I had been avoiding feelings all day. Yeah, that wasn’t the best idea, but I figured I had too much to do before I picked up my son from school. So I did the housework and the work, and when my computer crashed and the vacuum went out, I spilled more swear words on our floor than could ever have been cleaned up. . My impatience and frustration grew until my chest ached. I plopped down on the couch and gave in to my perimenopausal pause. My hormones were telling me to take a break, so I took my time out – if not for me, at least for my 8-year-old son.
Mood swings, irritability and irritability at my mood swings are just some of the symptoms of perimenopause that I first noticed. I could feel my usual laid back personality creeping its way into the danger zone and I was completely confused. I heard myself answer my husband in a way that horrified me: “I think you’re old enough to find the cheese in the fridge without me,” I said possessed. It made more sense when I learned that this time signaled a hormonal shift marked by such glorious things as the wonderful world of vaginal dryness, the grandeur of night sweats, and, oh…overuse of sarcasm. (Oops. Sorry, hubby.)
For a long time (or a few years), I assumed that I felt a little anxious and impatient because I was a first-time mom. Not knowing how to navigate the perils, pitfalls, and poop of living with a child, I lay awake nights worrying and sweating without the help of my hormones — or so I thought. What if my OBGYN called me a “geriatric mom” – I could still navigate our 12 remotes and install apps on my phone without asking my younger nieces. When life with my son calmed down, but not me, all the signs pointed to perimenopause.
My age, combined with long periods and emotional changes, has made perimenopause my new normal. These effects weren’t always constant, but could last up to 10 years, so I looked forward to the days when I would feel like the person I had known all my life. Then there were other days, where my body and my feelings were like a strange town where I could never really navigate. And while my husband could handle the occasional off-the-cuff sarcastic comment or frustrated outburst, my sensitive son couldn’t – and neither should he.
“Hey kid, get in the car, okay?” I asked my son in a hurry.
I thought I had given myself enough time to cook my child’s lunch, feed the dogs, feed my son, and change our clothes, but we were always late for school. As I ran to the car, I dropped my son’s backpack with a thud on the garage steps (which made me fear I had broken his favorite water bottle), and words that would have easily earned me a PG-13 rating flew from my mouth. Looking up, I saw my son through the windshield staring at me. My 8 year old son was exceptionally quiet when I got in the car. I glanced in the backseat and he was staring at his knees.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” replied my son in the smallest of voices. And then I slumped into the driver’s seat, feeling even smaller. Embarrassment and guilt invaded the space where my frustration lived, and I wanted to go back in time and put myself in the quiet corner. My frustration level is rising so fast and my child is clearly not okay with it. While it’s normal that he sees me as an imperfect human mother, it’s not normal that my mood swings have shifted enough to bother him – and possibly shake our confidence. I apologized for my knee-jerk reaction and he relaxed a bit. Was there a way to channel my strong emotions for good?
Borrowing a technique I used for my child during his angry days, I became intentional about taking breaks. The best results come when I’m aware enough to catch my upside mood swing before it bursts to the surface. So, sitting on my couch, I remind myself that stopping breathing will help ground me. Hormonal changes could trigger these emotional jumps, but they’re always my emotions. Now I take time outs because feeling my great feelings lessens their hold on me. Even better, I’ve noticed an unexpected side effect of digging deep and staying connected: I’m even more sensitive to my son’s emotional needs.
When he comes home from school, I am able to quickly gauge his mood and, when appropriate, ask him questions that help him uncover his feelings. When he worries about how his time on the playing field has gone, I’m ready. Snuggled up on the sofa, my son’s head rests on my shoulder and he fills the space with questions about the dynamics of friendship that turn into musings on the reality of Sonic the Hedgehog. I have space for days to listen, validate and listen some more. Our connection is stretching in ways that I had always hoped for, but never really thought could happen.
Perimenopause certainly has me on my toes with all of its emotional ups and downs. My husband is learning to appreciate my new handlebar mustache (hair growth is a thing) and my son and I are learning to appreciate a deeper relationship. Perimenopause might actually make me a better parent, because maintaining my connection to myself keeps me connected to my son — and that’s a totally wanted side effect.
These celebrity moms have all welcomed their bundles of joy after 40.