Menopause Symptoms – The Signs To Look Out For

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.

About To Lose It With The Kids? Try These Tips

I’m sure many parents will recognise that feeling when you’re on the brink of losing it and, while we have all been cooped up together during Lockdown, I’m sure that plenty of tempers have been more strained than usual.

The kids have forgotten to tell you about their urgent homework. Or there’s pen on the walls. Or chocolate. The cat has brought in something which was once some sort of living organism and left it for you to put your foot on as soon as you come downstairs in the morning or worse, there’s Lego underfoot.

It’s that feeling when you start to lose your temper and your irritation levels bubble up to leave you in a state where “the voice” takes over.

You know the one. The voice is a combination of your inner critical parent, a drill sergeant and a grizzly bear. And it goes on relentlessly. Heck even you hate listening to it.

The problem with this kind of reaction to your children’s misdemeanours (or your partner’s come to that) is that you will swiftly be tuned out and ignored.

And it does nothing to make you feel better or resolve any issues.

The usual result of entering what I call the “Circle of Grump” is that you end up feeling dreadful, guilty and even more irritated whilst whatever has been bothering you carries on anyway.

Oh no!  Mum’s entered “The Circle of Grump” again!

As parents, we need to recognise the warning signs that tell us the Circle of Grump is approaching and this means prioritising our own self-care through adequate sleep and exercise and great nutrition.

Relying on a deadly combination of late nights/caffeine/early evening wine is setting you up for long term exhaustion.#

It’s no wonder you can’t think straight to solve the problems thrown at you.

Because that’s really why you lose it I find – simply because you are being asked for the solution to a problem and you don’t, at that moment, have the physical or emotional energy to think around the problem and come up with the best solution for everyone.

I know I am about to enter the Circle of Grump when I

– Don’t listen properly to what is being said to me
– Feel my blood pressure rise and a hot flush start
– Feel my heart beat faster
– Feel a sense of panic

Actually most of these symptoms have much in common with those of a panic attack and it’s not pleasant when your darling offspring are looking at you wondering when you morphed into the Incredible Hulk and why you just don’t get Google Classroom or your maths is so rubbish.

Mindfulness and meditation will help but you need immediate solutions and something that will break the pattern – concentrating on your breath for example or going somewhere else for 5 minutes to calm down.

You need a holding statement you can use such as “mummy is going to take this to the kitchen to think about it” or “I’m not happy about xx behaviour but we’ll discuss it later when I’m calmer”.

That way you can discuss the problem calmly, logically and get the child’s input.

It is better to see that the child understands the problem and gain their co-operation by allowing them to suggest their own solutions than it is to browbeat them into doing something “because mummy says so” – we all know how well that one works.

The most important thing is not to play the blame game. Sometimes we expect ourselves to be paragons of virtue and patience. I am not the Buddha (although there is a slight physical resemblance).

It is the unique combination of our imperfections as individuals that often creates a strong family bond because we grow together and learn how to overcome them.

As the great metaphysical writer, Louise Hay said, we are all doing the best we can where we are at the moment.

And in any case, when it all gets too much I like to make myself a strong coffee and ask myself the eternal question “what would Mary Poppins do”?

That’s a pretty good starting point I reckon.

There is a way out of the “Circle of Grump”. Who knows, perhaps Sir Elton might write a song about it.

Note:  it goes without saying that if you are really struggling you should seek help from your GP or visit the Family Lives website for parenting advice and support or phone their free parents’ helpline on 0808 800 2222.  You can also download the NSPCC’s guide to positive parenting.

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?

Why I’m buying pregnancy testing kits in my 50’s

It’s highly ironic, I think, that I have spent more on pregnancy testing kits in my late forties and early fifties than I did in my twenties. This has nothing to do with not using contraception but everything to do with not knowing exactly whether I am menopausal or not.  The question is, can you get pregnant during menopause?

My periods now turn up every 8 weeks or so and it seems to be a lottery as to which month they choose to appear.

pregnant during menopause - baby Caitlin

Caitlin Elizabeth, both in 2007 when I was 43.

It can take so long that it’s a toss-up whether the menopause has finally started, or whether I am pregnant – which, at 53 would be a surprise I really don’t want.  We have all read those surprise baby at 50 stories and wondered how happy the mum to be really is to be pregnant during menopause!

In fact, the trip down to chemist for a pregnancy testing kit is far more fraught with mixed emotions than it used to be.

One the one hand a late baby (and mine were already pretty late at 43 and 45) would turn our lives upside down but the thought of no longer being fertile is quite a psychological event in any woman’s life.

I can understand why menopause used to be referred to as “the change”.

Some women define themselves by their fertility.

They love having babies.

For them, it is the ultimate proof of womanhood.

For many of us though, having children is something we do to complete a relationship – because we believe in family – rather than an obedience to the ticking of our biological clock.

There is plenty of information online about pre-menopause symptoms.

This article at www.patient.co.uk lists no less than 66 symptoms to look out for – including headaches, exhaustion, decreased motor coordination, night sweats, insomnia, muscle cramps and backache.

But there is such a wide variety of symptoms that could apply to almost any illness, it doesn’t really help you to decide whether you do indeed have menopause symptoms.

Irregular periods are certainly one symptom, as is menopause weight gain, the appearance of a rounder, fuller middle.  And while I suspect I might occasionally have experienced a hot flush or flash (as our American cousins call them), I’m still not entirely sure.

My GP says that to see whether or not I am menopausal, I would need a blood test  to measure the level of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which can be an indication of menopause, but there is no definitive test.

This could only be carried out if I stopped taking the contraceptive pill.

That sounds way too risky to me so I’m stuck in some sort of perimenopausal wasteland until I haven’t had a period for at least a year.

So, what are the chance of conceiving naturally during your 40s and even 50s, and what about pregnancy during menopause?

In your 40s, your chances of getting pregnant naturally are about 20%, falling to less than 5% in your mid-40s and 50s.

There is also the increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities and a higher chance of miscarriage.

Nevertheless, I conceived naturally twice during my mid to late forties so there is hope if you have also left it late to start a family.

In terms of IVF, in your early forties, you have roughly a one in five to one in 10 chance of a live birth per treatment cycle.

From age 43 onwards, success rates fall to around one to five live births for every 100 women.

From 43 to 44 onwards, your chances of success using your own eggs really are minimal, because conception rates per cycle of IVF are so low. (source www.babycentre.co.uk).

Also, mothers over 50 are at almost three times the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and extremely premature birth and their risk of giving birth to an extremely low birth weight baby and the risk of fetal mortality was almost double. (source:  Wikipedia).

Surprisingly. pregnancy during menopause (which you’d think would be impossible since you’re not producing any eggs), is possible. Here’s an explanation from www.babymed.com.

“Menopause drastically changes a woman’s body. When menopause occurs, a woman no longer gets a monthly menstrual period.

This is because the hormones that trigger ovulation and pregnancy are no longer as strong in the body as they were when the woman was twenty years younger.

Estrogen and progesterone will drop, and this will cause the body to no longer have the ability to get pregnant.

But since the process of menopause takes anywhere from five to ten years to complete, this is an awkward time in a woman’s life.

She will still have a chance of getting pregnant.  She could still be one of those pregnant at 50 stories.

With menopause, the hormone levels will drop, but there are times when they will spike during the course of the change.

At this time, a woman’s body can be able to still conceive a child, giving into the fact that a woman can get pregnant during or what they think is after menopause”.

So, even though I know the chances of conceiving are very small, I don’t want to take any chances.

If I were to get pregnant through some random last throw of the fertility dice, I would have the baby but as a late mother, I am already worried about being in my 60s when my kids leave school.

That’s the thing late mothers may not admit to;  the pressure to live longer, not to conk out, to remain a fully functioning parent to support their kids as long as possible.

To undertake this commitment in your 50s must be huge.

The other day I was asked by a lady who had her three children in her twenties whether I thought having children in your forties was selfish.

My honest, and immediate answer was yes.

I’ve written before that having children is in many ways a selfish act at any age but there is the extra poignancy of having a late baby – a kind of bitter-sweetness overladen with a hefty dollop of guilt.

For the next year or two, I’m guessing I’ll be a frequent visitor to the chemist.

Update – April 2018:  I haven’t had a period in over 2 years and although my FSH levels indicate I am menopausal, my doctor has not yet given me the ‘all clear’ so I am still on the pill – at nearly 54!

Time To Be Fearless About Vaginal Health

Now that I’m in my 50’s and frankly still not sure if I’m menopausal, I find that I am very aware of every change, tweak, pulsation, twinge and ache in my body.  My vaginal health has become important in a way it never was before. I feel as if I am on the edge of a very large cliff about to drop me into a melee of symptoms which could affect both my mental and physical health.  And it’s scary.

vaginal health - Vagisil ProHydrate and blue, white and yellow flowers

I’ve never been a particularly brave person.  I once tried abseiling at 13 and spent 20 minutes screaming my head off swinging in and out of the arches on the Merthyr Viaduct when I missed my footing.  Later, I managed to fall off a galloping horse in a Bridgend horse-riding centre and got kicked by the horse as it came back around the ring, almost breaking my arm.

Canoeing?  Took chunks out of both my thumbs. Hiking? Got blisters you could see from space. Swimming?  When I take my glasses off I can’t find the pool and I find the volume so loud that it gives me a tinnitus spike for days.

Such experiences have left me with a severe dislike of anything ‘outward bound’.

But, the result of being so physically ‘flaky’ when it comes to organised activity (or indeed sport in general) left me with an awareness of what my body was, and was not capable of.  And so it is today.

I watch Caitlin bouncing around and practising her ballet.  She cartwheels, twists and turns without a thought.  She can do the splits.  I don’t think I ever managed a forward roll.

Caitlin and Linda Hobbis

I envy her confidence and willingness to claim her physical space.  As women get older, some seem to shrink both literally and figuratively.  ‘Invisibility’ is one of the key gripes of women struggling to deal with getting older.  “I’m just not noticed” anymore they say.  “I can walk down the street and not a single head turns”.

Our fertility is so much a part of who we are and how we define ourselves – rightly or wrongly – that when it wanes we can face a huge crisis of confidence.

That loss of confidence can affect every aspect of our lives – from work to friendships and especially when it comes to sex and our romantic relationships.

Internet forums are alight with women debating whether, at a certain age, sex need no longer play a role in a relationship and it is quite alright to settle into routine intimacy and to accept that the days of exhilarating and even comfortable sex are over.

It takes bravery, I think, to say “there is no age limit on sensual pleasure” and to keep claiming your physical space, your physical pleasure and even your visibility.

Let’s be frank.  Lots of us in our 50’s are too bloody knackered to put up much of a fight and it’s no wonder that so many of us wearily accept HRT and stuff ourselves with Red Clover, Ginseng or the other supposed ‘miracle’ supplements that promise to return our youthful zing.

Recently, I noticed a TV ad from Vagisil in which they mentioned being ‘Fearless About Vaginal Health’, which is encouraging women to break down taboos and have more conversations around their intimate health and its impact on everyday life.

Vagisil is a brand that has been helping women to address their most personal needs for over 40 years and they recognise that when women take control of their intimate health, they are more focused, productive, comfortable and confident.

So, tired though we women ‘of a certain age’ may be, I think it’s really important to take control of our vaginal health and to stand up for what we need.

I hear loads of stories about women who are let down by their doctors.  It is too easy for overworked GPs to dismiss their complaints as ‘something you just have to put up with’.  Or to be prescribed HRT as it seems to work for lots of their other patients.

There should be, in my opinion, dedicated menopause clinics in surgeries.  Places where women can discuss the changes to their bodies in a sympathetic environment, without fear of censure or embarrassment.

This would allow open and honest discussion of the effects of HRT, supplements and self-care techniques.

Women could discuss their relationships, the impact of the menopause on their sex lives and seek reassurance from one another that sex doesn’t stop when your eggs dry up.

It is also important, I think, to give men a chance to discuss how their partners’ menopause affects them.  It’s no exaggeration to say that some marriages hit the buffers due to hormone-related problems!

Personally, if there’s one thing I am fearless about it is demanding answers to any medical problems I might have.  It’s too easy to say – “ah, you shouldn’t take your diagnoses from Dr Google” but all too often, Dr Google offers information which needs to be properly considered beforit is roundly dismissed.

And nowhere does this seem to be more pertinent than when it comes to matters gynaecological.

Having had my children naturally in my 40’s (at 43 and 45), and being branded a ‘geriatric mother’, I soon learned that passive acceptance of what the medical profession tells you isn’t always a good thing.  You need to educate yourself so that you can ask the right questions – and it’s exactly the same with the menopause.

Things are improving but very often trying to discuss it is a bit like shouting into a wind tunnel.  You are just not heard.

There are, of course, plenty of things you can do to ease your daily symptoms which are tried and tested and may offer significant relief, particularly in the case of one of the major menopausal bugbears – vaginal dryness.

You may, for example, find sex more comfortable if you use a vaginal moisturiser such as Vagisil ProHydrate Internal Gel.  It has a unique bio-adherent formula containing Hyaluronic Acid, which coats the vaginal wall and slowly releases moisture over time – meaning you only need to use it once every 3 days.  It comes in single-use pre-filled applicators which are great to carry with you for times when you need additional moisture or are just feeling particularly dry and uncomfortable.

You could also try an external moisturising gel such as Vagisil ProHydrate External Gel which instantly replenishes dry and uncomfortable vaginal skin.

Whatever you decide to try, my point is that you should be fearless about seeking the best solution to your health problems.  It’s your body, after all, and nobody knows it quite like you do.

We women should all support each other and openly discuss our gynae problems – particularly at menopause.  Suffering in silence helps nobody and it is likely that these symptoms are just a passing phase that can be treated.

After all, it is entirely possible that we may have another 40 or even 50 years left so it makes sense to be fearless about our vaginal health!

The Vagisil range is available from leading supermarkets and chemists nationwide.

This is sponsored content in partnership with Vagisil.

Review: It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones By Nicki Williams

Are you looking for help with menopause symptoms?  Let me tell you about my experience.  Having celebrated my 53rd birthday on Sunday, I can tell you that the last year has been somewhat of a rickety ride, healthwise.

help with menopause symptoms - mature lady experiencing a hot flush

Yet I couldn’t tell you precisely what is wrong.  I am obviously in the ‘menopausal ballpark‘ and a recent blood test indicated that I had arrived with all flags flying. I already have a dodgy thyroid which has given me all sorts of strange symptoms but recently I have found myself sporting a middle tyre which won’t shift.

My sleep pattern has also changed.  I regularly see 3 am, 4 am, 5 am and wake up fully alert whereas in the past I could just turn over and go back to sleep.  I find myself mulling over all sorts of oddities, making lists, worrying about minutiae and generally being neurotic.

And let’s not talk about mood swings.  Up one minute, down the next and although I’ve never been a particularly patient person, nowadays I don’t want to wait for anything.

Help with menopause symptoms – time to manage your hormones!

It’s timely then that I’ve come across a brilliant book by nutritional therapist Nicki Williams DipION, mBANT, CNHC, called “It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones” which explains clearly and concisely what your hormones are, what they do and how to regain some sort of balance lest you think you are going to become a kind of mumbling wild woman beset with skin breakouts and a temperature that would warp metal.

I’m exaggerating.  A little.

And lest you think Nicki’s book is solely for those of us approaching or embracing menopause, it is targeted at women over 40 who may have peri-menopausal symptoms which make their life equally miserable.

help with menopausal symptoms - Front cover of It's Not You, It's Your Hormones book by Nicki Williams

What I particularly like about Nicki’s book is that she makes you think about WHY you want to improve your hormonal balance against the cost of just putting up with it.

Nicki’s own moment of clarity was when her daughter called her a grumpy mum (a daily occurrence in this house) and she felt that that’s not who she was.

This, I think, must resonate greatly with lots of us going through a state of hormonal chaos because we don’t really understand what is happening to us, nor who we have become, or are becoming.

With total honesty, I have to say that when I am under the cosh of the latest barrage or irrational, hormonally charged behaviour, I don’t like myself very much and that in itself is a source of great fatigue and not a great place to be when you already suffer from depression.

Says Nicki:  “As I researched more into this topic, I was shocked at just how many issues can be traced back to easily-fixable hormone imbalances. The truth is that for many women their hormones are in control of them after the age of 40, and the weight, mood and energy problems creep in.

By regaining control through diet, lifestyle and natural supplements, women can get back to their best – slimmer, energised and in full control of their hormones as they go through menopause and beyond”.

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Nicki’s goal was to write a book that every woman can understand and take positive action on, even if they’re in a time of crisis.  After all, how many of us make time for proper self-care?

In the book, Nicki explains what our hormones are and what they do, then introduces us to the ‘feisty four’ – those particular hormones which can cause us so much trouble – Cortisol, Thyroid, Insulin and Oestrogen.

We are shown how these affect us and given useful tips to take immediate action to get them under control.

The book then offers a four-step hormone balancing plan – Eat, Rest, Cleanse and Move. Each step has its own chapter with practical solutions and advice to help with menopause symptoms.

There is even an eating plan at the back of the book with some great recipes.  The basis of the diet is gluten-free with a limit on the usual baddies, sugar and alcohol but Nicki recommends good fats and upping your protein intake.

This is a really comprehensive guide to taking back control over your hormones and I had several ‘a-ha’ moments – for example, that spare tyre won’t go if we are constantly secreting cortisol due to stress.

I plan to use Nicki’s tips over the coming months to see if I can feel more like my old self again. The book also discusses the various options surrounding HRT and the importance of getting yourself tested to identify exactly which hormones are giving your problems.

I am already taking Thyroxine to balance my hypothyroidism but I know there is more I can do. Nicki also includes a guide to supplements which may help.

Nicki’s book is a comprehensive guide for those seeking help with menopause symptoms and is well worth a read.  If any of this has rung a bell with you then you can at least take some comfort that it’s not you, it’s your hormones!

To find out more, go to Website; www.happyhormonesforlife.com.

You can find “It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones” on Amazon.

*post contains some affiliate links.

Review: The S+ – Your Personalised Sleep Solution By ResMed

It seems that the new frontier for managing and improving our health is sleep. Everyone is talking about how important it is.

Co-founder and Editor of the Huffington Post, Ariana Huffington, has even written a book about it entitled “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night At A Time” in which she asserts that only by renewing our relationship with sleep can we take back control of our lives.

Collage of S+ Sleep System by ResMed

Gwyneth Paltrow’s book “Goop Clean Beauty” contains a whole chapter on sleeping soundly and the effect of a lack of sleep on our hormones (clue, it can make us fatter) and I recently reviewed “Breathe Better, Sleep Better” by Anandi The Sleep Guru which offers ways to bring your being back into balance and regain your sleep by breathing better.

Those of us approaching menopause or suffering from stress and anxiety may find that our sleep is one of the first things to suffer.

Screenshot showing My ResMed sleep data

So what if there were a gadget which monitored both the quality and duration of our sleep – and offered ways to improve it?

Even better, what if there were a gadget you didn’t have to wear?  I don’t know about you but wearing a fitness tracker in bed has always seemed a bit odd to me.

The S+ by RedMed is the world’s first non-contact, fully comprehensive sleep tracking system, which features patent-protected SleepSensor technology. It makes it possible to track, analyse and improve sleep at home without a wristband, electrodes or mattress strips.

“Sleep is arguably the most important thing we do in our day. It’s easy to underestimate the impact that lack of it can have on our overall wellbeing.” said Dr. Guy Meadows, Clinical Director at The Sleep School and author of “The Sleep Book – How to sleep well every night.” “We know lack of sleep can be harmful to our physical and mental health, yet we are doing very little to help improve our sleep. With its unique features, the S+ is the perfect present for those looking to improve not only the quantity but also the quality of their sleep.”

The S+ by ResMed comprises a device that sits beside the bed, a cloud-hosted Sleep Mentor system, and a free mobile app (Apple iOS and Android).

Its features include:

*highly calibrated respiratory and bio-motion sensor to measure and analyse sleep stages

*recording of the movements caused by the expansion and relaxation of the chest with breathing, and overall body movements such as position changes, arm twitches and shrugs

*delivery of sleep scores and sleep charts to a connected phone or tablet,

*personalised feedback and suggestions to help users improve their sleep.

The S+ also has a range of features to help improve sleep:

There’s Relax to Sleep which provides a choice of soothing sounds that synchronise with breathing patterns to help with the process of falling asleep at bedtime.

Then there’s Mind Clear allows users to record a voice message or type a text note to help clear their mind when trying to settle to sleep.

And Smart Alarm allows users to set a window of time for the S+ to naturally wake them when they are in light sleep, enabling them to wake feeling more refreshed.

My sleep data from the S+ RedMed for the night of 28th March 2017

At first I wondered if this gadget was going to be a gimmick but one week on and I’m hooked.

For a start you wake each morning to a sleep score which rates the night of sleep you’ve just had. Set-up couldn’t be simpler – simply download the app, answer some basic questions and then sync your phone wirelessly with the main unit (which you place on your bedside table).

The S+ has a series of lights which indicate what the unit is doing. For example, there’s a green light to indicate that the unit and your phone are connected and a red light to indicate that they’re not – simple!

I am happy to report that once you start the app working as you go to sleep the light goes out completely.

As someone who has to cover those annoying red standby lights on TVs in hotel bedrooms because they keep me awake, I was very happy to find no such problem with this gadget. (High maintenance – me?).

There’s also a second port in the main plug adaptor for you to charge your phone at the same time which is very useful.  I have found this very handy as the kids have always commandeered the charging cables for their iPads.

The app will also show you your breathing pattern in real time which is fascinating.  I have no idea how the S+ does this but it’s great.

The S+ will also give you noise and light levels in your room.

Hypnogram from the S+ RedMed website for my sleep March 28th 2017

You need to start up the app before going to sleep and you will be asked about your caffeine and alcohol consumption for that day, how stressed you were and how much exercise you’ve done.  (Too much, too little, extremely and when the heck do I have the time – are strangely not admissible answers).

You then have the option to clear your mind using Mind Clear.  Simply tap and record a helpful note or text to yourself.  You can also use this if you wake up in the middle of the night and remember that you need to do something important like buy lightbulbs or rearrange your crockery in order of size.

It’s a very useful function for us bloggers too!

Once you have answered the questions, simply tap to start the app (which very sweetly bids you good night) and drift off.

Once you awake, simple hit the app button to switch off and look at your sleep score (this becomes a bit addictive).

You’ll know how much light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep you had, plus how recharged your body and mind are.

Through the day, the S+ also does some subtle nagging my mother would be proud of – viz sending messages about the effect of too much caffeine on sleep.  I haven’t had a message about alcohol or lack of exercise yet but I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

If you want to relax during the day, the unit also has a range of peaceful sounds (for example the sound of the ocean) which you can play via the app.  These are designed for you to breathe in time to which has an automatically calming effect.  An extra benefit for a Tinnitus sufferer like me is that focusing on your breath takes your mind off your Tinnitus. And, as you might expect, sleep is something that Tinnitus sufferers really struggle with.

The S+ is a brilliant system which allows you to explore the quality of sleep you are getting and to make some informed decisions to improve it.

There’s a difference between knowing you’re not getting enough sleep and seeing that you didn’t even get 7 hours for the past three nights.  Equally, we all know that too much caffeine affects our sleep but confessing to 6+ cups every day does make you wonder whether you should try camomile tea or decaf (the devil’s brew) instead.

S+ RedMed advice about caffeine

The contactless aspect of the S+ is, to me, its major advantage over fitness trackers. The unit sits in a metal frame but you can remove it and place just the white box on your bedside table.  You do have to make sure that the unit is positioned correctly and near enough your head to pick up your breathing but the accompanying instructions make it a doddle to work out.

I loved the app which is complemented by the website Mysplus.com, where you can log in and see all your graphs and statistics full size with more data and advice about improving your sleep hygiene.

I discovered that I was actually sleeping better than I thought I was but nowhere near as well as I could if I took more exercise and drank less caffeine.  Obvious but sometimes you need to see it in front of you and to have the gentle push to do something about it.

The S+ is available at £129.95 from Amazon and John Lewis – the price of a top of the range fitness tracker.  If sleep is your main health niggle, then I think it is a worthwhile investment.

For more information about S+ by ResMed, visit http://splus.resmed.com/ and follow @FixMySleep on Twitter.

On Being 52

Ah.  The quest to find meaning and purpose in later life.  At 52.

Firstly, that number.  It bears no relevance to me at all – at least in my mind it doesn’t.  It is an age other people are at.

And yet.  And yet.

Woman on a jetty looking over a lake and mountains. 52 is a great time to think about how to find meaning and purpose in later life.

I look in the mirror and the tell-tale signs are there.  A little more jowly, the hair adopting a frizzier attitude.

I hide the grey.

My hearing is caput and my eyesight strangely improving.  I joke with my optician that by the time I reach my death bed, my vision will be 20/20.

But.

This is all top secret because nobody these days is allowed to age too loudly.

Oh, you can be a fashion guru like nonagenarian Iris Apfel and take the streets of New York in mismatched geometric prints.

You can out-sass all the Millennials with their grim determination and glossy hair by wearing an improbable hat in a fast food restaurant.

The elephant in the room, though, is large, greyer than you are and trumpeting very quietly.

We have to keep our brain alert.  We have to eat oily fish.  We have to fight dementia.

We have to deny our bodies and, in equal measure, pretend the poor treatment and all-out grief we’ve given them over the years didn’t happen.

My dentist gently said to me, as I moaned about my twanging gums, that “you have the teeth of a woman of your age‘.

The truth is that staving of ageing is exhausting.  Weight-bearing exercise, power-walking, greeting the dawn like Maria Von Trapp on acid.

Frankly, I am the human incarnation of a grumpy cat before 10 am.

And then there’s the menopause.  Or at least I think there is.

You never really know do you?

It lurks around like a suspect in a poorly produced amateur crime drama, threatening to reveal itself and then fluffing its lines.

I recently had a blood test and when doctor’s receptionist phoned through the result she said  “You’re menopausal” and then “welcome to the club”.

What did Woody Allen say?  Oh yes.  “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member”.

Quite.

The thing is, we’re all living longer and longer.  So, 52 isn’t that old any more.

And we’re expected to be bloody grateful because we’re alive – and so, I admit, we should be.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans as the saying goes.

I feel I am at a half way mark and need to plan the second half of my life.

I had my kids at 43 and 45 so they will form a large part of that.  I’m hoping I’m around long enough to be a grandmother.

So while most of the time I take strength from the bevy of older celebrities whose names are part of the warp and weft of the longevity tapestry (Mirren Dench, Moore, Thurman, Brinkley…), being 52 does mean you have moments of thinking –

Bloody hell I’m getting on a bit.

We all need an occasional moment to admit that.

We all need some time to embrace the fear.

You know, I think you can trace quite a bit of anxiety and depression to our denial of this fear of the end.

Our ancestors just ‘got on with it’ though, didn’t they?  Our lonely worrying sessions pale into insignificance by simply watching the nightly news.

The problems of the many far outweigh our individual existence on this ball of dust hurtling through space.

This is probably why so many of the self-help gurus promote the concept of ‘contribution’, of giving something back.

It’s another way of trying to find meaning and purpose in later life.

I wish I could be more religious.  Those who have faith truly have a gift.

But something created the world, didn’t it?  Something was there first and, I like to think, something intelligent.

I guess we’ll all do what we usually do.  Sigh, drink more coffee, open another packet of biscuits and reflect that whilst perhaps life hasn’t always dealt us the best hand, with a little hope, medicine and belief, the forthcoming years might be full of adventures.

The answer to our midlife malaise may simply be to embrace the power of gratitude.

Because after 52 years, I certainly have a lot to be grateful for.

When You Lose Your Crowning Glory – Hair Loss & Caring For Thinning Hair

Our hair is often referred to as our crowning glory and the condition and style of our hair can really affect our confidence – either for better or worse.

As we approach menopause we find that our hair is no longer as strong and voluminous as it once was.  And our colour starts to fade as those pesky greys appear.

shampoos for thinning and fine hair - woman with long brown hair

Promotional feature

There is a new school of thought that says we should celebrate having grey and white hair and I’m sure you have noticed some of your friends throwing away the hair dye and embracing the grey.

For many of us though, grey is synonymous with ‘old age’ and we’d do anything to disguise those tell tale signs of maturity.  Not only that, but many of us have to cope with thinning or falling hair.

It’s not a problem faced by men alone.

So what causes hair loss?

The most common form of hair loss is determined by our genes and hormones and it is estimated that around 30% of Caucasian women are affected before menopause.

There are three things which speed up the rate of hair shedding – advancing age, an inherited tendency to go bald early (for men), and an over-abundance of the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) within the hair follicle.

Basically changes to the hair’s growing cycle means more hairs are shed with the hairs becoming thinner and thinner until they are too fine to survive daily wear and tear.

Other physiological factors might cause hair loss. Recently, a group of Japanese researchers found a link between excessive sebum in the scalp and hair loss. This is because the excessive sebum (oil) which often accompanies thinning hair enlarges the sebaceous glands and leads to malnutrition of the hair root.

Although this condition could be hereditary, they believe diet is a more prominent cause. The researchers note that Japanese hair was thick and healthy, with a small gland and little scalp oil, until more animal fat crept into their diet after World War II.

Hair loss is often increased by stress, dieting, poor circulation, steroid use, mineral deficiency, genetics, pregnancy or moving to a new country or change of environment. These can cause a change in the body’s hormones and effect DHT  – the contributor to hair loss.

Psychological distress can also make matters worse. The more hair we lose the more we worry about it – and then the more we worry about it, the more hair we lose… It is a vicious cycle!

Caring for thinning hair can also add to your stress.

Most doctors agree that if you have an oily scalp with thinning hair, you should shampoo your hair frequently. This is because shampooing can reduce surface sebum, which contains high levels of testosterone and DHT that may reenter the skin and affect the hair follicle.

You may think that more frequent shampooing is the last thing you should be doing if you are worried about thinning hair or hair loss but there are some effective, yet gentle, shampoos for thinning and fine hair on the market.

I was recently sent a selection of shampoos to try by hair loss specialists The Harley Street Hair Clinic, who are world leaders in FUE hair transplant technology and are the only clinic in the UK to specialise in follicular transfer hair transplant technology.

They are finding that, as more high-profile patients speak candidly about their hair transplants (for example their client Wayne Rooney), more men and women are getting in touch for consultations.

Whilst I am not losing my hair, I have definitely noticed that it is getting much drier and coarser as I get older – and admittedly, colouring my hair is probably not helping!

Swopping to a gentler shampoo has definitely helped.

Shampoos for thinning and fine hair

Phytojoba Intense Hydration Brilliance Shampoo

shampoos for thinning and fine hair - Phytojoba from Phyto Paris

This one had a lovely coconut smell and left my hair with more volume. It contains Jojoba Oil, which is a genuine liquid wax to smooth and add shine, soothing Cornflower and Mallow and a washing base derived from Coconut Oil to help your hair rapidly regains an optimal level of hydration, shine and suppleness.

Sachajuan Ocean Mist Volume Shampoo

shampoos for thinning and fine hair - Sachajuan Ocean Mist Volume Shampoo

Sachajuan’s brilliant blue Ocean Mist Volume Shampoo contains the brand’s signature ‘Ocean Silk’ technology – a cocktail of marine algae extracts which works to enhance strand-strength, suppleness and shine.  This mimics the bed-head effect of the spritz, to create texture and body without adding weight. It is suitable for all hair lengths and textures, but especially those with fine hair.

I loved the fragrance of this shampoo which really does remind you of the sea.  I didn’t find this one quite so moisturising though.

Korres Shampoo For Thin/Fine Hair with Rice Proteins and Linden

shampoos for thinning and fine hair - Korres shampoo with rice protein and linden

This Korres shampoo is designed to strengthen and add volume to thin/fine hair and contains rice proteins to increase hair elasticity and density while adding natural, lasting volume. The Linden extract forms a protective film on the hair surface, improving its sheen and appearance. I loved this one. It definitely left my hair smoother and sleeker.

Kloraine Shampoo With Citrus Pulp

shampoos for thinning and fine hair - Klorane shampoo with citrus pulp

Klorane Citron Pulp Shampoo with vitamins is suitable for all hair types and can be used as frequently as necessary and by the whole family. It has a fresh invigorating fragrance and it neutralises hard water to restore vitality and radiance.

Whilst I loved this one and its light citrusy scent, I found it a little too strong for me since it is for normal to oily hair.

So there you have it – a selection of great shampoos for thinning and fine hair which will help nurture your locks.  You can find out more about hair loss, both male and female on The Harley Street Hair Clinic’s website and, if you are worried, a chat with your GP may help to rule out other causes such as an underactive thyroid or vitamin / mineral deficiency.

Nearly 55 – You Can’t See Me – Right?

In the acreage of unmitigated cobblers that passes for journalism in the “wimmin’s section” of the tabloids, the latest neurosis du jour for us ‘middle youth-ers’ is that, come 55, a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility will shroud the menopausal, rendering them henceforth spectral and condemned to an ever decreasing lifespan of calcium yoghurt and Tena Lady.  The invisibility of middle-aged women is truly a frightening curse.

The invisibility of middle-aged women - Linda Hobbis

The invisibility of middle-aged women

We have been regaled by numerous sad tales of women who “walk into a room and are not noticed”. Coming from a family who struggle very hard to actually recognise each other when out and about (my father has to be under a foot away before it dawns on him that I am one of his offspring), I honestly don’t think this has anything whatsoever to do with age.

There are appear to be two schools of thought. Either you revel in your new invisibility to dress like a frazzled Miss Marple after too many gins or you go a bit ‘cougar’ and Bet Lynch yourself up in leopard print, download Tinder (not, as I thought something to do with matches) and get yourself a large ‘young male totty net’.

You can then do all the things you probably never did in your adolescence such as double date, worry about STIs and write to problem pages.

Yes, you could make it a sexist issue, or an ageist issue. You could get all steamed up about the fact that men, in all likelihood, are pre-programmed to seek out the youngest, most fertile member of the opposite sex to bed and subsequently ignore while they go out to play golf. But what is the truth?

Dare I say it – it’s not all about you. Those people in the room may well be engrossed in conversation. Unless you’re Joan Collins, the party is unlikely to grind to an awe-struck halt.

On the other hand, your body language and personal presentation may be putting people off from approaching you. Shuffling Igor like with a manifest lack of confidence and wearing a sack dress that would give Carol Vorderman nightmares is not going to get you any attention.

I would also suggest avoiding all clothing which claims to be ‘eau de nil’, or any dress cut shorter than Ant and Dec.  And as for anoraks. Repeat after me:  “I am not an Eskimo”. Unless you are, of course, in which case, the broadband in your igloo is a whole heap more impressive than mine.

Can we please use a modicum of common sense here and recognise that i) we are bloody lucky to have lived so long and ii) it is up to us to make ourselves interesting – read, learn, develop, grow, get involved in the world.

I forget who said it but there’s truth in the saying that as we get older, even if we are no longer in the first flush of beauty, we can still be gorgeous.  Is it really all about attracting a partner? Was it ever?

Is the invisibility of middle-aged women actually something that is chosen by the wearer of that rather depressing cloak?  An excuse for not having to try any more?

Anyway, I think we can all cheer up because next week there will no doubt be an onslaught of verbiage about “sexy older women”.  In which case, I hope the weather warms up because it’s way too cold to take my thermals off. I’m off for a gin.

I Can’t Sleep – Insomnia Padme Hum

Occasionally lately insomnia has reared its ugly head and I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Nothing is worrying me so I’m guessing it has to be one of the usual culprits – too much caffeine, too many late nights, possibly a little too much Rioja on an odd night but nothing I can pinpoint.

I’m wondering if it might be…. dun, dun, dun, the herald of the menopause or at the very least a hormonal imbalance requiring some exotic herb harvested from the foothills of the Andes and sold at a 700% profit margin in my local chemist. Incidentally, what has happened to chemists? They all seem to be turning into pharmacies.

The Dark Recesses of My Tortured Noctural Mind? – No, I think it might be Cardiff Bay

Now in France, a pharmacy is a place of excitement if you have a penchant for skincare preparations which promise the skin of a nubile fourteen-year-old girl in two weeks. In Britain, well, not so much – usually shelves full of strangely branded makeup and toiletries you remember from the 70’s like Silvikrin and Cuticura plus Chupa Chups lollies. What possible medical purpose Chupa Chups lollies serve, apart from encouraging sales of dental products I’m not sure. The only reason I can think that a chemist might sell them is because at 20p, they are a cheap way of keeping your kids quiet whilst you wait for your prescription.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Sleepless in Dinas (never going to be a film title, that one). I could try Nytol but tablet taking is not my preferred first port of call. Then there’s milk with nutmeg grated on the top which is supposed to be very soporific. It’s quite challenging these days to actually find a whole nutmeg. Our local Tesco doesn’t do exotic. One Christmas I asked a staff member for Star Anise and I swear they thought I meant the one that shone over the stable at Bethlehem judging by the look I got.

I’m guessing I’ll have to use the one thing that used to send me into a stupor as an English undergrad – any novel by Charles Dickens. Heresy to say it but I used to find that until I got past at least the 6th chapter, I’d be snoozing faster than The Husband during an Emmerdale Omnibus.

Age Shall Not Wither Her Hopes An Older Mum

One of the downsides of having children late in life (43 and 45 in my case) and being an older mum is that there comes a time when the age differential between you and other mothers becomes noticeable to your kids, even if there is no judgement in their observation.

older mum - woman feeding a baby in a high chair

Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

One night, a few years ago when I was approaching my 50th birthday, Caitlin said to me whilst doing her ablutions – “50 is an awfully big number isn’t it. What do girls do at 50?”. I was at a momentary loss to give her an answer.

She wanted to know when she would become a big girl and I could see her mind working out where to place us both on a scale of age. She is also becoming aware of the concept of death and that we do not last forever.

Hubby and I are determined to keep young (ish), fit and healthy so we are around as long as possible for our children. There are those (many of them other women) who would say that having children at such a late age was an act of extreme selfishness and whilst I can see their point, it’s a little late to turn back the clock and to deny our two the myriad of wonderful experiences that life can offer if you have the get up and go to, well, get up and go.

In any case, is having a baby ever an act of altruism? I’ve been asked if my kids were an accident if the conception was ‘entirely natural’ and if I was overcome by the raging tick of my biological clock.

Manners seem to go out of the window when quizzing a woman about her fertility. I am well aware that I have been incredibly lucky and always counsel any younger woman who asks that the younger you can have your kids the better, simply because over 35 your guarantee of conceiving a child, at least easily, is not set in stone.

Of course, I am apprehensive about my two being picked on for having ‘older parents’ and particularly for having an older mum. Whilst I am not one of those 60+ first-time mothers who has bypassed the NHS and had IVF in Italy if I look around at the other mothers at the school gate, some seem to have barely left school.

More comfortingly, however, there an equal number who seem closer to my own age. It is often said the older mothers have more patience. Hmm. Let me tell you it’s potentially tougher if you do not make sure you keep your energy reserves up.  I always say that when you get pregnant the only thing you focus on is the safe delivery of your child.

Perhaps I’m not a ‘tiger mother’ because I certainly did not think about the impact on my daily life or what my approach to my kids’ education would be. I had visions of swanning about in fields full of poppies, like an Amish version of the Flake advert, wearing Laura Ashley with my baby strapped to my breast, whilst pointing out flowers, birds and butterflies and singing like Stevie Nicks.

Sleep, good nutrition, exercise and stress management all take on a heightened importance when you’re an older mum. Supplements, both food, herbal and vitamins can help. Meditation, mindfulness and just taking a break can help you maintain your equilibrium.

Actually, I am less concerned about other people’s views about older mothers than I am about my two twigging that I may not be around quite as long as some of their friends’ parents. But there are no guarantees in life, are there? Caitlin loves to count the days down to her birthday but I have told her that every day is special and to make the most of each one. And as I approach the big 55, I try to remember to tell myself that too.  Plus, Stevie Nicks is now 70.




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