Adolescence and Menopause: When Hormones Collide
Until recently, an unexpected time bomb sat in my house, waiting to explode. A modern Molotov cocktail, this volatile mix involved my grumpy, grunting adolescent son and me — his irritable, short-fused, menopausal mom.
When I was in my mid-30s, trying to get pregnant for the first time, I worried about a lot of things: Would my husband and I be able to conceive? Would it take a long time? Was there a greater chance at my “advanced maternal age” (a technical term used to describe pregnant women who are 35 and older) that I’d miscarry or give birth to an underweight or otherwise unhealthy child?
I’m a worrier, and I worried about it all. But the one thing that never occurred to me was that I’d be navigating my child’s prickly teenage years while managing the crazy mood swings of my own menopause.
Lucky for her, my 20-year-old daughter, Emma, mostly escaped my “change of life” and all its inherent symptoms: in my case, everything from night sweats to fatigue to memory loss to depression. But my 15-year-old son, Nathaniel, is not so blessed. He’s arrived at the height of adolescence smack in the middle of my menopausal years.
Poor kid. Poor me.
I’m not alone. Many women of my generation — in an attempt to strike a balance between building our careers and our families — didn’t start having children until relatively late in life. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the birthrate for women ages 35 through 39 rose steadily from 1979 to 2007 (though that number has slipped some since). Meanwhile, the birthrate in 2010 (the latest data available) for women ages 40 through 44 was 10.2 births per 1,000 women, the highest rate reported in more than three decades.
Add it all up, and you get a volatile mix: grumpy, grunting adolescents and short-tempered, irritable mothers. With the onset of menopause between 45 and 55, women like me are stepping onto a big emotional roller coaster at the same time that our children are reaching the emotional tilt-a-whirl that comes with being a teenager. In other words, when we are least able to cope, the most is required of us.
I have one friend who started her menopause at 49, when her daughter was 14. My friend suffered from anxiety, mood swings and depression. All the while, amid attempting to control her own erratic emotions, she had the added stress of trying to help her daughter get through the minefield that is middle school.
Desperate for answers and utterly exhausted, she tried cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, a better diet, increased exercise, acupuncture, hormone replacement therapy and meditation. Mostly, she worked very hard to understand and communicate with her ever-moody teenage daughter. Results were mixed.
My own menopausal symptoms began more gradually, lulling me into thinking that I could manage them on my own. Then, one day last fall, during some minor quarrel with Nathaniel, he turned to me and asked, “Why are you so angry all the time?”
That’s when I decided to do something about the way I was feeling. Now, I’m eating healthier and spending more time outdoors, hiking and walking. I’ve also started hormone replacement therapy, a regimen of estrogen and progesterone.
It took a little more than a month to notice any change. But slowly, the tension in my house began to ease. I’ve found myself increasingly less angry and more patient with Nathaniel (and my husband). My fuse has grown longer.
Of course, not everyone’s symptoms or experiences are the same, and certainly no one magic solution exists. But as more women face this phenomenon, it’s good to know that there are options to avert at least some of the fireworks — ours, anyway.
From all I can tell, the teenage drama is here to stay.