A Chaos of Edges: Welcome to the Perimenopause

Sara BranMost women are born with their life quota of egg follicles, somewhere around 2 million of them. In an average life, these eggs diminish to about 750,000 by the onset of puberty to around 10,000 by the age of 45. Medically, the menopause describes the moment when a woman runs out of eggs and has her final period. The menopause is only ‘diagnosed’  after a year without menses, but actually this varies greatly from woman to woman.

For a long time before this menopausal ‘moment’, women experience seismic shifts in their chemical make-up at a pace as individual as their life stories. This is the perimenopause, a process which begins around the age of forty to forty-five and takes several years to complete.

Although many women (and men) view the prospect with dread, the perimenopausal years present a precious opportunity for healing and spiritual growth ~ if only more of us embraced them fully, fiercely with wild and open hearts. Yep, the PM. It’s where it’s at sister. Provided there’s somewhere to sit down and it’s not too far from a toilet.

Perimenopause is a time of enormous change as significant and bewildering as its reverse mirror, puberty. Women’s later years are potentially  a time of crystallization, a process of obtaining clarity as we gather up the fragmented self and cluster into new forms. The elements are all the same; we are still us, but we are arranged differently. I personally feel a need to reclaim the missing pieces of myself, those fragments lodged in unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business; those pieces still stuck in the hearts or minds of old loves. I feel the need to gather myself home before it’s too late.

Many of my female friends over forty are feeling daunted by the imminent onset of the ‘change’. It looms on our horizon like a gathering storm of ancient soot and carnage. Our air is heavy with anticipation, we’re all forecasting doom and it has to stop.

Native American traditions view the older woman as ‘the gatherer’ who ‘walks in beauty’ replenishing her internal landscape while her external shell decays.  For women with children, the perimenopause can feel like a homecoming, a reintroduction into a extraordinary place called “the self” after many years of caring for others.  Sadly these days, there are few elders lining the streets and cheering us on in this endeavor. Many women, just like me, are going through this stage of their lives with young children to look after and the push/pull of opposing needs is aching.

As far back as fairytales, older women have either been the ‘stepmother’; malcontent, skeletally thin and brimming with poison, or the wizened yet wise. In the mainstream media,  older women are pretty much invisible. With such a narrow choice of role models, it is no wonder that, although the menopause is not a disease, around 2.5 million women in the UK choose to medicate their journey from fertile to infertile. We commonly turn to HRT or antidepressants at mid-life and risk increased chances of developing breast cancer, thrombosis and strokes among other side-effects.

Botox may freeze an older woman’s face into a fictional eternity, but we still rot inside if we hate who we are. We are so terribly bad at ageing in the West ~ it can feel lonely facing the challenge of these years in a world that takes it’s beauty one way; neatly packaged and low-fat.

As I age, I am a chaos of edges, an ill-defined mess, a burgeoning of bosom, a geology of indiscriminate crevices and I am determined not to loathe it although, sometimes, bravado crumbling, I do.

I am so tired of women hating the skin they’re in. So, so tired.

[This piece is abridged from an article, “Coiled Snake Unwinding” originally published in The Mother Magazine]

11 thoughts on “A Chaos of Edges: Welcome to the Perimenopause

  1. This is so beautifully written – really heartfelt and sincere, heartwarming and wise. The piece I wrote about being perimenopausal included the seven dwarves – itchy, bitchy, sweaty, bloaty, sleepy, forgetful and psycho. I gave you a mention in it and don’t remember if I ever told you? It’s not done to put links on other peoples’ posts but let me know if you want it. I rather feel it would disturb the mood of this one though. ‘Tis spot on and I completely agree with the contradiction of approaching middle age while having young children. XX


  2. Beautifully touching – how very daunted I now feel at the prospect of leaving my 30’s! I am, and always have been a strong advocate of loving oneself, first to tell the females in my life that they are beautiful as they are (I am more of a personality basher if truth be known; ‘stop worrying about your body which is lovely, and focus instead on becoming a better person because you irritate me’ !!)
    I am desperate for my daughter to grow up ignorant of the worlds obsession with body image and never reveal my weakness to actually love my own body. I am very lucky to have a husband who still looks at his wobbly partner of 10 years, post-childbirth and many cheesecakes later – and still insists he sees the slender 20 something I was when we met.
    So yes, embrace who you are and always strive to be a little bit of who you were because without acknowledging our past personality we have no fuftre self to look forward to!


  3. I always enjoy your writing Sara – and so often you muse on topics dear to my heart. As you know, I work with groups of girls as they come of age, and many of the mothers confide that just as their daughters are approaching their first period they are nearing their last. We laugh about the hormonal challenge of this – but actually the real challenge is to figure out how to welcome and embrace both.


  4. This really made me think, then sit still, then think again. We have lost so much in the West – and one of those things is a reverence and respect for the passage of time, and as you call out so importantly, we have so few role models, real authentic women who can cheer us through this very important passage of womanhood. I know I have begun the per-menopause, and its changing my pace and outlook on life. It’s such a shame our society lacks so much in the way of ritual – to mark those important rites of passage. As you say, I think this moment in a woman’s life is an important time to attune to The Self and seek the spiritual, whatever that may be. Thank you for this post! XXX.


  5. You writing is brilliant & inspiring– thank you for being all that and using correct grammar! I am 49, & from time to time experiencing unpleasant symptoms & mixed messages. However, I LIKE IT, overall. “More & more I’m secretly just me,” as the song says. Only, I guess it’s not a secret, really. It’s hope that keeps me going– hope that I will more deeply know the love of God, & love others more fully. Life is so often tragic that, with my artist’s temperament, I’d never have made it this long without hope. Best wishes, & carry on!


  6. This is a really important discussion, and beautifully, truthfully written. There are many of us in our 40s who still want children and hope it will happen. So it is a bizarre crossroads. The reality as you say is that ageing is inevitable. We are so often encouraged to defy it, ignore it, rarely embrace it, meet it head on. Thank you for your thoughts.


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