Tarra Conner jones (born 1970) is best known for her stage work in professional theatres. Some of her most notable works include: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Ma Rainey), The Color Purple (Sofia), Buddy Holly (Apollo Performer), Dreamgirls (Effie), Shrek the Musical (Dragon, Mama Ogre/Bear), Ain’t Misbehavin (Nell), Chicago The Musical (Matron Morton), and Hairspray (Motormouth Maybelle).
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Navigating the Change has partnered with photographer, Sorcha Augustine to curate images of women who are thirty-five or older being their full selves.
Sorcha Augustine is a dance and theatre photographer from Sarasota, Florida. She creates dynamic stage and promotional photography for performing arts organizations, as well as authentic portraiture of performing and visual artists, helping them communicate their skill, personality, and passion to their audiences.
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After the Change
On restless nights post-menopause,
as hormones yield to nature’s laws,
dreams disrupted by hot flashes
In their throes, she madly thrashes,
and her sweat-damp nightgown claws
as though its neckline were the cause
bemoaning sleep as once it was
Cool water on her face she splashes
on restless nights
Back to the bedroom she withdraws
to wrestle in insomnia’s
firm grip until, at last, she crashes,
up again as fever rachets
and manly snoring shakes the walls
on restless nights
That’s how it started. I had stopped my birth control pills on the advice of my chiropractor, who suspected they might be causing my migraines.
“There’s only one way to find out,” he said. “Go off them and see what happens.”
Within a few months, I was migraine-free. But I also began having hot flashes, which became frequent and bothersome, especially at night. I would be cozy under the blankets one minute, throwing them off the next. And my period, which had always been super-regular, had taken a leave of absence. My doc wasn’t worried.
“When you stop hormones,” she told me, “it takes your body time to adjust.”
When I asked about menopause, she laughed. At thirty-eight, it was statistically unlikely, but for my peace of mind, she ordered the blood test. It was sky-high, meaning I was menopausal or about to ovulate. On a repeat test two weeks later (by which time I should have ovulated, if I was going to), it was even higher.
We had our answer.
The doctor said, her voice tinged with envy, “You’re so lucky to be done with all that.”
Lucky was maybe too strong a word. Yes, I wouldn’t have to endure fifteen more years of PMS, cramps, bleeding, purchasing feminine products, and scrubbing panties with peroxide. But menopause brings its own set of problems. Hot flashes get a lot of press, so I was expecting them, and my hair was already graying, but I wasn’t prepared for Mother Nature to drop me like a hot potato.
The diet and exercise regimen that kept me in reasonable shape for years was no longer enough. My fat cells redistributed themselves, thickening my thighs, putting junk in my trunk. Every week, I added something new to the medicine cabinet: Oil of Olay, Os-Cal, Lactaid, Tums, FiberCon, Gas-X, Correctol, Astroglide … I learned on the fly that ten thousand Kegels a day won’t save you if you laugh too hard, why they make deodorants for the “southern hemisphere,” and that Spanx is not all it’s cracked up to be. Anybody who’s ever had a bad case of “muffin-bottom” knows exactly what I’m talking about. All of these things could be staved off with hormone replacement therapy, but I worried it would trigger my migraines. I decided being headache-free was worth the risk of peeing my pants once in a while.
The psychological aspects were harder to deal with. I’m childless. I say by choice, though that isn’t 100% accurate. My husband had been stricken young with a major mental illness and lost job after job. I had just graduated from nursing school when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. My thyroid was removed, and I had four radioactive iodine treatments over the next twelve years. It’s likely the radiation zapped my ovaries, but I was unaware of it because I was on The Pill, trying very hard not to get pregnant. What if I conceived a baby with two heads or three eyes? What if the cancer killed me and left the child in the hands of my impaired husband?
We lived on the edge financially, I had migraines all the time, and I’d lost 50% of my hearing. On the rare occasions I felt my biological clock ticking, I reminded myself how irresponsible it would be to bring a child into such an unstable situation. I knew I had done the right thing, but when the door to motherhood abruptly slammed shut, it cut more deeply than I cared to admit. I’m fifty-two now and watching friends coo over grandchildren is hard. Knowing there’s no one to take care of me in old age or inherit my earthly treasures is hard. Feeling pressure to make a difference in the world because I can’t pass the baton to the next generation is hard. But grief feels self-indulgent.
When the issue arose in therapy, I remember saying, “It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
And the therapist, God bless him, held out a box of tissues and offered a cliché of his own, “It’s your party. You can cry if you want to.”
Permission to mourn my self-imposed loss was a priceless gift.
Menopause is a pause, a time-out, a life stage that invites us to reflect and regroup.Tweet
There are upsides, too. Ditching Aunt Flo can be empowering. When you feel your vitality slipping away, you are more motivated to figure out what’s important to you and let go of what’s not. You may feel an urge to do things you’ve been putting off, like writing a will or starting a Bucket List. You might pledge to take better care of yourself, and finally see the wisdom of putting on your own oxygen mask first. Your bullshit meter will become more finely tuned, and you’ll be more apt to call it when you see it. The fear of looking ridiculous will diminish, allowing you to sport a crazy hairstyle, ride an adult tricycle, or take the stage on open mic night. Menopause is a pause, a time-out, a life stage that invites us to reflect and regroup.
My advice? Lean into it, cry if you want to, and don’t forget to sign up for a frequent shopper card at the drug store.
Joan Harris resides in northern Ohio with her husband, dogs, cat, and a 1966 VW Bus named Margarethe. She is vexed by bathing suits, Alexa, and self check-outs. She blogs when she feels like it (read: erratically) at Just Joan.
“After the Change” is a Rondeau, a French form. Each line has eight to ten syllables that flow in an undulation of upbeats and downbeats. The first line begins with a refrain and ends with a rhyme. The refrain (A) and two rhymes (a and b) are woven through the fifteen-line structure in the order demonstrated above. “After the Change” was originally published on Just Joan’s blog.
Navigating the Change has partnered with LegitFit LLC to bring you a workout (using only yourself, the wall, and a chair) and information designed just for women forty-five and older.
In this fifteen-minute video, Lish Danielle shows us the following:
Lish found a love for fitness at the age of twenty-two. Within eight years, her mission has been to live a lifestyle of progress and moderation. Three children later, Lish works hard to emulate habits that will keep herself and her children healthy and happy. LegitFit LLC is the future she seeks to share.
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Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is something that people have quite strong views about. You’re either for it, against it, or can’t take it due to other health conditions. I’m not going to tell anyone whether they should take it or not, but I’d like to share my menopause story with you and tell you how HRT has helped some of my symptoms.
As a girl, I had started my periods at aged twelve, and from day one they gave me problems—from extreme pain and cramping to clotting and prolonged irregular cycles. Throughout my menstrual years, I suffered from all kinds of gynecological conditions that never got better. I was relieved when doctors agreed the only option was to remove my uterus with a hysterectomy. I had my children several years before and had no use for the part of my body that only caused me pain.
I had a hysterectomy at thirty-nine. There were no clear warning signs such as irregular or diminishing periods. I noticed that my body temperature had increased over the years, but I wasn’t getting what I thought were hot flashes as such. My lady friends and I would all fan ourselves and say “ooh it’s the menopause” without really having too much of an idea of what was about to hit us.
I was advised that I could go into early menopause but wasn’t given any further information about it, nor did I care at the time, to be honest. I just wanted it all gone!
I recovered well and I thought no more about it, enjoying the freedom of no periods and the release from pain. Even though it was only fifteen years ago, menopause wasn’t talked about in the media like it is now. I knew that my mother had a terrible time with her mental health when she entered menopause, and although I could tell you so much about depression, I couldn’t tell you much else about menopause, apart from the hot flashes. My mother’s generation just didn’t talk about it, and I guess neither did the medical profession.
I was first diagnosed with having menopausal symptoms at the age of forty-seven. I’d been feeling a bit hot, especially at night. I had gone from someone who layered up and slept with hot water bottles and extra blankets, to someone who would sleep naked and have the window open, often waking because I was so hot and uncomfortable and needed to throw the cover off. But I still didn’t think too much about it.
I should mention here that I’ve suffered with my mental health since my mid-20s. It is reasonably well controlled and I have learned to live with it. I have noticed I always feel worse in the winter and do not pick up until springtime hits the UK in late March (This is known as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder). Even though it’s not a pleasant feeling, I accept that my mood will lift again in time.
However, it was during a music festival that I attend every year that I had a “meltdown.” I was surrounded by my friends with music I loved, but I felt very strange and overwhelmed. I wasn’t comfortable, I couldn’t hold a conversation, and I just needed to escape. I went back to my hotel room and cried uncontrollably for hours. I knew it was time to tell my family and doctor and suspected I needed to take anti-depressants again.
When we returned home, I went straight to my doctor and told him how I felt, expecting to leave with a prescription. I was shocked when he said, “Actually I think you are going through menopause!” Even though my mother had suffered in the same way, it just hadn’t occurred to me that this may have been caused by “the change.”
Although he stated a blood test couldn’t always diagnose menopause due to the rapid fluctuation of hormones, he ordered one to rule out anything else and to check my hormone levels. Of course, my periods had finished eight years earlier when I had the hysterectomy. He sent me away with a ten-day course of a low-dose tranquilizer just to get me back on an even keel.
When I returned, he confirmed that I was indeed menopausal, and with my agreement, prescribed me a one mg estrogen-only HRT pill. (Most women are given estrogen and progesterone in their HRT, but those with no uterus only need the estrogen). I did question the link between HRT and breast cancer and he assured me that the increased risk was minimal, the benefits of taking HRT outweigh the risks, and that patients are more closely monitored now.
Very quickly I found the hot flashes and night sweats I’d been experiencing stopped. My mood elevated, and as I learned more about menopause, I found I had been experiencing other symptoms too:
All these and more were symptoms of menopause, and HRT helped with some.
As the years went by, I began to notice some symptoms returning. My prescription was increased to two mg, which again worked. I still suffer with my mental health, more with anxiety rather than depression but HRT has helped.
You will notice that I have used the term menopause, rather than breaking it down to peri-, pre-, or post-menopause as they are relatively new terms used to describe the different stages. If you look at the official explanation for menopause—when a woman stops having periods—well, then that happened the day I had my hysterectomy!
I hope that sharing my story, might help other women out there decide what action they wish to take with their menopause.
Find out more information about HRT below:
Jo is a freelance writer and blogger. She has written many articles for books, magazines and websites, as well as her own blog Tea and Cake for the Soul.
Jo talks openly about mental health and menopause believing that personal experiences can make other people feel less isolated and alone.
Follow Jo on FB at teaandcakeforthesoul
Follow Jo on Twitter @JoJacksonWrites
I can’t remember if it was 2018 or 2017, really. All I know is I was en route to my job, which is an hour and forty-five minutes away from my house. I was wearing my white jeans, a staple in my wardrobe, no matter my age, and I was about fifteen minutes away when it hit me. I had to poop, and I had to poop right then.
Long ago, I learned not to trust gas station bathrooms. No matter how they look, the toilet may not be working, or an attendant may be cleaning it. So, I chose a CareSpot. I figured an urgent care facility would be understanding and let me use the restroom. I was right.
When I finished wiping all pertinent areas, I noticed something…blood. I had started my period. The weird thing about this is I’d just finished a menstrual cycle two weeks prior. I wasn’t due for another visit from Bloody Mary for at least fourteen days. But here I was having a full-on period.
I immediately knew this was odd. Every month since I was ten years old, I had a reliable period every twenty-eight to thirty days. The only time that wasn’t the case is if I was pregnant. This was new, but I shrugged it off as no big deal. Maybe it was a fluke.
The following month (two weeks later), I had another period, and then it returned to normal, until a few months later, where I had another two-period in one-month situation.
That’s when I scheduled an appointment with a gynecologist.
The gynecologist was a White man old enough to be my grandfather. He peered through his glasses and over his white mask and asked me what my problem was.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Well, sometimes your periods can be irregular,” he said. “But I’ll check to see what’s going on.”
He performed a pelvic exam at a snail’s pace and assured me everything was fine. He then inserted a probe and completed a transvaginal ultrasound. I was fascinated when he showed me my uterus.
“Here are your ovaries,” he pointed on the screen. “I can tell you just dropped an egg not too long ago. You certainly don’t seem to be menopausal,” he assured. “Your cycle is still going pretty healthily.”
So, I left his office with the confidence of a thirty-four-year-old woman, not the forty-four-year-old I was.
And I continued to bleed off and on twice a month.
I visited that gynecologist’s office one more time, but this time I saw a White woman doctor.
“How old are you?” she asked.
Not only did she say the opposite of what old man doctor said two years ago, but she also said I was perimenopausal, the same way she might notice the sun rose that day.
“What can I do?” I asked.
“I can give you a birth control prescription to regulate your periods, but otherwise, that’s it.”
I thought for two long minutes and declined. I’d stopped taking the pill seventeen years prior. I’d read somewhere that continued use increased the risk of breast cancer. There was no way I was risking unnecessary illness just so I could have a “regular” menstrual cycle.
Instead, I wore a pad daily, just in case my body felt like it wanted to shed its uterine lining. If this was what perimenopause was all about, then certainly I could handle it. How bad could having two periods per month every so often be?