Post-menopause: After The Change, hello, more change

There's life after fanning
I went into menopause early, and looking back, it was truly an altered state. Excellent books abound, so I'm going to address what they don't: what happens next.

A woman might be so thrilled to step off the roller-coaster that she doesn't notice the new territory. But she will have new changes to address. 

She is now in the years I call peri-elderhood. The hot flashes, mood swings and insomnia abate, but despite the cessation of night sweats, one is not going back to 40. Dear ones, do not shy from the term.

1. Body shape

Look for the lady with the tape
Whether you have weight gain or not, your body shifts, thanks to gravity and decrease of muscle mass. 

Get a bra fitting. Above a B cup, change your bra every 6-8 months to get unequivocal support. If you were proud that you never needed a bra, consider that even small breasts change shape and placement. A light sports or cami bra will give you a better profile.

Resist cramming into your former size. If your undies or pants are too tight, you'll feel crabby. Your feet might spread, requiring a wider fit.

If you want to reduce your weight, let go of the number you were at 30; set a realistic goal related to health, not dress size. Notice your posture, which completely changes how you look, regardless of weight.

2. Strength and vitality

Maintain muscle
You might experience what I did, a surge in sense of well-being as the menopausal static dies down. Wow, I feel so much better... but then a sneaker wave hits, the awareness that you no longer have the stamina you once did.

An exercise physiologist advised me, "Move it for an hour a day, any way you can." This was probably the best advice I got post-50, and it's still valid.

Peri-elders need to retain muscle mass and strength, so if you only run, walk or cycle, add weight work or weight-bearing exercise like yoga or Pilates. I have 60+ friends devoted to Zumba; the key is finding something you like or at least can stand.

You know about osteoporosis, and you don't want it! But one day you might see a photo and be shocked; debilitation happens gradually. Here's a good summary of preventive steps.

3. Hair

Nora Ephron said, "At 65, Mother Nature gives you a birthday present: a moustache." That "Grow a 'Stache' for Prostate Cancer" is a guy thing. Waxing, electrolysis or laser: name your weapon. 

Your hair may be thinner than before. If you colour your hair deep brown or black, try a shade or two  lighter than your usual or experiment with lowlights, because very dark colours accentuate the scalp, making even slight loss more evident. (See this previous post on thinning hair.)

Try new haircare products; texture can change, too, and you might need masques or different shampoo. Conditioned grey hair looks very different from underfed grey.

4. Face

Annie Liebovitz
The major wrinkles and furrows are now untamed by anything in a jar. Skin care remains important, but reject widespread manipulation of insecurity you'll find in ads that tell us to "fight aging". They remind me of the era when obviously pregnant women were not supposed to be seen in public. To revile age is to reject life.

Annie Leibovitz, 62, said, about the photographs she took for her book "Women" (written with Susan Sontag), "I didn't want to let women down. One of the stereotypes I see breaking is the idea of aging and older women not being beautiful."

At the same time, I have a few acquaintances who look, thanks to eye lifts and jowlectomies, pretty much their age but without the major sags and bags. To each her own, but surgery (especially the anesthesia) terrifies me.

Find something to smile about every day, and frame the smile with a pretty lipcolour. (Even though Annie seems not to wear any, I like it!)

5. Teeth

You now have lower estrogen levels, which can affect bone density, extremely important to your oral health. If you need dental work, don't put it off. (For my money, a better investment than Botox.) Dental faculties of universities often have clinics that offer work at reduced cost if that helps.

Whitened, but not extreme
If you got thorough a sleep-deprived menopause on daily beakers of caffeine (and, I admit, red wine) like I did, bleaching products lift the worst of the damage. 

You don't need to achieve Regis Philbin florescence, but the removal of dingy stains boosts your confidence and looks.

6. Sexual health

If you have a partner or partners, keep talking as well as doing. Your body changes internally as well as externally; topical creams and lubricants are available through online boutiques like the wonderfully-named YesYesYes.
Partner or not, what pleased you in previous decades may no longer, and you might find new modes of expression enjoyable now. I have friends who are contentedly celibate, too.

Partnered women say that addressing the relationship, not just love-making, can be more effective than new techniques or toys. I especially recommend "Passionate Marriage"  by Dr. David Snarch, a wise and deep book.

7. Psychological changes

Menopause can put a very intense focus on one's self: How did I sleep? How could I have forgotten that meeting? What did she mean by that remark? 

Now, fini. With fond respect, it's time to get over the drama.

You are free of the wild mood swings, but you still have moods. Month-old babies, adolescents, the FedEx delivery guy—everybody has moods. Like the weather, moods shift, deepen, dissolve. Without the ceaseless physical static of menopause, you can recognize your moods for what they are, weather.

Figure out what kind of elder you want to become, then live in a way that's consistent with it.

If you wish to deal with deep stuff, it's not too late.
When there are relationships to mend or improve, I recommend Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's  book, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life", or workshops led by those trained in his approach. (The web site Center for Nonviolent Communication lists events.)

Life holds potential for growth in each stage. There are losses to face, but as Margaret Mead said, "Coming to terms with the rhythms of women's lives means coming to terms with life itself."

If you have suggestions to add, please contribute. I'll re-visit the topic of peri-elderhood on occasion and am grateful for your wisdom.


Vivienne said…
You are timely, intelligent, and a great writer. Thanks so much for this!
big hug,
Excellent post...I have walked through each section and find everything you say here to be true. For me it was important to switch from synthetic hormones to the bioidentical cream...made a HUGE difference in my life!! You did a great job here!
Anonymous said…
So wise, so true: the portals to life's different stages can be very uncomfortable places, especially when you don't know what to expect, and are inclined, as I have been, to fight change. Like you, I find the loss of stamina to be a shocker. In the past, I developed the habit of making lists whenever I had a lot to get done; checking items off gave me the confidence that I could manage everything. Now I find myself at the end of a day thinking: how could 1) clean out coat closet, and 2)buy trash bags, have taken me ALL DAY? All I can do is laugh at my big plans.

An older, wiser friend said, "I've decided the way to age well is to live like a peasant: walk a lot, carry heavy objects, eat simple food, be with people." And I would add to that what she embodies but was too modest to mention: put others first. You rightly point out how (necessarily, perhaps) self-centered menopause can be. Letting go of ego can bring pleasant surprises at any age, but it seems particularly appropriate (and a bit of a relief) in later life to acknowledge that we are no longer running the show.

déjà pseu said…
So much great information here, Duchesse. I had what I call "stealth menopause." Very few symptoms other than occasional night sweats, but at 50 my periods just stopped completely.

BTW, for facial hair, I *highly* recommend threading if there's a salon or brow bar near you. In fact I'm going to do a post about it. It's easier on the skin (esp. skin around the eyes) than waxing.

I like what C. said about "aging like a peasant."
LPC said…
Writing about aging, truthfully, online, is one of the final frontiers. Almost because at the border of this frontier is death, right? I read Ronnie at Passage of Time. Long time journalist, her blog does the best job of voicing elders that I know. I look forward to more posts on this topic, having just reached the age where creams cease to help much, where stamina is fading.
Anonymous said…
Such a great post. The only thing in addition to the list you mentioned is to "try" to stay current with cultural things, music, art, etc. and not get stuck in a past decade. I'm 59 and this is the first year I've noticed a loss in stamina. I thought it was due to outside stress, and never thought about it as a part of aging. I don't like it - not one bit.
Duchesse said…
Vivienne: Thought you might add, "scarves"! Thank you.

Pam: Thanks, does one continue the cream when menopause has passed?

C.: I and many readers will appreciate and remember your friend's comment. And I too do not whip though lists anymore.

pseu: Will look forward to your post, have seen it but not tired.

LPC: I read As Time Goes By too. I like that it is political, and I love Ronni's frankness. At the same time many commenters carp, and you know what I think about chronic complaining. But then, aging without many resources is a tough situation.

kathy peck: Great addition, thanks!
Duchesse said…
pseu: A typo in my reply to you- that is, "have not tried" threading.
Anonymous said…
Oh I need to do something about my posture, my sternum is folding in on itself due to being hunched over the laptop all day and whenever I try to sit properly my upper back cracks and it hurts so I just slouch again - appalling.

General anaesthesia - this is my phobia. I can have a panic attack if I think about it too deeply, I hope I never have to be put under.
Chicatanyage said…
Very interesting post. Totally agree with the bra advice. Personally I lost weight after the menopause maybe a genetic thing, but my shape has changed. Just noticed the actual word menoPAUSE perhaps it is a pause before the next stage. Book I would recommend is New Passages - mapping your life across time by Gail Sheehy (available on Amazon) found it very revealing. For hair Kerastase Age Premium by L'Oreal is fantastic. Finally am addicted to Yoga and Pilates for flexibility and stamina.
Excellent advice and I love your, 'To revile age is to reject life,' comment.
Monkey said…
I'm 31 but I very much enjoyed your post. A lot of the things you wrote seemed generally relevant for my life too (weight training, dress for your shape, smile, figure out the kind of older person you want to be, etc...). It's also so encouraging to find a community of gorgeous over-50s women.
Thanks, LPC, glad to discover "Time goes by" (we won't get into complaint and contentment, as it is Duchesse's blog after all) - but now some of us are mobilising against the attack the current Canadian government has launched against Old Age Security and especially the supplement to bring low-income seniors (mostly women alone) out of dire poverty. Then there is the oddity that our otherwise enviable health and social-services system somehow neglects teeth. Why not kidneys? Or feet?

We have to face up to all these forms of decline and loss, but somehow not become obsessed by them. I fail to see anything positive about getting older except the great biggie - not being dead. A friend of mine in Germany died this past week - her husband is very distraught - they were a very loving couple that formed in middle-age; both were previously married and divorced.

One thing I am MOST uninterested in is life without drama!!!
Anonymous said…
I wanted to add one more thing while on this subject.
Practicing balance exercises is crucial ~ falling as you get older becomes more common and can have very dire consequences. So start now!
All great thoughts on aging. I'd add more water and a multivitamin. Have regular physicals too.

Must get a new bra now :)
Susan said…
I'm 59 (60 in late April) and I'm still in the throes of hot flashes. My husband says I am like a rapidly recycling oven I hope these end some day!

I, like many of you, have begun to notice waning stamina.

Today, I am rejoining an exercise class that focusses on core strength and balance.

This was such a good post Duchesse. I'll be coming back to reread it and follow up on the links you provided.
Duchesse said…
Tabitha: If you do need to be put under, they will give you a tranquillizer first if it is elective surgery, If it is not, you will likely not mind as it is an emergency.

Chicatanyage: Thanks for these recommendations. Yoga and pilates fans unite (and touch your toes)!

Thats Not My Age: Sometimes I feel like a lone voice, saying, Excuse me, age is not a disease.

Monkey: Hello, young 'un, glad you find something here.

lagatta: Govt health care covers dental and oral surgery that is medically required to be done in a hospital, and in some cases, dental work related to facial abnormalities. Many provinces have plans that offer some help, such as Ontario's Children in Need of Treatment and disability support programs. Because I saw, in my native country, people financially ruined by medical expenses, I'm grateful for what we do have here.

kathy peck: I posted about balance a year ago:

hostess: Good commonsense advice, but how often I put off that physical!
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner: Good for you, hope you enjoy the class and it might even affect your temperature cycles.

All: A friend just sent me this joke:

The irate customer calling the newspaper office, loudly demanded to know where her Sunday edition was.

"Madam," said the newspaper employee, "today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on Sunday."

There was quite a long pause on the other end of the phone, followed by a ray of recognition as she was heard to mutter....

"Well, shit, that explains why no one was at church either."
Marsha said…
Nice work - thanks! I'm well past menopause, but the night sweats remain, for some reason. You have reminded me that I need more calcium, and that my daily walk is not self-indulgence but wise precaution. Also, I appreciated the truthful tone of this post - I didn't find any of that "aging is really a lot of fun, and you're just as pretty as you ever were" nonsense that plagues other such discussions. The truth isn't so awful that we don't dare tell it, as you have shown. But I'm still resisting/denying that loss of stamina business; I'll let you know how it goes. Also, I thank your commenters for their useful insights and wit!
Alexandra P said…
Thank you thank you thank you. All editors seem think that nobody wants to hear this kind of information, I imagine that I am getting close to menopause age and don't really know what to expect. My own mother went fairly loopy, I was hoping that there was a middle ground. This is really interesting, I am just going to reread for the third time.
Jill Ann said…
While I do appreciate your informative post, and understand that aging is a natural part of life, etc., etc., I have to admit I found this rather depressing to read. I did an early menopause, at 46, and it was a "stealth menopause" like Pseu's. Very few symptoms, no big deal. It's just now, at "only" 55, I'm really struggling with the changes that are showing up. Thinning hair is the worst, I think. I can't say that I ever loved my hair (very thick, curly/frizzy), but I was always glad I had a lot of it. In the past year it has really thinned dramatically, and I'm horrified. Have a dermo appointment this week, but I fear they'll say, well, it's a normal part of aging!

Then there's the crepey skin, all over; droopy eyelids; and shifting body shape. That last one was hidden for a while, because I was overweight, but after happily losing 40 lb I discovered that things were not in the same place any more.

I am not the type to do surgery, probably, but I'm going to look into lasering. Also trying to commit to more exercise besides just walking. I suppose I'll get to the calm acceptance stage that Duchesse and others have reached, but it's hard. I guess I'm lucky that my looks weren't the only thing I had going for me in my younger days. I have a sister-in-law who fits that bill, and I'm interested to see how she deals with aging going forward....she's 53 now and still trying for the "hot mom" thing.
materfamilias said…
It's good to have company in this aging adventure . . . and such wise company! Oddly, my biggest peeve is with the sprouting hairs. Don't like those at all and given the state of the vision, they get harder to keep track of. . . Right now, I'm enjoying Diana Athill's Instead of a Book; I've found all her memoirs on later life so inspiring. Attitude is all!
Margot said…
Oh, thank you so much!Your comments are so spot-on (I made this passage several years ago. How helpful it would have been if anyone had given me this information in advance!)
I have found my post-menopausal years to be wonderful ( though I DO wish the hair growth was on the head rather than chin!) But we need to demolish the myth that aging is negative.... it's largely being concocted by all the ad agencies whose main goal in life is to make us insecure and unhappy so we'll buy more stuff/procedures etc....
Tiffany said…
Great post - thank you!
Duchesse said…
Marsha: You might not experience that diminishment of stamina, I have met women older than I (63) who have apparently boundless energy.

Alexandra P: Actually this post is about *post*-menopause; there are a lot of good books on menopause, and its effects vary widely.

Jill Ann: A very good book that explores the diminishment of beauty is "Face It: What Women Really feel as Their Looks Change"" by Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenick, which I have posted on here:

As I said, the book goes wider and deeper than just physical appearance and is not your typical fluff.

materfamilias: Read "Somewhere Near the End" and found Athill an elegant, precise writer, but not appealing as a person. As she said of herself in that book, an essential coldness at the core. Maybe I should try her other books.

Margot: With so many of us making the transitions to elders in the next decade or so, you would think they would wake up and realize we do not want to be told a product will obviate the inevitable signs and effects of living a good while.
Here some limited dental coverage is available to people on social assistance (welfare) or disability, but not to working people under the poverty line. I certainly appreciate OUR elders who fought for social benefits (I've interviewed some of them, as my studies were in social history as well as languages); it just seems strange that a key component of health remains out of reach to a large segment of our population. Someone I know spoke of "freelancer teeth", though of course the same applies even more to low-wage workers.

I went back to read the post about the book "Face It"; and the aspect about identity is true. I'm terrified of losing my hair; would think I was looking at an alien being. I'm sure many people have such terrors; they aren't just a matter of vanity but of the identity of the self and presentation of self.
Northmoon said…
What a great post. The attitude you take toward aging is positive and realistic. Thank you for putting your experiences out there.

I have mourned the loss of a few things with age. Now I hope that there will be an opportunity to let go of some things that used to matter and that I felt so insecure over. Even in terms of decluttering my house, a process you have been through also.

It's going to interesting growing older with my community of blogging friends of a certain age, many of whom made interesting comments on this post.
Hi Duchesse.
Mater tagged me in a meme and I am passing it on to you...I hope that you are able to participate. I'll be posting it this afternoon.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Social programs are always perceived along a continuum from generous to stingy, depending on who is assessing them. However, my post is not about that complex topic.

northmoon: Seems to me to be a real change, technology has brought communities of interest into possibility, much more than a generation ago.

hostess: I'll go see.
SewingLibrarian said…
Thank you for an informative and thoughtful post. With regard to your joke in the comments, I had to smile. The Chicago Sunday papers are available on Saturday! It always amuses me when my mother tells me my brother picked up the Sat and Sun papers for her on Sat afternoon!
Anonymous said…
Just what the doctor ordered. Thank your for this post.
Rubiatonta said…
Thank you for the wise words -- I'm filing them away for "later," whenever that is.

At not-quite-50, I'm actually not sure where I am in the menopause process. Because I've taken hormones to prevent menorrhagia for the last four years, it's harder to judge what's going on. But when I have my annual workups in May (I do all of the "female stuff" in my birthday month, so I don't forget anything), my doctor and I will be working out a plan of attack.

My advice for feeling vital (and not too complainy) is to have friends of all ages, not just in one's "decade" -- spending time with people who are much younger and much older has a wonderful way of widening and deepening one's perspective.

(And of course you know how I feel about NVC.)
Anonymous said…
I'm resigned to most aging signs but was disconcerted recently when I noticed my fingernails have developed vertical ridges. I've seen it described as "fingernail wrinkles". Hmphh!

Most dispiriting about reaching the 60s is the gradual loss of elders. Parents, aunts and uncles, family friends, mentors. I don't feel wise enough yet but the time is coming when we will be the oldest generation.
Duchesse said…
SewingLibrarian: How do they do that? :)

Rubi: friends of any age are important and I'm posting more on that soon.

Anonymous@ 5:51: Oh yes, the ridges! We lose our elders, and I miss them- and very sad to me is the loss of friends even younger than I am. When I hear women complain about their wrinkles or weight they cannot lose, I remember my friends who would have given anything to still be here.
Anonymous said…
Just posted in the wrong section about stockpiling. I re-read your balance post and it's excellent. I agree, the area most neglected in fitness and yet it vitally important as we age. Worth a direct link if you do another post on aging.
barbara said…
What a wonderful essay!
It was so good to be done with menstruation that I went through menopause without taking hormones.
Insomnia has been part of my life since childhood, but the hot flashes were annoying.
Although I began weight lifting in my 40ths I was diagnosed with osteoporis (genetic) and as a result I had three bone fractures.
What still makes me angry is the lost of stamina, but I try to be kind to myself an work on acceptance...
Sometimes I think of Dorothy Parker, looking into a mirror, asking herself "what fresh horror is this?", but mostly can take it all with a sense of humor.
barbara said…
Oh, and two tasty sources for Calcium are Parmigiano Reggiano and crushed Sesam Seeds.
Sesam is a daily part of my Yogurt/Muesli Mix.If you roast the Sesam, it tastes even better.
To crush it, ask your Asian Shop for a Sesam Mill(it's produced in Korea).
Duchesse said…
kathy peck: With over 700 posts on this blog, I can't remember many of them till I'm reminded!

barbara: Thanks for those sources of calcium, and as a bonus things I like. (Do sesame seeds on my bagel count?)
Susan Tiner said…
That was the other Susan who commented, not me, here is the real Susan T. Thank you for this excellent post. A lot of what you say has been true in my experience. I exercise a lot now and that seems to help with stamina, balance and arthritis pain, but unfortunately not weight loss.

One of the commenters mentioned focusing more on others. The opposite was true in my case, I was so focused on others I lost track of myself and the body/mind changes got the upper hand. A year later things are back on track but I'm more careful now about reserving the time I need to take care of myself.
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner: Oh, I've done it again and I'm sorry! Yes, figuring out where one's focus has been, and ought now to be, then *permitting the shift* is significant.

Losing my mother was painful, but a relief; her care was both complex and demanding. Am starting to write letters to myself about what to think about if I reach late elderhood, but of course my perspective could shift.
emma said…
An excellent list. Can I add a couple more changes? The appearance of spider veins! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw them by my ankle. Old Lady Legs!
So I started running and doing weights to keep active. And so discovered the second change - I sweat, and I do mean SWEAT when I exercise like never before!

I think you have a very wise book in all this...
Excellent advice, thank you! I wish my mother could have had the benefit of such advice. She had a really hard time going through menopause. Her doctor put her on HRT, which, in retrospect, did not really help matters at all.
Duchesse said…
emma: Yes, I have ever more evident veins, too- everywhere.

Louise: This post is abut what happens after menopause, because I found even more changes to cope with. HRT helped me dramatically during menopause, but there is some risk, and the protocol may not be effective for all women.

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