Menopause_ A Hot Tale of Nighttime Maneuvers

Menopause: A Hot Tale of Nighttime Maneuvers

Roslyn Aging Gracefully Health

This month we are delighted to welcome Joan Potter as our guest blogger as part of our Aging Gracefully series.  Joan is the author of Sweet Dreams, a fun midlife romance that debuted in August 2015. But here she relates a true story with us about her journey through menopause.

My husband, Bob, takes a blood thinner called Plavix, which causes him to feel cold at room temperature. I’m entering menopause. I suffer hot flashes. The hallway of our home (where the thermostat is located) has become a war zone, with each of us the general in our own army of one. 

As in battles between nations, our skirmishes often take place at night. Under the cover of darkness I wake, awash in sweat. I immediately realize my body’s internal regulators have once again gone haywire and let me tell you, it’s surprising how quickly spontaneous combustion can erode one’s sanity. This is the fog of war.

My body heaves as I take frantic breaths and I attempt to disentangle myself from my bedding. I thrash about in a manner that brings to mind an electric chair after the executioner flips the switch.

As my consciousness rises, I realize that I am literally in bed with the enemy. I stop my flailing and suppress a cry of anguish — I cannot awaken the opposing force. I am dog-tired, yet I command myself to focus and stay silent. Through sheer force of will I am able to locate my glasses and my composure, and I covertly rise.

I perform a crafty tiptoe maneuver as I make my way to the pantry. I open my freezer and take Cheryl Sandburg’s advice – I lean in. I lift my pajama top and let the cold vapors cool my chest. A body in the freezer says a lot about a person, but this is war, after all, and I will survive by whatever means necessary.

Suddenly, I feel it. Life altering cotton-mouth. Despite being damp everywhere else, my body is screaming for a drink. I must. Find. Water.

I scurry to the kitchen, turn on and “shush” the faucet as life-saving cold water pours forth. I drink my fill and vow that if I live to see tomorrow, I will go back to my gynecologist. When I was in her office last month, I’d opted out of hormone treatment, worrying about flimsy risks like cancer, thin bones, and blood clots. Now, in the heat of this night, I realize my tactical error.

There is one last stop before my reconnaissance mission gets fully underway. The bathroom. It seems that menopause has shrunk my kidneys to the size of lentils, so I am here often. I close the door and catch my reflection in the vanity mirror. Thank God there is not a news correspondent with a camera nearby. Looking back at me is a wild-eyed, crazed woman with a manic expression.  I think her scalp may have detonated—her frosted hair has clumped into spikes like small snow-capped mountains. Any photo could be the next iconic “War is Hell” image that can’t be erased from the mind after seeing it. 

After the pantry, kitchen, and bathroom exercises are complete, I am finally ready.

I tiptoe, more stealthily now, out into the hall. One glance at the thermostat and I realize: Bob got here before me! Good Lord. He carried out his mission, went to bed, and is sleeping like a baby. The temp has been set for 76 degrees Fahrenheit!

Seventy-six degrees might not sound like much to the non-menopausal, but understand that in the throes of a heat flash, each degree above normal room temperature increases the “real feel” effect exponentially. If I had a yeast infection, I would rise to the ceiling.

Twelve times, I punch the thermostat button that displays the down arrow. Sixty-four degrees. Ha ha! Take that, my For-Better-Or-Worse climatory foe.

I climb back into bed. The sheets feel cool and comfortable now. I kiss Bob on the forehead; he smiles slightly while still asleep. The war will begin again when the house has chilled, but for the moment we are at peace.

Some Curious Menopause Facts

I hope you’ve enjoyed my light-hearted look at menopause. The nurse in me (the part that pays the bills) would also like to share a few solid facts about the subject.

  1. Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have – about 2 million of them. However, about 11,000 die every month before puberty. By the time a woman reaches puberty, she only has around 300,000 left. After the onset of puberty, the death rate slows, but still about 1,000 will die every month. By the time a woman is 37 years old, on average, she’s down to 25,000 eggs. At this point — when she has 25,000 eggs left — the biological clock really starts ticking. It is much more difficult for a woman to become pregnant. Also at the 25,000-eggs mark, with surprising consistency across all populations, it will be 13 years later that she will experience menopause. So, you may ask, what is the single biggest factor that seems to cause a woman to deviate from age 50 being the start of menopause? It seems that it is simply the number of eggs she was endowed with at birth.
  2. The average age of menopause for women in every population studied has remained constant at age 50. This is despite a doubling of life expectancy in the last couple of centuries. In 1850, life expectancy was 42; it’s now 84 for women in the Western world. Also, the age of 50 for the start of menopause has held constant, despite the fact that the age of start of menarche (start of menstruation) has gone from age 14 to age 10. So, life expectancy nor the average age of menarche seems to have any influence on the average age of menopause.
  3. Whenever a woman runs out of eggs, her ovaries stop making estrogen, and she goes through menopause. Without sufficient estrogen, the uterus and breasts begin to atrophy, the vagina becomes dry, hot flashes ensue, and bones and skin become thin. At one time, doctors prescribed low-dose estrogen supplements to combat these symptoms. This seemed like a great idea until July 9, 2002. It was at this time that the Women’s Health Initiative abruptly halted a clinical trial of 16,000 women. The trial had half the women in the study taking hormone replacements, and the other half taking placebos. Those taking hormone replacements were found to have a 51% increase of heart disease (already the #1 killer of women in the U.S.), a 24% increase in invasive breast cancer, a 31% increase of stroke, and double the chance of dementia. The backlash of this is still spreading throughout doctors’ offices and has dampened enthusiasm for hormone replacements in both the medical community and post-menopausal women.
  4. Asian women don’t experience the symptoms of menopause to the same degree that Western women do. While 55% of American women report experiencing hot flashes, only about 7% of Asian women have similar experiences. This is believed to be the result of the Asian diet, which is high in calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and soy. 

Besides being a part-time writer, Joan also works full-time as a CRNA—a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She and her husband share their time in Nebraska and Illinois. Joan, an avid reader and animal lover, grew up in rural South Dakota. She attended undergrad at USD and received her MSN in anesthesia from Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota. She and her husband have two grown sons and an adorable granddaughter.  You can get connected with Joan over at JoanPotter.com.

Do you have any anecdotes and stories from this tricky phase we all go through? If you do we’d love for you to share your story with us in the comments below.

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Roslyn
I loved going to work each day for 30 years as a professional career counselor. When I retired, I explored my creativity and regard for crafts until I discovered beading. At age 68 I turned my new found passion- jewelry design, into a business. At age 72 I took on learning about social media marketing and developing my computer skills. I am sharing my journey from inception, to frustration, to elation -in the hope of inspiring others that 'it is not too late to start again'. Welcome to my re-invention!

Comments 55

  1. Your posts are always so funny, Joan, even on a subject such as the dreaded menopause! It truly is Hell.
    My mother died from a very rare, very brutal form of uterine cancer, which doctors were just starting to see. She was on the front wave of women taking HRTs, and she took them for a while . . . The correlation has been established, and boy, does that kill my soul.
    So when it was my turn, I opted out of HRTs. And can I ever relate to the nightly horrors! I did the holistic approach, with St. John’s Wort and Black Cohosh. It worked. Very well.
    I’m just glad to be done with it!
    What “they” don’t tell you, is how incredibly freeing it is to be on the other side! Wow!
    Sending you ease of passage!

    1. Post
      Author

      Sorry to hear about the cause of your mom’s passing. I too opted to go natural & didn’t even use the homeopathic support. I had some unusual reactions like Vertigo that I was able to treat & I mustered thru not too bad a time of it. I’m glad I opted not to use HRT. It is so important to have a really good Dr during this time. I had been shopping for one & was unsettled, which is why I thought, ‘just handle it’. Thanks for sharing, Susan Mary Malone.

    2. Susan – glad you liked the post! Sorry to hear about your mom’s cancer. Of course it kills your soul to know that with just a few more years of research under our belts, her cancer may have been prevented. We are making headway – when I was young, 90% of children with leukemia died; now 90% live. So, with some cancers we’ve kicked butt! Others, not so much (sigh!)

  2. Great post, Joan. Thanks for sharing, Roslyn. I admit I am not quite at the age of menopause but it will be here soon enough. I bet this explains a lot of what women go through with their significant other. Being in a relationship isn’t easy by any means. But making it humorous makes life less hard. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Post
      Author

      Yes, Sabrina Quairoli, there are many changes, not just physical that accompany menopause. It is good to be aware of them and best to keep a sense of humor.

    2. Sabrina – thanks for commenting on the humor side of a relationship. One of my favorite comediennes, Phyllis Diller, used to comment on her husband, “Fang.” It was hilarious – heck, just the name makes me smile.

  3. Great post on your real life experience, Joan. Personally, because of many health issues which resulted in malnutrition among other dramatic physical symptoms, I do not think I ever went through an ‘official’ menopause. Once I had transformed my health issues, I did see a bio-identical hormone doctor and can’t say enough about the positive preventative impact they have. It’s too bad so many people are ‘stuck’ in the mindset and with the memories of that earlier synthetic hormone replacement study, as with bio-identical hormones, the benefits do outweigh any risks. The science is quite compelling actually. And so many women are also having children much later in life, so perhaps we are lifting some of the previously thought absolutes and creating new paradigms. I enjoyed the stats you shared, as I had never paid too much attention to the numbers before. There are many ways to manage menopause now and so many healthy options to consider, as I hear the symptoms are not at all pretty! I just wish the medical profession would stop prescribing anti-depressants to women who are going through menopause and start looking at other ways to treat the symptoms to enliven women, rather than dumb them down. Good luck with your husband and hope you come to a happy compromise, when it comes to your room temperature.

    1. Thank you, Beverley for your thoughtful reply. I look forward to Joan’s response to you as most likely she will discuss some of the medical facts with you. Many factors are always impacting change, as you point out regarding birthing later in life. Also living longer and girls menstruating earlier. If I were to select a new ob-gyn now, I would choose a younger gal who is up on the latest approaches. I love your idea of treating symptoms to enliven women rather than depress them even more.

    2. Bev – boy, have you brought up lots of good points. I wish I could give a thousand “Likes” to the idea of stopping the over-prescription of anti-depressants, and enlivening women rather than dumbing them down. One of the things that drives me nuts is so many women being prescribed drugs called SSRI’s – these are designed to increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called Serotonin. These drugs are being doled out like M & M’s, but rarely is a serotonin blood level drawn to see if a person is deficient in the first place. Imagine if we did this with, say, insulin or potassium! Yikes!

  4. I’m soooo glad to have arrived at the other side of the hateful menopause! Joan, you described it beautifully. I would add that it’s a pain to feel that you should wash the sheets on at least your feminine side of the bed every morning. I had no idea that so many eggs are gone before even reaching puberty!

    1. Beth – thanks for your nice comments. The fact that so many eggs are gone before even reaching puberty is one reason that I (as a nurse) become adamant in the operating room about shielding young girls with lead whenever an x-ray is taken. Just last week, I had a 3 year-old female patient getting x-rays of her broken arm, and I had to insist that we stop and cover her body with a lead apron. We get in such a hurry with a “just this once” attitude and don’t shield young women as much as we should. Even in the dentist’s office, knowing what I do now, I would insist our daughters and granddaughters have a lead apron on during x-rays; one good reason is to protect the dwindling # of eggs.

  5. What a delightful read – thanks for giving me some chuckles. I had never read of those statistics before and they are quite fascinating and telling ……wow.

    1. Teresa – thanks! I told Roz that while the article wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, I thought it was charming enough to give it a whirl. I, too, am glad that we decided to include some fast-facts at the end. Anyway, so glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Oh my. know lots of women running about for menopause solutions (well, not solutions but relief). I hope that I find that is is not a collection of symptoms to be “fixed’, but a mind/body revolution that brings tremendous opportunities for happiness and joy.

    1. Rachel – Very good point about symptoms not needing to be “fixed.” I think it feeds into the mindset that not only are we getting older, we’re “broken.” And, I think you’re right about menopause signaling to us that we should look forward to tremendous opportunities. At the most basic, primitive level, I think it’s our bodies telling us that we are transitioning out of the “Mom” phase of life, and we can, if we wish, allow ourselves to move into the “Me” phase.

  7. Thank you for the light-hearted look at something most women will experience at some point. It’s always good to know you’re not alone, and what you might look forward to (or not, as the case may be). I also enjoyed the mix between the humour and the more serious side that created a balanced perspective.

    1. Jenny – so glad you enjoyed the post. I’m a full-time nurse, and a part-time writer, but if I had my druthers I’d have those things reversed, so I could write articles like this all the time. But, alas, there’s the rent …

    2. Thanks Jenny for taking the time to read and comment. I had not paid much attention until it ‘hit’ as I saw so many friends handling menopause differently. It is always good to have info under your belt before you may need to make a decision.

  8. Thank you! This is wonderful! I am in the throws of perimenopause right now. My partner’s mom had a stroke as a result of her hormone replacement. My mother seemed to be OK with hers. Some great info for helping me get on top of things, naturally. 🙂

    1. Latrelle – Yikes! I hope your partner’s mom had no residual ill-effects from her stroke. It would be interesting to see a study which examined if the symptoms of menopause were consistent from one generation to the next. For instance, if your mom had an easy time with menopause, is there an increased chance that you will have an easy time, as well?

  9. This was such an entertaining post on a not so entertaining subject! Thanks for sharing it with us, Roslyn and thank you, Joan, for such a fun read. I wish Joan and her husband success at finding a peaceful solution, though I don’t know what that might be. I have a similar problem at home, not hot flashes, but generally running hot while my hubby runs cold, plus, I am an admitted fresh air fiend. War is hell. My greatest fear is (cue the music from Jaws)…global warming, for sake of the planet, and also so very much for me, personally.

    1. Reba – Hello to a fellow fresh air fiend! (BTW, I LOVED the cue music from Jaws!!). I’ve been in the Sandhills of Nebraska for the last several weeks and the weather has been fabulous. Just last night, I was able to shut off the air conditioner and sleep with the windows open. Heaven!

    2. Reba Linker, I am forever asking hubby to turn up or down the AC. We seem to have settled on keeping the house mildly cool & I wear a light layer. So far, seems to be working. We do opt for fresh air as often as we can get it.

  10. I couldn’t stop laughing as I read about the hot flushes, Joan. I remember 2 years of those hot flushes that would start up anytime and anywhere. Unlike my Mom who had an easier change of life, mine wasn’t and I’m grateful she would allow me to put on the air conditioner in the middle of one of the coldest winters we had in years. When my sister was visiting with her family, I prayed to God that I wouldn’t have a hot flush in front of them because while my brother-in-law would have understood since he has a sister, my then young nephew might have gotten frightened with the frantic activity of opening windows and glugging ice cold water as if it was going out of fashion.

    Sadly, I guess my friends and I belong to the 93% of Asian women who have a bad time during menopause because we ended up forming our own Menopause Support Club (none of us was into taking HRT or other medical assistance). Unless of course, by Asian you meant Oriental women who have diets with soy in them.

      1. Vatsala – What a wonderful thing to have had a Menopause Support Club. I once had a feminist college instructor who announced that if men had periods, there would be a national holiday celebrating the event. At first I wondered if she was just wacko, but then I decided that she was probably right. And if they went through menopause, I absolutely believe they’d have support clubs. Good for you for implementing the idea – we women are worth it.

  11. Ahh, ripping layers of clothes off when flashing and night sweats — I remember them well. I’m glad that’s over! I was single during mine, so I missed the thermostat wars. Which means I missed resisting homicidal impulses.

    I lived in Sacramento California at that time, where summers are hot hot hot. 110º or higher is not unusual. I read about a woman the cops caught with a dozen or more corpses buried in her yard, and all I could think was how miraculous it is that more Sacramento women don’t turn into menopausal murderers.

    1. Sue – you made me laugh out loud with the idea of menopausal murderers. Wouldn’t that very idea make for a wonderful play – kind of like “Arsenic and Old Lace” only “The Menopausal Murderers.”

    2. Sue Kearney, Could you imagine a woman’s defense for killing her mate was “menopause made me do it”? I do think when we get to the other side of it we are so relieved and tend to remember the humorous side of it.

  12. OH yes.. we have the thermostat wars.. I am always cold, my honey is from Wisc and always super hot. When we are apart, we send each other pictures of what the thermostat is where we are at… like if I am in a hotel out of town or if he is and I’m home. We have come to an “agreed temp” when we are both home but I’m still cold and he’s still hot. We wonder what it will be like when I go through menopause, whenever that is.

    1. Kristen – I love the idea of you two sending pictures of various thermostats to each other! Being too cold can really be annoying, too. I always keep a sweater in the car, even if it’s 100 degrees outside, because if I go into a restaurant or office that has the air conditioning cranked way up and I’m seated by the air ducts, I don’t have to be miserable.

  13. What a fascinating and fun post, thank you Joan for writing it and Roslyn for sharing. I’m still a way off yet, but I don’t look forward to those hot flushes. Though as I’m cold-blooded by nature and usually have the opposite problem when I’m in a relationship – with my partner wanting the fan on and me not – hopefully I wan’t have to engage in thermostat tactical warfare 😉 Loved your advice on the diet, that is something I shall try to be more aware of.

    1. Julia – talk about thermostat tactical warfare, I once heard a hilarious story about a couple who sat on opposite sides of a table and negotiated by writing numbers on scraps of paper and sliding them across, then repeating the process until a compromise was reached. At last, a temperature was decided. Sounded like something from the Godfather!

    1. Joyce – thank you. It’s just the highest compliment to me if I made someone smile or laugh with my writing! Comedy and finesse have to be the most powerful and underutilized forces on earth! I’m trying to get better at both.

  14. I can relate to your post. I had night sweats so bad until I made my lifestyle/dietary changes. Now it is rare I get a mind one. For me the biggest culprit was processed foods and sugar that were really playing havoc with my hormones. Thanks for sharing those facts on menopause. I have shared this on my Savvy Circle Facebook group. Thanks, Ros, for featuring Joan.

    1. Karen – thanks for the comments! It would be interesting to see a good study of women who did what you did with diet changes, and then correlate those changes with symptom changes. As a casual observer, what could it possibly hurt to cut out processed foods and sugar?!

  15. Very funny post, although I’m not quite there yet! My mom started menopause at 40, and I swear she went through it for 10 years… I am 47 and have just started to get regular migraines that I am told can be a sign of the onset of menopause. Although I am looking forward to not having a period anymore, I am a little terrified when I hear stories like this! I guess I should start doing some research on natural ways to minimize the discomfort as well as the other treatments so I am informed and prepared before it hits!

    1. Kim, I hope it won’t last long & migraines disappear. Yes, research now to adjust eating (although you do eat clean) and exercise (which you do) but there may be other natural approaches for prevention.

    2. Kimberly – I’ve only had a handful of migrants in my life, and they were horrid. Far, far worse than any hot flashes (for me). I certainly hope you have the worst in your rear-view mirror. Thanks for your comments, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the article.

  16. Hello Roslyn and Joan 🙂

    Really enjoyed your post as it made me laugh out laugh so many times lol

    I know EXACTLY how it is because I am going through it as well and the hot flashes, well I can do without them lol 🙂

    As far as sticking my chest in the freezer (I have done that on several occasions) When the air is cool, I always have to sleep
    with the window open. It is summer now, so I welcome the A/C in a huge way! I am 53 now, so my menopausal symptoms are
    becoming less and less and for me that is such a HUGE relief…..YEAH almost over!!

    I think for me the only GOOD thing is not having a period anymore (love that part) I do not miss it at all!

    Thanks for sharing all of the very interesting points about menopause and how hormone therapy really does not help
    but “hurt” your body. So I will be sticking to my exercise 4 times a week and eating better 🙂 As I have noticed that by exercising
    daily, my symptoms are not so bad 😉

    Great share Joan Roz!

    1. Thanks Joan Harrington for your comment and experience. I believe this topic really resonated with you. Sounds like you are finding your own natural solutions for getting thru the heat waves and are creating good practices for the rest of your life.

    2. Joan – I absolutely believe that diet changes and exercise helps. I haven’t investigated any double-blind studies on the subject, but as I keep saying, ‘What could it possibly hurt?’ Good for you for doing the sensible thing! Thanks for your comments and I’m so glad you enjoyed the article!

  17. Oh wow, I really love this post – made me laugh. I am so stranger to all those nighttime manoeuvres. I took pity on Hubby after declaring war for the umpteenth time a few years ago and went to the doc in search of help for my mood swings. She wanted to do some tests before giving me HRT and that resulted in a nasty biopsy which frightened me away from the doc and her pills. Alas, I am still doing those nighttime manoeuvres but I’m happy to say my lousy mood was scared out of me. Great post and a welcome comic relief to the nightmare of menopause.😀

  18. Haha! Loved this post. Of course, I can laugh now because I’m beyond the menopause stage, thank God. Although there will be times when the night sweats still get me. But truly, this is one of the big advantages of aging in women. Praise be!

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