As I opened the refrigerator it hit me. My epiphany came as the waft of cold air came spilling from the stainless steel rectangular box. I was out of eggs. This eggless dilemma was deceiving, as the cardboard egg container still looked the same from the outside.
However, upon opening the carton I saw it was true. The last egg had been used. I was not prepared for the drama that was now thrust upon me. You see, my pumpkin muffins were waiting. The oil and water had already been added to the mix (that’s right—they weren’t homemade). All that was needed to complete this delectable snack was one stinkin’ egg. I didn’t need a jumbo egg, a large egg, or a brown egg. I didn’t even care at that point if it was organic and cage free. Any egg would do. My muffins would not turn out well without an egg. The egg was needed to hold it all together and to bring moisture. But I was in a hurry. No time to find a neighbor with an egg, or make a quick trip to the store. I’d have to do this thing eggless. The pumpkin muffins went into the oven. Thirty minutes later, voilà. I was left with muffins that were falling apart, dry and crumbly. Muffin tops rolled over the edge of the crinkled paper muffin holders.
And this, my friends, is what happens in menopause. When that last egg leaves, women often feel they are thrust into an oven, and then things start to fall apart. All moisture leaves the body. The whole body. And the muffin tops hang over the edge.
For me, during menopause I lived with my own personal summer—like a summer at the equator while wearing a fur coat. I often couldn’t sleep until it was time to wake up, and that greatly increased my fatigue level. Dryness of all kinds was a problem, as were heart palpitations (which turned out to be tachycardia resulting in a heart ablation, rather than menopausal palpitations—surprise). My doctor assured me that palpitations causing one to pass out were not normal menopausal symptoms. So, don’t attribute everything to menopause. Now, years later, the night sweats are gone, with the exception of one that arrives each and every morning at 6:00 a.m.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Fortunately, I didn’t feel much change emotionally, except a bit of sadness about the end of an era. Adding to the fun symptoms, menopause often hits when children are leaving home and parents are aging and passing from this life. I experienced all of that and felt it keenly. During that time, emotions could run high. And aging is part of God’s grace?
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead— since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:18–22)
I share this verse for encouragement, even though we are probably not looking to have a child at this stage of life (though this was the situation with Abraham and Sarah). This scripture tells me that even when our wombs are dead God can still work powerfully through us. God’s power in our life can become more evident than ever if we hold to his promises and are strengthened in our faith. Menopause, like everything else, is more than just a physical issue. It brings with it an opportunity to grow in our faith.
Some women go through menopause without much effect. However, as that last egg prepares to leave, a woman’s hormones go through great transitions as the estrogen leaves the premises. Like my pumpkin muffins, we can tend to feel like things are “falling apart.” We may feel like we live in a hot oven. We wonder why our skin changes and why sexual intimacy can be painful. We may ask, “Where did my libido go?” We may find it more difficult to stay svelte…or get svelte. That’s a kind way to say we feel fat and have difficulty losing weight. The subtitle “Opportunities to Grow” is not about our changing metabolism. As you read this you may be viewing menopause as an event that will happen years from now, or perhaps it is current. Maybe you went through it years ago and you barely remember how it affected you. Or if you are a guy, you may be wondering what is happening to your wife during this time. Whatever your stage, use this information to prepare you, confirm that you are not crazy, or encourage someone else who is in this stage of life.
Most women go through menopause in their early fifties. Again—do you see God’s grace at work? Imagine enrolling your child in kindergarten as you enroll yourself in Medicare. God understands that when we are in the menopausal stage of life it would be difficult to manage a toddler. Menopause is simply when a woman stops ovulating. This results in the cessation of menstruation (another little gift from God). Hormonal changes can result in a lovely variety of symptoms:
- Hot flashes (A hot feeling—the kind where you want to bury yourself naked in the snow.)
- Night sweats (Did I go swimming in my sleep without realizing it?)
- Insomnia (The inability to sleep…Where was this when my kids were little?)
- Decreased libido (Decreased sex drive, or as the phrase goes, “My get up and go, got up and went.”)
- Mood swings (Feelings that shift, causing you to weep at commercials or become angry at houseflies.)
- Forgetfulness (Why did I walk into this room? Why is my mail in the refrigerator? What is my youngest child’s name?)
- Dry skin (Yes, this especially includes vaginal dryness.)
- Recurrent yeast or bladder infections
- Recurrent colds or flus
- Loss of hair (But don’t worry…it will likely reappear on your chin.)
- Weight gain (Oh, the joy.)
- Fatigue (I’m tired just reading all of this.)
Some women have minimal symptoms of menopause, while others hit the jackpot and get all of them. Some women may experience heart palpitations, panic attacks, or headaches. For others who have had headaches previously, they may lessen. We all experience this special time in our own special way. Be sure to consult your physician about your specific medical conditions, especially if you are having irregular bleeding or pelvic pain. Many women have perimenopausal symptoms for years before they reach menopause. During this time they may skip cycles or have shorter or longer periods. Do remember, until the last egg is gone you can still get pregnant.
What can you do about these symptoms? First and foremost, pray a lot. Seriously. Menopausal symptoms can take our focus away from Jesus and weaken our ability to fight sin. Menopause does not give us a ‘’free pass” to become angry or indulge in self-pity. With God’s grace, allow these things to cause you to depend more on God. When you struggle, let it draw you closer to God’s power and love.
Keep helpful scriptures close at hand and read them often. Talk to trusted friends about your struggles, and ask for prayers. Catch the temptations before they give way to sin. Many symptoms can be treated, or at least their severity decreased. For example, insomnia can be helped through regular exercise, natural remedies, relaxation techniques, or even medications. Try to avoid technology before you sleep. It can prevent your mind from relaxing. Vitamin E suppositories or very small doses of natural estrogen suppositories, along with good lubrication, can help vaginal dryness. Healthy eating (with minimal carbs and sugars), along with vitamin and mineral supplements, can help reduce fatigue. Vitamins B-12 and D-3 are often low in women. When low in vitamin D, women can tend toward brittle bones and osteoporosis.Drinking plenty of water helps prevent bladder infections and also helps the skin stay moister.
Married Men: Oh Please Pause…May I offer you suggestions from a woman who has been there, done that? Thankfully, my husband was very encouraging and supportive through this time, though we navigated through a few storms.Your wife is not possessed. She is going through a difficult transition emotionally and physically. She would rather not feel the symptoms she does. She will do better with your love and support than with your solutions for “dealing with menopause.” Gifts of gym memberships, tweezers, wrinkle cream or strait jackets will likely not be well-received. Hugs, expressions of love, and assurances that you believe she is beautiful will be most helpful. She needs to know she is still valued and the object of your affection—not your “old lady.” Together, make a plan ahead of time for how you will handle new difficulties that arise. When the difficulties come, you will better know how to help each other. When the covers fly off at night and she throws off her nightgown, this is not an invitation. She does not want a hug. She does not even want to be touched. An ice pack would be the most romantic gift you could offer at this time. Ask her what would help her as she navigates this stage of life, what she most needs from you. Thank you for your understanding.
Women: We’re in This Together Friends, remember that every woman who lives long enough goes through this change and comes out on the other side, and so can you. With God, you can do this gracefully. It’s really an okay experience. I’m fully enjoying this stage of life, as are most of my friends. Make sure you stay close to God and laugh at the days to come. A sense of humor goes a long way. The wisdom of Proverbs tells us:
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. (Proverbs 15:30)
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Remember that this time in your life involves your husband as well, so wives, be sensitive to your spouse. It’s really not all about you or him. It’s about us as a couple, with God at the center. God still calls us all, male and female, to consider each other’s needs above our own. That’s a constant upward call for me. I hope I’m getting better with years of practice and learning from God, empowered by his Spirit—but I always need the reminder.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)
This post is an excerpt from my new book, “An Aging Grace: Collected Wisdom on Aging Gracefully,” available at ipibooks.net