshed.

Caitlin was born the following November. And then, the October before Caitlin’s 1st Birthday, Ieuan was conceived. Having waited so long for Caitlin, we assumed it would take a couple of years to give her a sibling. I should have listened to my wonderful midwife who told me that once you have had a child, it’s as if your motor starts to work properly and that I shouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t take long.

Ieuan, born 2009

Pregnancy Scans

We were aware of the risks of late pregnancy. I had a nuchal translucency scan (which we paid for) with Caitlin and amniocentesis (on the NHS) with Ieuan. What we would have done in the event of any genetic problems, I still couldn’t tell you.

I had two perfectly healthy pregnancies

Aside from a slightly low iron level for which I was required to take supplements in order to be admitted for Ieuan’s Caesarian, I sailed through both pregnancies.

As an older mother, I was put under the care of a consultant and this led us down the route of a hospital birth close to an operating theatre and surgeons rather than the candle-lit water birth in a nearer hospital I fancied.

I suffered the discomfort of permanent indigestion for the first trimester with Caitlin and very mild morning sickness with Ieuan but that was it.

I did put on a lot of weight (4 stone) with Caitlin but I found that eating cheese was the only thing that stopped the terrible heartburn.

Both babies were born by Caesarian

Caitlin was delivered by emergency Caesarian as her breathing became laboured due to the umbilical cord becoming wrapped around her neck.  Ieuan was born by elective Caesarian.  I did have the option of a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarian) but given my age, preferred the reassurance of a swift and managed delivery.

The recovery time after a Caesarian is something to consider.  I had anti-clotting injections and had to wear special socks for a few days and, of course, driving and lifting were no-nos.  My recovery from both C-sections was swift and, apart from having to have antibiotics for an infected scar, I was quickly back on my feet.

I do think that having two Caesarians close together may have had an effect on my abdominal muscles and my back but that could equally be a factor of all the weight I gained.

I struggled to breastfeed

I really wanted to breastfeed but after 10 weeks with Caitlin, we discovered she really wasn’t putting on weight so we swopped to Formula.  When Ieuan was born he went straight on to bottle feeding.

I found breastfeeding challenging and certainly not the straightforward experience I was expecting.  There’s an art to getting your baby to latch on and you may well need to be shown how to do it.  Of course, some mums take to it like a duck to water, but I wasn’t one of them.

I should point out too that I find the bullying of those mums who choose to have their babies by Caesarian or those who, for whatever reason, choose not to breastfeed totally obnoxious.  Luckily I have not experienced either but I do know mums who have. In these cases, it really isn’t the baby who needs to grow up.

Why didn’t I do it sooner?

I have friends older than me who have had children at an equally late age. I also have quite a few friends in their mid-thirties who think that they have all the time in the world to reproduce, when the truth is, the clock is ever ticking. Some of my friends must look at me and think “well, SHE did it” but it’s easy to kid yourself, isn’t it?

I regret not having had my children at least ten years ago. In the end, my career (as a Marketing Manager and later Director) simply could not match up to the joy of having kids but I didn’t meet my husband until I was 41.

This is the dilemma facing many women. Do we put our heart and soul into a career and hope that Mr Right will just come along, by which time we may no longer be fertile or able to carry a child? Or do we pursue a partner and children whilst we are still in our most fertile years, hoping that we can resume our education and career when the children are in school?

Can Women Ever “Have It All”?

I am a great fan of the late Helen Gurley Brown (who, with her husband, created the Cosmopolitan magazine empire) and read her book “Having it All” (still available from Amazon) from cover to cover in my early twenties. Helen believed the sky was the limit – primarily in terms of work and sex, but I think most women will agree that today, “having it all” is an impossibility. That said, I’d still recommend Helen’s work just to admire her incredible work ethic and zest for life.

I’m now faced with the prospect of staying as fit, healthy and mentally ‘young’ as possible. Not so much because I worry about the opinion of other mothers (although I’d be lying if I said I was totally immune to it), but for the sake of my children. As Hubby says “well, we just can’t conk out early”…

Pregnancy in your forties is not a decision to be taken lightly. All pregnancies are life-changing and I think older mums face a different set of challenges in terms of juggling their health challenges with the needs of young children. Facing the fact that you might not have as long with your kids as younger mums can be hard – but there are no guarantees of long life at either end of the age spectrum, are there?

If you are considering pregnancy in your forties, I’d advise visiting your GP to check you are fit and healthy before trying to conceive so that you give yourself and your baby the best possible chance of a successful pregnancy and a healthy delivery.

The process may take quite a while and you may find out that you need help to conceive but it is better to discover this early on rather than risk the heartache of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.

The Curious Case of Sherlock Holmes And A Mum’s Missing Career

It is a Tuesday. The rain is streaming down Baker Street. Still warm horses are steaming gently, their cab drivers sheltering under rough-hewn cloaks, chewing baccy and waiting for fares. Mrs Hudson has let me in and I climb the stairs in anticipation of meeting the great Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant, Dr John Watson.

I have come to interview Sherlock as my private detective in the case of “The Missing Career Opportunity”. His is one of the keenest minds of the last century and, since I have a time traveller’s railcard, there is no other applicant so worthy of an interview to help me find the job I have in mind.

The sad wailing of the Stradivarius greets me.  The great man looks me up and down with some disdain. There is a moment’s pause whilst he meditates on my somewhat bedraggled appearance.

” I see,” he says, nodding to Dr Watson to begin note-taking, “that you have recently travelled a path most dank and wearisome; your coat is cut to suit a woman of much smaller stature and there is an indescribable stain on your left collar”.

I am amazed by these revelations.  “Yes,” I concede, “I have travelled via First Great Western’ Steam Service from Cardiff and purchased this garment at Ye Olde Ebay.  The stain owes much to a toxic substance known as “Ribena”.  Mrs Hudson winces and retreats to the kitchen to prepare a brew of good, iron coloured British tea. Sherlock has his back to me and is toasting his knees against the open fire. When he turns around, his trousers are smoking slightly. “Well, I just hope it was the tooth kind variety”, he opines.

Mrs Hudson appears with a plate of cakes. Decent sized cakes made with real ingredients (in defiance to her own arch-nemesis, the evil Mrs Kipling). “Now,” says Sherlock, “what is this case, this so urgent case that requires my deductive genius and undeniable powers of observation?”. “Sherlock,” says Dr Watson, “your knees are on fire”.  After much flapping of today’s copy of The Times, Sherlock throws himself into a winged armchair and steeples his fingers.  His bright blue eyes are piercing.

“It is the case”, I say, feeling the emotion welling up, “of the missing career opportunity”. “Then, tell all you must,” says Sherlock and he closes his eyes to listen to the sorry tale I have come to relate.

“Some six years ago,” I begin, haltingly, I had a job. Not just a job. I thought of it as a career.  I worked in marketing for lawyers“. A frisson of mild horror vibrated around the room. I continued. “I had worked for many years to establish myself, a humble woman, as a trusty team member, a purveyor of ideas, a steady pair of hands and someone who never shirked from buying cakes”.

Sherlock snored gently. Mrs Hudson whacked him with The Times.

“Then, I… well… I”, “Go on” shouted the great man, “relay all! I am ready to hear”.  “Well, I said, I had a baby. Planned. Twice. And then, I became a stay at home mother“.  “This is indeed a serious case”, said Sherlock,  “the wilful throwing away of cakey-fied employment but, if I may be so bold, it’s not really up to Moriarty’s standard, is it?”

“Oh ho,” I say, feeling my dander rising, “You think not?  Do you know what happens to women like me trying to return to a job market awash with frisky young graduates, all with 10 A* levels?  Do you know how many decently paid temporary jobs there are left for mothers?  Do you know (by this point I am feeling an approaching fit of the vapours), HOW MUCH CHILDCARE COSTS????.

“Mrs Hudson, the gin“, shouts Sherlock, clearly well versed in the universal language of tear-sodden mothers at 4 pm.  I am braced by the aroma of Juniper.  Sherlock gets his pipe out and stuffs it full of something herbal and mysterious.  After the quarter pin of gin, I can no longer feel my feet.

“Your case is simple to solve”.  proclaims Sherlock.  “and you yourself are the criminal here”.  “What??” I say, gripping the arms of my chair since the room has started to swim slightly. “Indeed, Madam”

“Now Holmes,” says Dr Watson, “be gentle, she has to get back on that train”.

“Your crime is simply this – you have underestimated your own talent, dedication and hard work. You do a disservice, Madam, to all those for whom you worked before, who trained you, advised you, encouraged you and ate your cakes. Is it right that their investment should be cast asunder for all time?  No! You must take steps to put matters right”.

By this point, I am feeling vaguely ashamed. “Take steps, Madam” shouts Holmes, “take steps to right this injustice”. “How?” I ask, “Tell me, Mr Holmes, what should I do?  What can I do?  My children are young and I am cruelly constrained to be free only between 10 am and 3 pm”.

Sherlock picks up his violin. Its mournful tones fill the hazy air. Ignoring the fact that the music sounds uncannily like the theme from Coronation Street,  I prepare myself to receive the Holmesian wisdom needed to purchase my liberty.

“You must contact a strange and mystical organisation. They call themselves a “recruitment agency”. They are agents of employment; they help horse-mongers, philatelists, brewers and peelers, nannies and nursemaids and those whose interests are secular and scientific” says Holmes.  “Slow down,” mutters Dr Watson.  “How can I be expected to write that fast with a fountain pen?” Sherlock glares at him.

“You must face your fear. You must…” and here Sherlock stands and returns to toasting his charred knees in front of the fire, “stop making excuses”.

Snatching the pen from Dr Watson’s hands, he scribbles what can only be a clue of momentous importance on the back page of “The Times”. You will need this!”, he tells me, handing over a scrap of newspaper. I look at it.  “Henry Ford builds an assembly line for Model T Fords” I read.  Holmes snorts.  “The man is clearly mad.  No – look again”.  I stare hard at the paper. My eyes are swimming, my head is pounding and the air is full of a miasma of herbal fumes, gin and fondant fancies (without the annoying paper cases).

And suddenly, there it is – the clue I have been looking for – in the great man’s scrawl – “The Revamp-A-Mum Recruitment Agency – We Don’t Pay a Maxi-Mum the Mini-Mum”.

It strikes me at this point that the interview I have come to conduct has not gone the way I planned.  I have been roundly trounced in the questioning stakes.  I have learned little about the great man but, it seems, he has learned much about me.  Somehow, Sherlock has solved the mystery without my needing to employ him.

“Mr Holmes”,  I stammer,  “You have completed the assignment for which I required your help without us discussing fees.  I will contact this recruitment agency of which you speak. I feel you should be justly rewarded for your perspicacity”.

Once again, Holmes steeples his fingers and regards me with some amusement.  “There is one matter, nay one question, one confirmation of a future truth that you can give me”.

I breathe in, in anticipation at what this matter could possibly be.

“I had a dream, a vision”  (at this point Mrs Hudson stares hard at the smoking green fug emanating from Holmes’ pipe),  “that in the next century to come, all communication will be by means of an Apple”.

How could I disappoint him?  The truth needed to be told.  “It is true”.  I say. Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson look at me as if I am madder than Moriarty.

“What ho!” shouts Holmes. “Mrs Hudson, pass me a Bramley”.

The Powerful Warning Signs You Could Be Menopausal

When you’re a woman in her mid-fifties like me, you start to view all your medical symptoms with suspicion and you constantly ask yourself whether this is the start of the menopause? But what are the first signs of menopause?

Menopause is often cryptically referred to as “the change of life.” But as lovely as this sounds, it doesn’t tell anyone a whole lot about menopause, nor what to expect.

Menopause is something every woman with all her reproductive organs eventually experiences – a natural part of the biological process. It is not a disease or illness, although some menopause side effects can be very unpleasant indeed.

Some doctors claim that menopause is a process that can start with a woman in her 30s and last as late as her 60s.

But menopause occurs in most women between the ages of 45 and 55 and is officially defined as the full stopping of menstrual periods for at least 12 months in a row.

The first signs of menopause can differ from woman to woman and the wide variety of symptoms you may experience in the time leading up to the stopping of your periods is referred to as perimenopause.

First Signs Of The Menopause (Perimenopause)

Irregular periods

One of the most obvious first signs of menopause is irregular, unpredictable periods. Whereas once your periods turned up 28 days on the dot, now some months you are late or perhaps miss a period altogether.

Menstrual periods can suddenly vary between gradually getting lighter, then heavier, and then lighter again.

You are considered to be menopausal when you have not had a full period for 12 months.

Decreased fertility

A menopausal woman does not ovulate and cannot get pregnant. But women in perimenopause should still be cautious.

Pregnancy in a woman who hasn’t completed menopause can still happen, especially if it’s only been a few months since her periods stopped.

I had my children naturally at 43 and 45, although I was showing no signs of being perimenopausal back then.

Remember, full menopause doesn’t occur until a woman’s menstrual periods have stopped for at least 12 months.

Dry Vagina (Vaginal Atrophy)

Menopause is caused by a woman’s estrogen levels decreasing. So a woman in menopause doesn’t produce enough estrogen to keep the vagina and urethra well lubricated.

This causes the vagina and urethra to become less elastic and drier, causing those areas to become itchier and more at risk for infections.

Sex can also be more uncomfortable for women in menopause.

An excellent book on the subject is Jane Lewis’ “Me & My Menopausal Vagina” which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Hot Flashes

The drops in estrogen levels during menopause can also cause what’s called hot flashes. Hot flashes are often the butt of jokes but can be quite bad for some women experiencing menopause.

Hot flashes can last at least 30 seconds to up to several minutes.

They can happen at any time during day or night and are characterized by a flushed face and red blotches on chest, neck and arms.

Some women find that they are actually bathed in sweat.

I have experienced a few of these now (I’m 55) and my experience is of an intense heat that crawls across your body out of the blue.

I strongly suspect that coffee is a trigger of hot flashes for me.

If you suffer from hot flashes at night (night sweats), consider a cooling pillow and bedding made from bamboo – said to be effective at wicking away sweat and staying cool.

Weight gain

It’s common for menopausal women to gain stubborn weight around the middle which is very difficult to lose.

You can find advice on dealing with this, as well as other hormonal symptoms in Nicki Williams’ excellent book “It’s Not You It’s Your Hormones“?

Frequent urination

You may find that you need to urinate more often which is very annoying at night.  You may experience an increase in incontinence and more frequent urinary tract infections – in which case a supplement called D-Mannose may help.

Worse PMS symptoms

Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms may get stronger due to the hormonal imbalance you are experiencing.  Mood swings, bloating, lethargy, headaches and irritability may make your monthly period even more of a trial – when it does turn up!

Sage tablets may help to alleviate painful periods as well as those annoying night sweats.

Tender breasts

You should, of course, be checking your breasts regularly for any changes but you may find that the changing levels of hormones cause breast tenderness.  This should abate once your periods stop but any change in the condition of your breasts should be checked by your doctor.

Lack of interest in sex

The loss of oestrogen and testosterone in a woman’s body can affect her sex drive. Vaginal dryness may make sex uncomfortable. There are some excellent vaginal moisturisers and lubricants on the market.  I highly recommend Yes Oil Based Lubricant.

Trouble sleeping

There can be a number of things that interfere with sleeping, including night sweats and frequent urination. Many women have difficulty in getting to sleep in the first place or will wake often in the night.  A gentle sleep supplement may help.

Skin breakouts and facial hair

Adult acne can get worse during menopause.  You’ll find excellent advice from skincare expert Caroline Hirons on her website and look out for her skincare bible – Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide.

With decreased estrogen levels in menopause, the small amounts of testosterone every woman produces can take over, leading to coarse hair on the face, chest and stomach.

I have a great little ‘fuzz remover‘ which can be carried in your purse to quickly whisk away stray facial hairs.

Dry eyes

It’s not only the vagina that may become drier.  All the mucus membranes may be affected.  If you have worn contact lenses comfortably for years, you may find them more irritating and find yourself reaching for the comfort drops more regularly.

I use Hydrosan Extra eye drops which are contact lens compatible and will also apply Blink Comfort Drops when I’m out and about.

I have been taking a great supplement for both dry eyes and dry vagina – Seabuckthorn Oil capsules.  I have noticed an improvement but you may need to persist with these for a month or two.

Then there’s a good probiotic guaranteed to actually reach the vagina – Optibac For Women.

Menopause is a natural life transition. But sometimes complications in the process of menopause occur.

For example, if a woman knows for sure she’s in menopause (that is she hasn’t had a period for at least 12 months in a row), and she’s bleeding from her vagina, she should go see a doctor.

If a woman thinks she’s experiencing the first signs of menopause but isn’t sure, she can always go to a doctor. Depending on the situation, a doctor might take a blood test to determine menopause.

In this case, a blood sample is usually tested for the level of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

During menopause FSH levels increase as estrogen levels decrease. So higher levels of FSH and lower levels of estrogen will show a woman has gone into menopause.

Be prepared, however, for your FSH levels to vary – it may take several blood tests around 6 months apart to ensure that you are fully menopausal.

Mine, for example, have been normal, menopausal and normal!  For this reason, you should still keep using contraception.

Although a 50+ baby would be unusual, according to my GP it certainly isn’t impossible.  Since I had Ieuan at 45 I’m not taking any chances!

The perimenopause and menopause can be a tricky time for many women and I would recommend talking to your GP and also friends and family who have gone or are going through it.

Sharing experiences and what works in terms of HRT or alternative therapies may help you cope better with any health-related challenges.

Explaining Period Pain To Your Tween

The thing about being an ‘older’ mum is that just as you are coming to terms with the end of your fertility, your daughter is approaching the beginning of hers. And while, in many ways, I am thinking “good riddance!” and looking forward to many Feminax-free years (other painkillers are available), Caitlin has all the ‘fun’ of period pain to deal with.

girl with period pain holding a yellow hot water bottle

Of course, it’s a natural part of being a woman, but the arrival of menstruation heralds a new phase of life in which nothing is ever quite the same again.

There may be some lucky souls who breeze through it and, as in the Bodyform adverts, find it no impediment to a combat-level workout, or a bar to water skiing across lakes with their long hair streaming like a glossy curtain behind them.

Frankly, I’ve never met one of these women.

‘Monthlies’ have always been more a curse than a blessing, despite the persistent attempts of sanitary protection companies to convince us that life can continue at an even higher octane pace than usual.

No.  Anyone who has had the misfortune to wrestle with a Tampax Super Plus in a dank public toilet in Inveraray on a family holiday in the 80s will understand that, rather than being an affirmation of femininity, it’s proof that our creator had a very dodgy sense of humour.

Of course, society, in general, tends to regard the ending of periods as proof of old age.  I believe the term ‘dried up’ is often applied.

Nobody, you’ll notice talks about the withering shrinkage which affects older men.  I can’t ever remember hearing the phrase ‘withered old bachelor’.

But, because I have a 12-year-old daughter, I have to put a brave face (or foof) on things and pretend it’s all a glorious adventure.

Explaining period pain - Caitlin and me at my sister's recent wedding

In all seriousness though, our daughters are lucky to have access to sanitary protection and medical care which is severely lacking in poorer countries.  And I once read of a woman who used to buy old handbags and fill them with personal hygiene supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and tampons to give out to the homeless women she found in her city centre. What a brilliant idea.

Menstruation is as much a political as a biological issue in some quarters but that is a topic for another post.

But I digress.  I have compiled a few snippets of advice which I will pass on when needed.

Tips for coping with periods and period pain

Always carry sanitary protection with you

Because periods are often irregular and will catch you out.  The wrapping of many sanitary towels will rustle louder than a Roman legion marching up a gravel path so it’s pointless to try to conceal the noise.

Try to stop period pain as soon as you can

If you have period pain, try to stop it in its tracks before it gets worse.  Painkillers (Feminax was always my saviour), a hot water bottle and a nap work wonders.

Tell your employer if it’s becoming a problem

Should employers allow women with period pain sick leave? That’s tricky but I’ve always felt that if you suffer from the kind of dragging period pain that floors you then you should be able to stay home.  Sometimes, of course, you can’t but if you genuinely can’t perform then I think you should at least explain your predicament to HR.

If your period pain is frequently bad, see your GP

If your period pain is that bad, you should see a doctor.  The most common treatment used to be the prescribing of the contraceptive pill but you should get yourself checked out for other causes of extreme pain such as cysts or endometriosis.

The contraceptive pill, of course, comes with its own set of risks so you will need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons.

Some mums might not be too happy about their young daughters taking the pill which is understandable but if it helps them to cope with the extreme pain I think it is worth considering, on the basis that there are regular GP check-ups, particularly for blood pressure.

Be aware of Toxic Shock Syndrome

I have never liked tampons and given the risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome, I am surprised more women don’t avoid them.

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing harmful toxins. It’s often associated with tampon use in young women and it can get worse very quickly and even be fatal if not treated promptly.

Consider alternative forms of sanitary protection

These days there are other alternatives to traditional pads and tampons, such as moon cups, menstrual sponges and reusable sanitary towels.

Listen to your body

The old joke is that a woman with PMS needs chocolate or carbs to help her feel better.  I’ve always found my appetite would increase significantly and, as long as you don’t go mad, the odd chocolatey treat won’t hurt.  By this I mean a Twix or two and not three pounds of Hotel Chocolat’s finest.

Expect some mood swings

Crying at random stuff is normal during your time of the month. Nature documentaries, sad words on Countdown, missing your bus, insufficient choice of sarnie for your Boots Meal Deal – there really is no telling what might set you off.  But it’s all completely normal.

We become slaves to our Oestrogen, just one of our hormones that is capable of creating havoc.

Take extra care of your skin

Spots and break-outs are common around the time of your period.  Much pocket money was spent on Clearasil and Neutrogena, both of which were great at dealing with oily, spotty skin.  Later came the Clinique 3 Step regime and their trusty concealer which I use to this day.

Gentle exercise will help

Particularly to get things flowing and to help ease that horrid dragging feeling.  Just a gentle 30-minute walk will help.

Try to stay regular

Make sure you are not constipated as this seems to make the pain worse.  Bran flakes or a high fibre cereal every day from the middle of your cycle onwards may help avoid this.

Nappy sacks might be a life saver

Bear with me but since having kids I’ve realised that nappy sacks (plastic bags designed to help dispose of soiled nappies) are great to use a sanitary bags if you are out and about and there is no sanitary towel bin – and let’s be honest, most of these are not emptied anywhere near as often as they should be.

Brands DO make a difference

If there is one area where paying that little bit more makes a difference, it is with sanitary protection (as it also is with nappies!).

If you’re not sure which absorbancy towel or tampon to buy, buy one level higher than you think you’ll need.  It’s always good to keep a stash of lighter absorbency towels or panty liners for those days when you’re just about to start or your flow is tailing off.

Your cycle will vary

If you’re stressed or lose a lot of weight, for example, your cycle may vary dramatically.  A classic example of this is when you are studying for exams or an equally challenging life event.

You may also find that stressing about getting pregnant may not only prevent you conceiving but may affect your cycle so much you don’t know where you are with it!

You should also see a GP if you suffer from a very heavy flow.

So there you have it.  While it would be great to pretend it’s all hearts and butterflies, I think it’s better to prepare our tween / teenage daughters for what is to come.

It’s hard, isn’t it to know exactly when to broach the subject of menstruation with your tween daughter – or sex come to that.  My parents bought me a book about fruit flies. Truth.  It’s OK though.  I think the fruit flies really loved each other.

Have you discussed menstruation with your daughters?  How did you approach it?  And for those of you with sons, did you explain it to them too?

Sexual Health At Midlife – Just As Important As Ever

When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, sexual health was one of those topics which just wasn’t discussed.  We had rudimentary advice about contraception, of course, but the subject of STDs rarely cropped up over the dinner table – no surprise there!

In fact, most of my education about diseases such as gonorrhoea or syphilis was largely thanks to studying the literary greats of England and France, many of whom appeared to have succumbed to them – Keats, James Boswell, Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde all reportedly suffered from syphilis.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The landscape of our relationships both romantic and sexual has changed vastly since that time thank, in no small part, to an increased divorce rate, increased longevity and changes in society’s attitude to sex in general.

We now know more than we ever did before about diseases such as Chlamydia and the dangers of HPV.  Caitlin will be due her HPV vaccine in a year or so and there is a strong body of opinion that boys should receive this too.

Whilst sexual pleasure has generally been viewed as the possession of the young, the truth is that more and more of us in midlife are exploring our sexuality and the dating scene with as much vigour as we ever did in our teens, twenties and thirties.

Midlife dating is no longer seen as ‘odd’ and there are now online dating sites specifically for the more mature.

Coupled with this, however, is an increase in STD transmission among this older age group.

In 2019 Age UK reported that there were nearly three times more new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections in 2018 among men aged 45-64 than among women in the same age group.

Between 2014 and 2018 there was a reduction in the rate of new STD diagnoses in men aged 20-24 (7.3% less than in 2014) whereas in men aged 45-64 there was a 13.9% increase. There was also a 23% increase in diagnoses amongst both men and women aged 65+ between 2014 and 2018.

These figures show that STDs are a significant and growing problem among older people and that there are increasing inequalities in sexual health between older and younger men, and between older men and older women.

Coupled with this, though, is the risk that these diseases will go unchecked and untreated – and therefore will spread even more due to the embarrassment factor.  Many people my age and older still regard STDs as a taboo subject and there is a lingering sense of shame surrounding them which we must work to dispel.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

In the same way that the subject of Menopause is discussed far more frequently these days – and women are becoming more vocal in demanding fairer treatment from employers, appropriate HRT provision and support in general, there is a clear argument for raising the issue of sexual health for older people.

How simple it would be for GPs to ask some basic questions about an older patient’s sexual health alongside a blood pressure test and eye exam. Wouldn’t this be a ‘healthier’ approach rather than having to scuttle off to the local GUM clinic?

There is some online testing available for sexual health issues and, personally, I would rather have a full health check and know I was OK rather than worrying about niggling symptoms and just wondering.

Worryingly, of course, while some experience the symptoms of an infection (discharge, itching or burning in the genital area), STDs don’t always have symptoms which makes the need for a full sexual health MOT more important.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

So when should you check?  Is there a rule of thumb it’s sensible to apply?  It appears not.  Vigilance is the thing.

Clearly, if you have any symptoms down below that are out of the usual for you (male or female) then you should see your GP or, here in the UK the NHS offer drop-in STI clinics, but otherwise, be body-aware when you have a new sexual partner.

Remember that the best way to avoid STDs is to use a condom in addition to other forms of contraception.

The sexual revolution for older people continues apace but let’s make sure that we are all healthy enough to enjoy it – for as long as we can.

Things You Should Never Say To An Older Mum

I am an older mum. I had my first child at 43 in 2007 and my second at 45 in 2009. I believe the NHS termed me a geriatric mother, even though I was in better health and fitness than many of the much younger mums to be.

In the back of my mind, I was well aware that there would be those who would look on having a child in my forties as being selfish but, in general, most people have been accepting and nothing but kind.

older mum - new born baby in a blue blanket

On the other hand, there are those who can’t quite resist trotting out a few of the gems below:

“Oh, was it, you know, a natural conception?”

People are fascinated by how we late mums conceived.  It is a reasonable enough question I suppose and I do know women older than me who have travelled abroad for IVF by donor egg.

But why people can’t quite grasp that until you have your menopause, you are still technically able to have a child, I don’t know. Does the method of conception affect your ability to be a good parent? Hardly. And, the answer to the question is, yes it was.

“But aren’t you menopausal“?  

The average age for menopause in the UK is 51.  And average, maths lovers, means that many women will reach menopause AFTER that age.

“But aren’t you very tired?”

Having a child is tiring.  Having two children is even more tiring.  Prior to giving birth, I was not spending my days lying on a chaise longue being fed peeled grapes.  I could even walk unaided. Younger mums also feel very tired, trust me.

“I suppose you find you’re so much more patient

Nope. I still have all the patience of my son in the Lego shop.  I think anyone who has a child (or adopts, fosters or becomes a stepparent, come to that), goes through a rapid learning curve, taking on all sorts of skills and personality traits that they never previously considered.  I’m still as impatient but I am learning strategies to deal with it. Rioja for instance.

“So when you’re reaching retirement, they will only just be going to college?”

Possibly true but given that retirement age will probably reach 70 for all of us sooner or later, I might not quite have a bus pass. Us late mums are hit by a triple whammy – retirement, kids’ university fees and caring for elderly parents.

I think in future the shape of the family will change; extended family will become much more important and child care will be shared through the generations (in a model which already exists in parts of Europe).

I think our friends will play an important role too. Stats say that something like 1 in 4 women born around 1964 (my birth year) are childless. I have many friends who are single, childless and in poor health and I can quite envisage adding them to the family mix!

older mum Linda Hobbis, hubby Mat, Caitlin and Ieuan

But don’t you and your husband worry about dying while your children are still young?”

Of course we do!  One of our main preoccupations is staving off illness and making sure we maintain a decent level of fitness. But life doesn’t come with a guarantee and parents can die at any age. I wish I had met my husband ten years ago. I wish my first pregnancy (a year before my daughter) hadn’t ended in an early miscarriage. I wish I wasn’t an older mum. I wish. I wish. I wish.

I would still tell younger women to have children in their twenties and thirties whilst their fertility is much higher, but I completely understand why women choose to have babies in their forties.

For me, the chance to experience having children and build a family would always outweigh anything I could possibly achieve in my career (I was a marketing director for a Welsh law firm).

You can call it selfish if you like. But I maintain that having a baby is always a selfish act. As Richard Dawkins explains in his book “The Selfish Gene“, we are programmed to reproduce to ensure our species’ survival.  The drive is more primal than just the urge to paint a nursery and knit booties.

When the time is right we will sit down with our kids and tell them the story of their birth and reassure them that we will do everything in our power to stay with them as long as we are needed.  We will tell them that they were wanted, loved and not some random throw of a dice in the last chance fertility saloon.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had not had children.  I might have had a better wardrobe, more exotic holidays and a flasher kitchen but I think I would have felt dead inside – like my life had been a bit of a waste.

It is, of course, a personal choice and, equally, there are many women who just don’t want to have children and whose lives are just as rich and fulfilled.

But I’m talking here to those fighting against their biological clock whilst wondering if it’s too late or even whether they should try for a baby.

I’m happy to talk about my experience as an older mum but please try to remember that it is the Pacific Salmon that dies after spawning.  I’ve never felt more alive.

 

Having Babies After 40. My Experience.

I distinctly remember standing in my office looking out over the busy Cardiff street and wondering if I would ever have a baby after 40. I had just celebrated my 40th birthday and, although my biological clock had long been ignored, I was beginning to feel that there had to be more to life than marketing legal services! Odd that it took at least 20 years to come to that conclusion, but there you are.

have a baby after 40 - Caitlin Hobbis on the day of her birth in 2011
Caitlin, born November 2007

I’m writing this because I want to say, to any woman out there staring out of the window this morning and wishing, that it is possible to have a baby after 40.  Yes, of course, we read in the Media about the number of babies being born to older mothers increasing year on year.  Yes, we see the endless debates about whether it is “right” to have a baby so close to, let’s be frank, the menopause. It is, detractors say, selfish to create a life when you are so close to conking out yourself.  Your children will be ‘mortified’ when you turn up at the school gates wearing elasticated trousers and bearing a zimmer frame.

Well, here’s a newsflash.  Having a baby is a ‘selfish’ act.  We are programmed to reproduce.  We are not actually on the planet to rearrange scatter cushions and pet the cat. Survival of the species is all. I am not talking about here about assisted conception, merely the perfectly natural urge of a woman to bear children in her reproductive years – which generally continue into her forties.

My story is briefly this.  It took over a year to conceive my daughter and in fact, our first attempt resulted in a miscarriage at 6 weeks.  The consultant we saw at the hospital was completely matter-of-fact about it. The baby’s heart was not beating and I could either have a D&C or go home and let nature take its course.  Devastating as this was, it became clear upon consulting “Dr Google”, that miscarriage is incredibly common and not necessarily a bar to going on to conceive and deliver a healthy child.

We tried again.  We tried modifying our diets.  Little caffeine, reduced alcohol, exercise, taking my temperature (useless – it didn’t seem to move at all), tracking ovulation dates, standing on our heads…. you get the picture. After about a year of this I had come to the conclusion that, at 42, it just wasn’t going to happen and was referred to the consultant (who would later become my maternity consultant) with a view to fertility treatment.

During my examination (which featured what seems to be the obligatory medical student these days), the consultant pointed out that my eggs looked perfectly OK and I was about to ovulate.

Somewhat cheered by this I began to relax and on Valentines Day we went to a local Cardiff restaurant to celebrate where, for the first time in months, too much wine was consumed and Caitlin was later conceived.  I am convinced that as soon as I relaxed, my body was more willing to co-operate. I think stress is a huge bar to conception for some women.

I sailed through the pregnancy, although I managed to put on four stone! Although I did not have morning sickness, I had a constant gnawing hunger and indigestion which only cheese would stop. Aside from slightly low iron levels, rectified by a simple supplement, I had no other problems. You would not have known that I was 42.

Something that we did do, however, being aware of the increased risk of Down’s Syndrome and other genetic problems for older mothers, was to have a Nuchal Translucency Scan, for which we paid privately.  This is an ultrasound scan to measure the collection of fluid under the skin at the back of the baby’s neck which is an indicator of Down’s if the baby has an increased amount.  The results of my scan were encouraging and on par with those of a woman in her thirties apparently.

My waters broke in the early evening on 14th November and we duly took ourselves into the University Hospital of Wales where Caitlin was born by emergency caesarian the next morning weighing in at 7lb 14oz.  I had dutifully studied the Mothercare catalogue and typed up a birth plan but this was of no use whatsoever.  The surgery team were fantastic.  I felt no pain whatsoever thanks to an epidural and top up anaesthetic when I went into theatre. Two days later we were home.

I tried to breastfeed.  Expressing the colostrum (the pre-milk) to get things going was very painful. Once my milk came through Caitlin had difficulty latching on and never seemed to be able to get enough milk.  I used to watch whole episodes of Midsomer Murders whilst feeding.

When it became clear that Caitlin was not gaining sufficient weight and feeling incredibly guilty, I consulted my lovely midwife who said that I should not beat myself up about introducing Caitlin to the bottle and formula and that many, many women struggle with breastfeeding.  I had managed ten weeks so, although this wasn’t ideal, at least I had tried. Whether my breastfeeding problems had anything to do with my age, I’m not sure.  I think it’s doubtful.

We had decided that, if it were possible, to provide Caitlin with a sibling and started trying relatively soon on the basis that it took so long to conceive our daughter.   Ieuan was born when I was 45, just 18 months after Caitlin, this time by elective caesarian, at a bouncing 9 lbs 2 oz.  I put him straight onto formula and he downed 4 oz immediately.

Now I know that my way may not be yours.  You may not approve of caesareans or bottle feeding. You may not be as lucky as I was in terms of your own fertility.  I was lucky enough to find a wonderful man to support me and who wanted to start a family.  The truth is each of us may have our own obstacles to overcome but, as the quote says “we will either find a way or make one”.

What I want you to take away from this is that being an older mum and it is possible to have a baby after 40 is possible.  It is your life. Decide what is right for you and what compromises you are prepared to make. For example, I worry sometimes about dying before my kids have reached middle age. There is an increased pressure on us as a couple to keep ourselves healthy and young in outlook.

Baby Ieuan - having babies over 40 - motherdistracted.co.uk
Ieuan’s First Christmas in 2009

But if I think of my life without Caitlin and Ieuan now, it would be somehow pointless, barren and flat.  Of course, I wish that I could have met my husband ten or fifteen years ago, but perhaps I wouldn’t have been ready then, wouldn’t have had the wisdom, patience or, more importantly, the courage I have now.

And that is what I wish for you.  Courage.  And hope.

How To Survive Christmas With The Menopause

When you’re in the throes of the menopause, dealing with some of the more unpleasant symptoms is stressful enough but even more difficult at Christmas when we are expected to attend parties, functions and socialise far more than normal. Tricky enough already if you are an introvert! So how do you survive Christmas if you’re menopausal?

In this post you’ll find helpful tips from Dr Rosy Fazzi, MBChB, MRCGP, head of the Women’s Health department at Dr Nestor’s Medical Cosmetic Centre in Edinburgh, to make the festive season a little easier – and simple lifestyle changes that should help all year round.

The menopause is often thought of as ‘the last taboo’, trailing behind many other health and well-being issues when it comes to something that is spoken about openly.

In fact, the menopause is something that up to 50% of UK women are too embarrassed to talk about at all, even with their GPs.

But it is imperative that we talk, that we open the dialogue surrounding the menopause; it’s something that every woman will experience and we need to create greater visibility surrounding the symptoms and the triggers of the menopause.

The menopause can be a distressing time for women who aren’t sure what to expect from their symptoms and aren’t certain which triggers will set them off – women need to be equipped with the knowledge that will help them manage the symptoms and the triggers during this time of life.

For example, we all know that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year, but did you know that for menopausal women, it is also one of the biggest trigger times for symptoms of the menopause – in particular, the hot flush?

It’s very common for women to experience a higher frequency of hot flushes than normal if they are exposed to increasing levels of stress, as well as other triggers, including drastic changes in temperature or consuming greater amounts of alcohol or coffee – all triggers which are prevalent during the festive season.

The stress of Christmas shopping, meal planning and sticking to a hectic pre-Christmas social calendar – never mind the day itself – these alone can be hugely demanding for women who feel the responsibility is left to them to ensure that everyone else is having the most wonderful time of the year. Mums of tweens and teens will understand completely when I say that Christmas with this age group can be even more stressful than the days of toddlerhood!

Stress is actually one of the major factors in triggering hot flushes; the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream causes your heart to race and blood flow to increase, leading to a subsequent increase in temperature.

A hot flush is your body’s response, its attempt to cool the body down. But a hot flush can be overwhelming in its intensity and leave you sweating and even shivery afterwards, as your body attempts to bring your temperature back to a normal level.

Alongside stress, there are other factors that come into play when it comes to bringing on a less-than-festive flush.

The extremes of temperature that come with dashing in and out of shops, or in and out of the kitchen on Christmas Day itself, contribute to kick-starting a hot flush.

And while we’re all so busy, you might not think that there’s any harm in consuming an extra cup of coffee to give you an energy boost or indulging in some wine with friends in the run-up to December 25, but did you know that caffeine and alcohol are both hot flush triggers too?

But you needn’t think that your entire social schedule, shopping routine and gift list has to go out of the window this Christmas; in fact, Dr Fazzi firmly believes that making small lifestyle changes this Christmas may help to reduce stress levels and keep those hot flushes at bay.

Cooler undergarments can help you to survive Christmas if you're menopausal

How to survive Christmas if you’re menopausal

Here are her five top tips to survive Christmas if you’re menopausal.

Wear temperature-control undergarments

This is such a simple change to make, yet it can really make a big difference. There are some fantastic menopause-specific undergarment ranges on the market, using temperature-control fabrics to regulate body heat, reduce the awful shivers post-flush, and wick away moisture to avoid embarrassing sweaty situations too.

These garments are designed for wearing underneath your clothing during the day, so you can still wear your regular clothes and get all dressed up for the festive season, but be confident that you can remain in control underneath.

Layer up your clothing

Layering is the ideal solution for helping to regulate your temperature when you’re out and about. Layer a temperature-control tank top with a t-shirt and a cardigan, rather than wearing one bulky jumper, to help you better manage your body’s response to changes in temperature.

Choose cosy items that are quick and easy to pull on and off, depending on how hot or cold you feel.

Swap your coffee for a matcha tea

The caffeine in your regular teas and coffees stimulates the central nervous system, accelerating the heart rate, the blood pressure and the body temperature – all of which can bring on a hot flush. But just plain hot water can induce an episode, so I recommend trying something cooler to start your day.

A bottle of cool iced matcha tea a good choice, as it’s cool and refreshing, with very low levels of slow-release caffeine, and an incredible level of antioxidants that help to keep the body healthy – especially important in winter when germs are rife!

Reduce your alcohol intake

Yes, this can be very tricky around Christmas, but if you find that a glass of wine brings on a sweaty, shivery flush, it’s best to find an alternative.

There are plenty of non-alcoholic options in the supermarket if you don’t want to feel like the odd one out without a glass of something with dinner, or you can make delicious mocktails with fresh fruit juices.

Pomegranates are credited with high levels of oestrogen and antioxidants that can help ease the symptoms of the menopause, as well as rich levels of vitamins C, A and E, and folic acid.

Make yourself a deliciously festive, non-alcoholic cocktail this Christmas, using a plentiful helping of pomegranate juice and seeds, so you can still join in the festivities but soothe your symptoms at the same time.

Limit exposure to extremes in temperature

If you can stay indoors and do your Christmas shopping online, you might find it much easier than dashing from the cold into a store with the heating ramped up and back out again.

Extremes in temperature can bring on hot flushes in a flash, so if you can avoid exposing yourself to them in the lead-up to Christmas, you might find that you have a far more comfortable experience Christmas shopping.

If you do find yourself getting hot and flustered whilst out and about, try a cooling face mist with rosewater to soothe and refresh the skin, and help you to cool down.

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Top Suggestions to Help You Through the Menopause this Festive Season:

  • See whether temperature control garments might work for you
  • You could try some iced Matcha tea instead of your usual coffee
  • Why not try a non-alcoholic cocktail such as a pomegranate ‘gin’ cocktail, made with Pom Juice and Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits?  There are plenty of great-tasting low or no-alcohol beers now too – like Becks Blue.
  • Try doing your Christmas shopping online to help you find gifts without the stress and stay within your budget.
  • Spritz your skin with a facial mist to cool down and refresh
  • Try meditation and mindfulness to keep yourself calm and centred.
  • Cosy up your space with some Hygge tips and create a personal sanctuary just for you.

These tips should help you to survive Christmas if you’re menopausal.  Don’t be afraid to seek advice and support from your GP if you’re finding things a struggle.

How do you survive Christmas if you’re menopausal?

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Menopause And Insomnia – Sleepless In South Wales

I know that title doesn’t have quite the resonance of the film Sleepless In Seattle but still…  One of the many joys of the menopause seems to be insomnia.  And not just any old insomnia.

Oh no.  We are not necessarily talking about a racing brain that is happily creating to-do lists or pulling decade-old embarrassing memories to the fore.

I am talking about being perfectly wide-awake and feeling as if you don’t need any sleep at all. And this joyous state of affairs is currently hitting me at around 2:36 AM with monotonous regularity.

Menopause and insomnia

Apparently, this might be because my progesterone levels are wrong but since I have not had a proper analysis of my hormone levels, I’m none the wiser.

Many of my ‘menopausal sisters’ seem to know exactly how much oestrogen and progesterone they have and have been given HRT prescriptions to rectify these on a far more scientific basis than just being handed a tube of Ovestin.

It’s such a lottery, isn’t it?  Menopausal care from our GPs and yet there are millions of us suffering and desperately trying to overcome the inevitable dragging tiredness and complete ‘slump’ that hits 12 hours later, in my case at 2 pm.

The level of fatigue is such that a couple of strong coffees or a sugary snack goes nowhere near perking you up.

Naturally this tiredness affects your concentration, your productivity, your mood and your appetite.

It’s a vicious circle that sees me swinging from tiredness to caffeine to sugar to guilt to tiredness.  Round and round we go.

The problem with this is that it also affects your relationship with your nearest and dearest. You are far more likely to shout (bellow!) when you are knackered and just want to go to bed.

I know that I am impatient, cranky, less likely to listen to the kids and just generally less engaged with anything going on around me.

I know that I am not alone and wonder how those who are employed, rather than self-employed as I am, cope with the 9-5 and the pressures of belligerent bosses, deadlines and annoying colleagues.  (I loved corporate life – can you tell?!)

My dad, who also struggles to sleep, has discovered that you can get an antihistamine based sleeping tablet which won’t leave you feeling drowsy in the day.

But for those of us suffering from vaginal atrophy or any level of dryness down below, antihistamines can increase dryness and thus discomfort.

Not what you want when you are sitting down all day.

In any case, I would rather try a natural supplement than rely on a full strength sleeping tablet.

I have also, I have discovered, become an incredibly light sleeper.  Having a bedroom which faces the road means that any car driving past tends to wake me.

For instance, we have, for reasons I cannot fathom, a milkman who delivers milk two doors up at midnight.  At least, I am assuming it is milk being delivered!

We also have a company who delivers dog food at 5:30 am. I am also assuming it is dog food being delivered.

Perhaps early hour and dawn deliveries are a peculiarly ‘Dinas’ thing but they don’t make for a restful sleeping environment.

Add to that the racket made by certain snoring residents of Hobbis Towers who shall remain nameless and on some nights I find myself thinking that I may just as well get up.

Those of you of a certain age will remember the lovable cartoon cat – Top Cat – (TC) who used to sleep in a dustbin wearing a sleep mask and earplugs.

Substitute the dustbin for my bed and we have a lot in common.  If anyone were to break in at night it looks like I have been taken hostage.

Well as far as I am concerned, I have been – by my hormones.

If you have any tips for a restful night’s sleep please let me know!

Thoughts On Turning 55

Ah, turning 55. It’s a bit of a shock to the system. When I was young, Star Trek used to be compulsory viewing. Who could forget those polystyrene rocks?  Or the Tribbles?  Or the Enterprise’s frequent point-blank refusal to muster up sufficient warp drive?

I mention this because the Captain’s Log is kind of how I am approaching this column.  When you get to 55 and you realise that you have less time to live than you did at 25, somehow ‘Star Date’ seems more appropriate than calendar date. Turning 55 is certainly like entering unchartered space.

It strikes me that I have been lurking behind this blog somewhat.  We parenting bloggers are good at that.  We will talk endlessly about kids and our interactions with others as a parent but many of us are nervous about divulging our inner core, our heart and soul and our emotional experience of ageing.

When I started to write this blog – and yes, I do subscribe to the ‘blog as therapy’ idea, it was to share just those sorts of feelings.

Take a moment to look around you and ask yourself this question.  Where are all the over 50’s? Where can you read about their hopes and dreams?

Isn’t it important to know what these are?  Like it or not, the years from 20 to 50 tend to pass in, to refer back to Captain Kirk’s crew, with remarkable warp speed.

Of course, you can’t truly know what it is like to get older until you get older!  But it seems to me that the over 50s are not all popping round to next door to promote funeral plans or life insurance.

They are not all slathering themselves in ibuprofen gel and yearning to play bowls.

This was, sadly, the expectation of the over 50s lifestyle for my parents’ generation (both born 1939).

I’ve written before that the beauty industry regularly ignores my generation – despite the fact that we have the most disposable income to splurge on their products.

Things have improved somewhat but there’s still a huge gap between the Mirrens and Fondas and the ‘newbie 50s’ finding their way in a society which is currently mightily confused about what ageing is and what retirement means.

On holiday recently (the night before my 55th birthday in fact), I spotted a banner in the small coastal town we visit which proclaimed that the over 55’s could get an OAP lunch and meet up with other oldies.

The Husband was highly amused that I now qualify but it felt as if the poster was referring to people on another planet.  He has another 3 years before turning 55.

The truth of the matter is that what was once considered the ‘gateway to old age’ has now become a bridge to a different sort of life in which there are still huge opportunities, huge challenges and a chance to stick two fingers up at the mediocrity one might have embraced and kick over the traces.

If you are fit enough and have the energy. “Aye”, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say, “there’s the rub”.  To be, or not to be – ailing, infirm, reduced or vibrant, vital, involved.

I know which I’d choose.

Check Your Bone Density With A DEXA Scan

One of the major health risks associated with getting older, particularly for peri-menopausal, or menopausal women is osteoporosis.  As our oestrogen levels reduce, our bones can become weaker and more brittle, placing us at a higher risk of fractures and broken bones.  It’s not an appealing prospect.

Whilst a lot can be done to help prevent this condition by HRT and a sound nutritional approach, it is still good to know how healthy our bones are.

Having just had my 55th birthday and being fully in the ‘menopause zone’, the strength of my bones is definitely on my mind.

Exercise is, of course, recommended, particularly weight-bearing exercise and, my women’s health physio tells me that jogging can also help – although it’s a toss-up between joints and pelvic floor in that department.

Either way, I am a firm believer in ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and, as things stand with the NHS and the woeful lack of knowledge about menopause which seems to abound up and down the country, we have to take our health into our own hands, educate ourselves and campaign strongly (and loudly) for better care for older women.

I recently discovered that there is a particular type of body scan which will tell you precisely how healthy your bones are.  It is called a DEXA scan.

A DEXA scan uses low dose X-rays to measure the density (i.e. the strength) of your bones.  It is quick, painless and more effective than a normal X-ray in identifying low bone density.

Whilst osteoporosis can strike at any age, you may need to have a DEXA scan if you are over 50 with a risk of developing the condition (i.e. menopausal or post-menopausal) or under 50 with other risk factors such as smoking or a previous fracture or break.

DEXA scans will do more than this, however.  They can measure your body fat allowing a more personalised weight loss programme.

Even more importantly, they can measure your visceral fat – the ‘bad’ fat wrapped around your organs which increases the risk of heart disease and other serious diseases.

DEXA scans can also be used to measure muscle mass.  If you’re inactive or naturally skinny, your muscle mass is probably low – and will decrease over time making your weaker.  Knowing your muscle mass allows you to adapt your diet and exercise routine accordingly.

If you are in the UK, you may have to pay privately for a DEXA scan if your GP will not refer you for one.  Contact your local private healthcare provider for more information.

If you are the US, visit https://www.dexascan.com for more information and scanning facilities near you.