Choose You Blog

Health Checks: Mistaken (Hormone) Identity

August 10th, 2011 by - no comments

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Well, tried to read it. I brought it with me on a trip to see friends married, and I lay on a chaise lounge in gorgeous Sarasota reading this book and I cried. I was going to read it like a normal pregnant woman. I was going to read it to convince myself I was pregnant. We’d fought for years to be pregnant, my husband and I, to be healthily pregnant with a baby born live and healthy after 40 weeks. I spent the first two months trying to be hopeful and positive with this pregnancy, while my doctor told me to not get attached. Right. When we finally cleared the mark–the place where the doctor said it was okay to hope, that this was a strong baby and things looked good, while I gave myself daily injections to keep that part true–we still could not bring ourselves to say the words: we’re having a baby. We’d learned to not take anything for granted, we’d learned to not expect, even when expecting. And so I read this book and I cried because nothing–nothing–in that book was me, or my pregnancy. All the things hormones bring to other pregnant women–nausea, fatigue, moods, cravings, glowing–all the things that are the by rights humble brags of the gravid, none of these were mine.

In beautiful Sarasota, my husband gently took the book from my shaking fingers and said, “They don’t know us, they don’t know this, they don’t know, it’s just a general idea, it’s a stupid book. We don’t need it.” And he threw it away, that book, all the way away. Outside our room in a dumpster. At a shower, in a store, my office, with friends, with family, everyone wanted me to read that book, everyone wanted to give me their copy. Everyone thought I was having the same experience they did, and all it did was make me feel more isolated.

My body kept me isolated for years after my baby was born, healthy and live and perfect and beautiful albeit only at 38 weeks. My breastfeeding wasn’t quite right. My recovery wasn’t quite right. Getting pregnant the second time wasn’t quite right, nor was that recovery. When I looked back, my teens weren’t quite right either. Other girls talked about all the signs of womanhood, all the symptoms, and I never knew really what they meant. But I laughed or groaned in all the right places and felt lucky, because hey, I never had any of those troubles. No breakouts, no PMS, no cramps, no bloating. Lucky? Or a symptom?

It strikes me that my hormone levels may never have been quite right.

In my late 30s, things got a little crazy. Suddenly, I did feel like a teenager. I brought a sense of humor to it and laughed about my youthful renaissance, but after a while, it wasn’t so funny. I suffered breakouts, PMS, cramps, bloating and more. My peers were experiencing it too, and for once, I felt like the typical woman. But where their symptoms stopped at mildly annoying, for the most part, mine kept going all the way forward to overwhelming and intrusive. Some days, the cramping pain was so bad I couldn’t get out of bed, on those days, the migraines would have kept me laid low even without the cramps. Days of exhaustion, lack of focus, wild variations in hunger and cravings, horrific bloating that took me up two dress sizes, and so on. My entire life was negatively affected. Lately, it doesn’t matter how much I cut back on food or increase dieting, my weight is creeping up. Once again, I feel my body is out of control.

If you’ve never been there, you might not understand. But when you feel out of control of your own body, it creates a soul-wrenching baseline for living. It affects my mind and spirit, and that creates a vicious cycle.

Because I believe in choosing myself and taking care, I sought medical help.

I was treated for various things in various ways–at the worst, with a horrific round of medication to treat an pituitary tumor; at the easiest, with dietary and exercise changes. The standard fixes, such as “eat more soy” that my GP and OB/GYN suggested never helped, and now research says that’s because it never could help. I tried it all, including a year of different hormone therapy. I think I know what it is and so do most of the doctors I’ve seen: perimenopause.

This statement by Eric Honing, MD, pretty much sums up how I feel about it all now:

Eating right, exercising and de-stressing will also help your hormone balance, but you need to have the energy and motivation to get there — and for that, you need hormone balance.

I’ve tried, honestly I have, but it’s maybe time for that next level. I’ve been deeply concerned about it, though, because of so much I’ve read that links hormone replacement and cancer. The difference, as one magazine article pointed out when it deconstructed the statistics, is that I am not in the age range or group evaluated for risk. I am under 50 and not menopausal. Maybe I don’t currently need a long-term pharmacological fix. Maybe I just need a little reset. My body has been through a lot the last ten years.

I’m going to explore various options, see what’s out there, what can help and I’m willing to try things that I decide, with my doctor, will offer benefits that outweigh risks, things that are the right approach for me. I don’t know yet what that is, but I’m checking.

I’ve called a doctor that I found through a site a friend put me on to, and after asking around a bit, I’ve found several people I know who have seen this doctor and given this approach a try. One friend who went through the treatment with this doctor described it as a whole body approach that used diet and exercise as cornerstones. That sounds promising. Mayo Clinic says bioidentical isn’t any safer, then claims FDA says it’s riskier. Oprah, who listed symptoms very similar to mine, says she benefitted greatly from it.

I agree with her position: “she urges women to “take charge of your health” and says it’s time to “start the conversation” about menopause and bioidentical hormones.”

So here’s to taking charge of health and starting the conversation: have you tried any treatments for perimenopause and menopause symptoms? What are your thoughts?

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