This past weekend was Mother’s Day weekend. I am sure we all spent time with our mothers or thinking about our mothers if they were no longer with us. I had been thinking a lot about my mother for about a week before Mother’s Day and about conversations we have had over the years.
I was a twin, and we were the fifth and sixth children of the household. My mother was one of the “older” moms amongst my friends. I had a sister in high school when I was born and the ages trickled downward. My memories from early childhood were of my mother always being in the kitchen all the time. I don’t think I remember her sitting down in the living room relaxing…ever. In my younger days she was a stay-at-home mom and was always in the kitchen ironing, cleaning, and cooking something. She never had a microwave or a dishwasher. The joke was that she had 6 dishwashers, the girls usually did those chores though. She did show us how to do somersaults and cartwheels in the back yard and split her pants open doing it. Back then she only wore dresses but donned my brothers corderoys for lessons. She was never sick and if she was, you never knew about it.
One day, when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was told we were going to the hospital and my twin sister, a brother, and I waited in the car while my father went inside. (Children were not allowed in the hospitals back then). He was in there a long time, came out, and we went home. He was inside visiting my mother. I found out Mom was inside and had a hysterectomy. We weren’t sure what that was and nobody explained it to us. It was the sixties and things were different then. It was never discussed and I don’t even remember her recuperating at home. She had to have been in the hospital for several days but it was not something I remembered because the older kids kept the household running as usual.
Years later I asked her about it. I was well into adulthood. Her usual answer was, “oh dear, that was so long ago I don’t even remember it”. I knew she was not a forgetful person and totally sharp for her age but it didn’t dawn on me until years later that women her age just didn’t talk about those things. At the time I asked her, she must have been about 80 years old.
Thinking about it now, I am not surprised. Women her age did not have many options when it came to treatment for menopause. When women hit the age of menopause and perimenopause they just suffered through it and many of them had hysterectomies. The main reason for hysterectomies then were for their comfort, whether they suffered from PMS issues, severe menstrual cramping, fibroids, prolapsed uterus, or irregular bleeding. They either had partial hysterectomies, removing the uterus and one or two ovaries, or they had a total hysterectomy, removing the uterus, fallopian tubes, and the ovaries. Either way, it was a shock to the system, causing a woman to have artificial menopause immediately. So when a lot of women ages 30-50 began to have any of those “female problems”, whether they were actually about to start menopause or not, they opted for the more comfortable way out, having a surgery to eliminate symptoms, but causing immediate menopause. Women were glad to not have to “deal with” a menstrual cycle anymore. They continued to have lack of hormones and lack of hormonal balance.
Some women might have been given hormones and others might not have had any. Back in those times, there was a synthetic hormone on the market in America, Premarin manufactured by Ayerst Labs starting in 1942. It was made from horse estrogens and later more hormones came on the market, all synthetic. Years later some had added synthetic progesterone in them. It may or may not have helped their symptoms. That was what our mothers had available. Even when I have come across other women who are now in their late 80′s or in their 90′s it is just something not discussed and they dealt with menopause the best they could and waited it out… or should I say “toughed” it out.
As I approached my later 40′s and started having symptoms, there were more choices to be had. Doctors knew a little more and there are a lot more hormone prescriptions available. But they were not the ones I wanted to put into my body. In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative studies gave hormone replacement a bad name, attaching the stigma of cancer and disease to taking hormones. We later found out that those studies were not conveyed truthfully to the public in 2008 when a Wall Street Journal article reported that ghost writers downplayed results of those studies. We also know that bioidentical hormones were not used in those studies. The safety of bioidenticals has been proven for years in Europe and Big Pharma did not want it known to the world. (But that is a whole other can of worms). Needless to say, it took a lot of research and on line searching for me to know I could get help for my symptoms in a way that was safe and with a physician I could totally trust.
I had no history to go by, as far as family history, to know what my own menopause would be like. All three of my sisters and my mother had hysterectomies before my age, so I could not ask anyone what they experienced as I experienced changes at my age. I did know that hysterectomy was not the answer. I did know that other symptoms such as fatigue, migraines, weight gain, loss of muscle strength and mass, depression, and so on, was not something that was going to be fixed with hysterectomy. I needed to get my hormones in balance. So that’s what I did. It is the best thing I have ever done for myself.
Now women currently in the menopausal age range are empowered with more information than ever before. Bioidentical hormone replacement is not mainstream yet but I have confidence that it will be someday. We need to be active in telling other women and talking about it, not be silent like our mothers were. If my mother were alive now, she would have been 90 years old, and I am sure would still give me the “I don’t remember” line to any questions of that nature, keeping in the form of lady-like composure women of her age were so accustomed to doing. Discussing menopausal issues will help us learn and spread the word that we can have better health and better options for our futures. We know we are on the right track with diet and exercise. Why can’t we get everyone to understand the basics of bioidentical hormones? As time goes on, we will have even more evidence with the longevity of this kind of treatment that will show even more proof of how effective bioidentical hormone replacement can be for both men and women.
The only thing I wish is that I understood it more beforehand. I had teenagers at the time who just thought Mom was mean and wicked, always tired, and in a bad mood. I had headaches and migraines all the time that made me not want to be social. They didn’t understand it at the time because I didn’t understand it at the time. In hindsight, which definitely can be 20/20, I would have told them right away what was going on. I talked with my daughter about it. I don’t know how much of it she cared to listen to. At her age, it isn’t something she is worried about. She will be 25 soon and I am a grandmother now to a beautiful little girl. When my daughter has questions or even starts having symptoms, I will be around to tell her what I can to guide her in the right direction to get the best care.
The future of medicine is bright. Bioidentical hormone replacement saved me in so many ways. Let’s hope that menopause is not something that is whispered about anymore and made a part of diligent wellness care. We have a better future that what our mothers had when it comes to optimal health. Let’s exercise our knowledge to be the best examples we can. Our daughters will thank us later.