Women are superhumans. I’ve always believed that. And mostly I believed that you can be that superhuman with little, tiny baby bits of looking after yourself here and there. Just find the music and keep dancing through and around the obstacles because, dammit, we can do hard things. Sure – I can talk a big game about self-care like the journalling and the yoga and drinking water. I bought all vitamins, own 47 water bottles and all the sports bras. The intentions have always been good. The follow-through, however, seems more and more sporadic. And to be honest, for the most part, I seemed to get away with not focusing much on myself – I’ve always been able to hold it together, just turn up the music a bit louder, and march on changing the world.
But let me tell you this whole “getting older” bullshit is apparently the lesson many women experience that radically, and drastically, slaps them (us) in the ass as the reminder that indeed, you are not indestructible. Your body will tell you to “fuck off” and “listen up” if you don’t pay attention to the subtle cues. It makes me think of a toddler who starts out with gentle calls for “ma”, then “mom”, then “mommmmmm”, and then there is a throat punch to a sibling that makes you take notice – you know?
That’s how my journey with peri-menopause has gone so far – so what it’s worth, I thought I’d take you on the ride (thus far) with me, in the event that it may circumvent some hard lessons. I’ll cut right to the bloody truth (so if you’re not here for it, now’s the time to tap out). At about 46, my period started becoming less regular and more infrequent. A welcome change to a lifestyle that was always busy with kids and travel and life. The infrequency was enough, even, for me to wonder if I was pregnant in my 46th year – so much so that I bought a pregnancy test (from the dollar store). Sidebar – can I just tell you – there is something about buying a pregnancy test at 46 that felt exactly the same as hypothetically buying one “just to check” at 19. A negative test solidified the notion that perhaps I was entering “the change” (for fuck sake). I spoke briefly with my amazing physician about some supplements and vitamins that might be necessary in this “changing of the seasons” (which I listened kindly to, but never adhered to).
Fast forward to the fall of my 47th year. Apparently, the wane of menstrual cycles was simply shoring themselves up, banding together, to prepare for an onslaught of a tidal wave that would then dictate my life in a mostly relentless flow for the next six months. Now, at the risk of too much information, words like tsunami, hemorrhage, and violent murder scenes in the bathroom, are all not exaggerations of my experience. I had a miscarriage once at 11 weeks between Asher and the twins, and even that horrific, heartbreaking experience paled in comparison to the rushing, gushing, through the pants, into my shoe (while on stage) moments that were becoming too many to count.
I spoke with my physician again, and we decided that starting on an oral iron supplement (which I didn’t take often because, well, I was concerned about the constipation), and a round of Tranexamic Acid to stop the bleeding. These steps worked effectively for a cycle. She also ordered a pelvic ultrasound to ensure that we weren’t missing polyps or tumors. But – life got in the way. My most amazing mother-in-law Lori was dying, and on the day of the ultrasound appointment, I decided in my head that indeed, it was just “perimenopause” and that women were wired for this, and I’d be fine, so I skipped it to stay with her. I was too busy to rebook it but had it on my list to get around to.
The holidays came and we said goodbye to our sweet Lori – all the while things were changing. Headaches and this remarkable “restless leg” feeling that would keep me up at night were happening almost every day. I later learned that these were two tell-tale signs of low hemoglobin – but I pushed right through those too.
Once I got back on the road in early January, I navigated another tidal wave period. And just when I thought a 12-day cycle was wrapping up, I scaled down from a diva cup AND a backup pad, just to be suddenly surprised (at the airport, while wearing a white body suit), that indeed bitch, the period is not over for this round, and Marti might have to delay the flight as I try to get myself presentable enough to go through security. This exact scene prompted another, frantic call to my physician. I was noticing (but didn’t tell her) that my racing heart and inability to walk very far without being out of breath were also starting to set in. Again – classic signs of anemia; however, I knew I should be working out more (and drinking wine less often), so I didn’t want to get into that with my doctor. I wasn’t up for a lecture. I just wanted her to fix it. And I just wanted to know if you can die from menstrual bleeding (at this point, obviously, I didn’t think you could because again – doesn’t every woman go through this!?).
Another prescription of Tranexamic Acid and a rebooked ultrasound saw things settle. I navigated through February like a champ – managing a few headaches and those damn restless legs with Advil. Again – I’m fine. The bleeding stopped and off to Mexico, we go with the family for a week in March. Obviously, what my racing heart, restless leg, blurry visioned, headachy soul needed was a break – right? I was craving salt and had a huge need to eat ice – which I thought was weird (Aaron – my personal husband – even asked if he should invest in a salt block. Like they do for cows). I soaked up two days of sun and beer before the period started again, and this time, she was not fucking around. Clots like I’d never seen, and many missed moments with my sweet fam because I couldn’t leave the bathroom, had me slightly worried. I also noticed that now I couldn’t walk up the three flights of stairs to our little hotel without having to lay down (“I really need to start working out and lose some fucking weight” was my only thought). By the end of that week, I knew I just needed to get home – and get back on that Tranexamic Acid again.
We landed back home and I had a day before Marti and I hit the road for an exciting April. I felt dizzy and confused, and so exhausted (must be the jet leg?). When we set off the next day for a talk, I asked Marti to drive (which is weird for us), and I slept most of the way. For the first time, on stage, I felt unsure, and shaky. I couldn’t remember the password to my computer. I was so thirsty I remember taking breaks and counting the minutes in my head when I would get to sit down again. After the talk, we checked into a hotel. I crawled into bed and slept for 10 hours. I didn’t feel great the next morning (maybe the flu?) – I couldn’t even pull my suitcase into the airport. I felt a bit like I was looking down a tunnel. I was getting scared. I called Aaron to tell him I was worried I was having a heart attack – or maybe it was anxiety? I wanted him to know, but didn’t want him to worry – so I didn’t tell him or Marti that I was seeing black spots if I walked too fast and the confusion and memory fog was heavier.
We made a short flight to the next talk and checked into the hotel. After a big pre-game nap, my talk that night to a bunch of amazing police officers was awesome. Two hours of clarity (phew – back on track). I assumed, as I crawled into bed that night that I was through it, and that the next morning, I would wake up better than ever.
Alas – the next morning, after another ten hours of sleep, I in fact felt way worse again. I took some Advil for the headache and just hoped Marti would lead me and our luggage through the airport. I just needed to get home – then it would be okay. This anxiety stuff would settle and I could just rest.
I did, however, have one more little talk to “get through” before we were home. Just an evening event that had been planned for some time. The short staircase up to the venue felt like I was climbing a mountain. Marti kept asking, “are you sure you’re okay?” I was so scared to say I wasn’t because it felt like I might just collapse if I admitted it. So, instead, I spoke my heart out, sweating through the talk (thank goodness for the slides, because I lost my place so many times). My favourite part of events is talking to people after, signing books that people so graciously buy, and hearing soul-filling stories of people’s resilience and reasons for being there. This night though, the second I finished, I didn’t wait for the thank you, I went backstage and sat down. For thirty minutes. I couldn’t catch my breath and I just wanted to lie down. Marti took one look at me and said, “get in the car.” I closed my eyes in the quiet and safety of the passenger seat. When I woke up when we were almost home, Marti said, “Jod, I think we’re going to head straight to the ER, okay?”. Fear and gratitude swirled in a mix of tears because now I knew she was worried too.
Gratefully, it was a slow night in the ER. I could feel my heart beating in my ears, and for the first time in my life, I could feel my heartbeat in my eyes. I closed them and just laid there, answering all the questions, but just wanted to sleep. Blood was drawn, an EKG was done and we quickly learned that I had a hemoglobin of 50 (a normal hemoglobin is at least 150) – which meant I had a third of the red blood cells I needed to keep my body functioning. Six months of heavy menstrual bleeding, apparently, can almost kill you. The concern on the doctor’s face was the first thing I could focus on, and she suggested I needed a blood transfusion immediately. Heart failure was the concern.
One blood transfusion and got an overnight stay saw the hemoglobin jump into the 70s. I didn’t feel much better, but it was a start. I was scheduled for an emergency ultrasound the next day. Thankfully, the ultrasound was negative for cysts or polyps, although the emergency physician announced that I had “bulky uterus.” I was offended, but too exhausted to make a joke. He explained that the majority of the inflammation was in the muscle surrounding the uterus, so an ablation (one of our options) would likely not be effective. We discussed a hysterectomy if we couldn’t get the bleeding stopped; however, it was suggested that this “drastic measure” be put off before trying a couple of other things first. A referral was made to an OBGYN (a four to six-month wait in our province). In the meantime, I started on progesterone and continued with Tranexamic Acid until the bleeding stopped. My physician scheduled me for six iron infusions over the coming months and a hormonal IUD was ordered in an effort to regulate periods and minimize bleeding going forward.
It’s now been a month since that night the music (almost) died. I simply cannot even tell you how exhausted, to my bones, I have been most days. So, slowing down has been the easy part. My body simply wouldn’t have it any other way. With two iron infusions on board (with four to go) while I write this, the hardest part, I will assure you, is remembering the lessons because it’s getting easier to breathe, I can think more clearly, and the energy is coming back. It’s interesting to me just how much easier it is, however, to maintain boundaries when you get close to the edges. I can tell you this for sure friends – if you’re not okay, the people you love, lead, and teach – they don’t stand a chance. As women, I think we need to start talking about this more.
The biggest lesson for me is to look after your body. You only got one. The self-care bullshit is so easy to put on the back burner when you can mostly manage it all. Take the vitamins. I am now the proud owner of my very own grandmotherly pill organizer for my morning AND night regimens. Drink the water. I mean it. Move your body, even gently. And when you find the edges of your limits – when you push a little too far (and you will – that’s how you know where the edges are) – lean on the people who will get you back to the best parts of yourself. We were never meant to do any of this alone and I can’t tell you just how grateful I am to be able to share this little chapter with you. The care and concern and prayers from this community reminded me that indeed, we were never meant to do any of this alone. And I’m so glad you’re here.