What Happens To Your Ovaries After Menopause – This article is part of the Lily Lines newsletter. You can subscribe here to receive it in your inbox twice a week.
I first experienced menopausal symptoms as a teenager. It was a deep winter in Connecticut, probably 20 degrees. My family and I were going to dinner when we lost my mom. “Susan!” my father called from the bottom step of the stairs. My brother and I checked the kitchen. Finally, someone opened the front door, and there, in short sleeves on the street, was my mother.
What Happens To Your Ovaries After Menopause
Looking back, I now understand what was going on because I too was defying the elements in a tank top. When I started having hot flashes, my mother was no longer alive to witness this spectacle. Worse, she wasn’t there to tell me what to expect, how the “change” had actually changed her, and what would happen to me on the other side.
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In Instant Count Diary: Menopause and the Justification for Living Naturally (the closest I could find to my mother and the answers I was looking for), author Darcy Steinke writes: “I knew a lot more about both menstruation and pregnancy. going into menopause.”
Collectively, we are terribly bad at talking about something that will inevitably happen to more than half the population. In addition to measurable physical symptoms, if women believe pop culture, our shrinking ovaries also predict a loss of sexuality, femininity, and desirability.
Rather than go it alone, I spoke with experts and friends to gather the essentials: a glossary of terms, the best products to use during menopause, and additional resources, including articles and podcasts. So go ahead and save that tank for the summer: here’s your guide to menopause.
Perimenopause: “It’s an informal designation for the time before menstruation stops,” says Amy Porter, an OB/GYN in Virginia. Perimenopause usually begins between the ages of 40 and 40 and is characterized by heavy or irregular periods, hot flashes, erratic PMS, and, in many cases, bouts of insomnia.
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From a technical standpoint, your ovaries are aging. During peak reproductive years, estrogen levels predictably rise and fall throughout the menstrual cycle. But as we age, we produce less progesterone (another hormone involved in the menstrual cycle), causing an imbalance. This causes us to forego a regular release of an egg every month, hence these irregular periods. Unfortunately for us, this can lead to hormonal fluctuations that rival puberty.
Hot flashes: The phenomenon of women turning into fireballs is something of a medical mystery, says Porter. But these sudden heat waves on the face, neck and chest, as well as sweating and heart palpitations, have something to do with the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for thermoregulation. “Your body thinks it’s cold,” she explains, “so it warms up.” Seventy-five percent of women in this country will have hot flashes during perimenopause (and beyond: “You can get hot flashes when you’re 90,” says Porter). While some swim smoothly without breaking a sweat, others are not so lucky. Take my friend, a Maryland lawyer. She says before visiting her family in Florida, “My pre-trip talk about where to put the thermostat is an episode from Seinfeld. As evidence, she sent me a text in which her side of the conversation simply read “65 degrees.”
Menopause: “Menopause is when your ovaries are ready and they’re done forever,” says Porter. Simply put: menopause is when your periods stop for good and you can no longer get pregnant. Since there is no definitive way to determine the death of your ovaries, the standard definition of menopause is 12 consecutive months without a period. In America, the average age to cross the finish line is 51.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): This is a medicine that contains female hormones to replace those your body no longer produces after menopause. Estrogen (which comes in the form of tablets, patches, gels, creams, or sprays) is effective in relieving hot flashes and night sweats, may also prevent bone loss and reduce fractures, and help with vaginal discomfort.
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There are also low-dose estrogen-containing vaginal products that come in cream, tablet, or ring form. While drugs at low doses can treat vaginal symptoms (dryness, painful intercourse) along with possible bladder problems (from leakage to infections), they do not help with flare-ups or osteoporosis.
Much has been said about the risks of HRT. According to the Mayo Clinic, these risks depend on the type of hormone therapy, the duration and dose of the medication, and existing health factors such as heart and blood vessel disease, as well as the presence of cancer in your family. Studies show that taking a combination of estrogen and progesterone increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.
Women may experience a host of other symptoms, including irritability, decreased concentration, joint pain and low libido, Porter said. Here are some products received from friends and doctors to help ease the side effects.
Flash Fashion: Now that several fashion brands have designed clothing with built-in instant combat technology, it’s no longer necessary to defy the elements in a tank. Brands like Become offer t-shirts, nightgowns, leggings, and even leggings made from proprietary materials that cool the skin, wick away moisture, and release heat after a flash.
Advice For Managing Menopause
Sleep Supplements: CBD is all the rage and research shows it can help with sleepless nights. Before trying one of these (such as Plant People’s Drops + Sleep), check with your doctor because CBD can interfere with some medications. Porter also loves ginseng, which can help with mood swings and sleep disturbances.
Late night: “The best advice I got was to put ice cubes in a water bottle and keep it under your pillow,” says a friend. If that sounds uncomfortable, Sheex sheets are made from moisture-wicking polyspandex fabric.
Get rid of pantyhose: Speak by Thinx is available in a variety of styles, including hips, bikinis, and even thongs.
Hydration and Lubrication: Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is a common condition associated with the postmenopausal phase. Decreased estrogenization of the vaginal tissues can cause dryness, irritation, and pain during sex. Since almost 50 percent of postmenopausal women suffer from VVA, this means that almost half of us women probably experience painful sex.
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“We need to develop our libido,” says Porter. For this, it is important to moisturize. Porter recommends products like Replens Vaginal Moisturizer. As for lubricants, try Good Clean Love, a water-based personal lubricant. It’s also good to know that you’re not alone. Articles like these can help you look at things in a new way.
Technical Solution: One of my high school friends says she “couldn’t have survived without my Embr. He cuts the tides at the pace.” Like a smartwatch, the Embr Wave bracelet is an accessory developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that controls the increase in body temperature. This triggers a natural response that makes you feel 5 percent cooler.
“We asked women, ‘Where do you want information about menopause?'” says Claire Gill, founder of the National Menopause Foundation. “Our respondents said they prefer websites, news sites, podcasts and online communities that are both unfiltered and anonymous.” Gill listened and launched her website to be, she says, a place to connect and inspire. Check it out here.
Gill also cites the North American Menopause Association as a good resource. “It’s a little more clinical,” she says. It aims to inform doctors about menopause, but there is a portal where women can answer frequently asked questions or find a menopause specialist.
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+ “How to Survive Menopause”: This episode covers how to survive menopause in the most unfeminine (and kindred) way.
+ “Not Your Mother’s Menopause with Dr. Fiona Lovely”: This podcast series features patient stories, advice, and Lovely’s perspective on what she calls “peaceful transition.”
+ “Navigating Your New Sex Life After Menopause”: Flash Count Diary Author Darcy Steinke Talks About Sex After Menopause for NPR’s Let’s Talk About Sex
+ “No one talks about perimenopause – it’s time to change that”: here’s what to expect when you no longer expect (glamour)
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+ Zhanna Andrus, aka Menopause Guru, has a lot of books (and a healthy sense of humor to boot).
Media representations of women in mid-menopause are sparse. Here are three examples of TV shows or movies that highlight this period in a woman’s life.
It was a monologue that will not soon be forgotten. In the second season of the acclaimed Amazon Prime series, Belinda (Kristin Scott Thomas), a woman in her fifties, talks to the main character Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator and star of the series) about menopause. At the hotel bar, she talks casually but confidently about the pleasures of menopause. “Women are born with pain
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