For the past 13 years I have been fortunate enough to do my dream job everyday. I am a “lady doctor” aka obstetrician gynecologist—I take care of female patients of all ages, managing issues that range from heavy irregular bleeding to hormonal imbalances to pelvic pain and anything else that pertains to ovaries, uteruses and vaginas.
Ironically enough, it was my schoolteacher mother who provided my first lessons on menopause, despite my having completed a reputable residency program after medical school. My mother’s menopause journey has been a treacherous one. In the beginning she’d often call me with questions ranging from “Why is my hair falling out?” to “When will these hot flashes end?” to “How can I get my energy back?” to “I’m hemorrhaging—is this normal?” Too preoccupied with balancing motherhood, surviving a failed marriage and starting a new practice, I often didn’t take my mother’s ordeal seriously.
But now, as I embark on my own menopause journey, I regret my initial nonchalance. If we could fast forward to the present day, we would see that I’ve successfully shed this nonchalance. In fact, my mother’s poor experience helped shaped the way I approached patient care for women transitioning through midlife. During this early phase in career and my mother’s menopausal stage, however, my would-be knowledge could do little to support her care.
As my mother journeyed through the beginning stages of menopause, despite going to a slew of gynecologists, internists and endocrinologists, her quality of life continued to worsen. Her hot flashes were debilitating, the mood swings were negatively impacting her personal and professional relationships and her personal appearance was affected by hair loss and weight gain. This constellation of symptoms resulted in depression. Looking back, I’m remorseful that I didn’t at least listen more. Most of her frustration could have been alleviated had someone taken the time to listen, address her concerns and develop a treatment plan that aligned with her preferences. This is a lesson I would learn through my gynecologic practice .
As the universe would have it, my new practice comprised a large percentage of women in midlife, which serendipitously launched my career in menopause. I made a commitment to do for women what no one seemed able to do for my mother. My popularity soared among midlife women on the southwest side of Chicago because I listened. I listened to every concern, complaint, fear, desire and I read up on everything I could find about menopause. Quickly, I learned that every woman’s menopause journey was unique and there was no cookie cutter treatment. Actually, it became apparent that patients valued the education more than the treatment. Many women felt better just knowing that what they were experiencing was a normal symptom of menopause.
To come full circle, one night I called my mom to tell her I thought I had tuberculosis. She very patiently asked me why. I relayed that I had started waking up drenched in sweat. In my very dramatic mind, I’d convinced myself that I was sick and dying. My mom laughed sweetly, and said, “Aren’t you the gynecologist…those are night sweats!” And here it begins!
Night sweats aren’t fun for anyone, but for a black woman who likes to wear her hair straight, they are a royal pain in the butt! My hair is the reason someone will have to pry the hormones out of my 90-year-old arthritic bedridden hands, which brings me to this: I’m slightly embarrassed (not really) to say that I am vain. Over the years, this fact has led me to religiously grill patients who come to see me and look fabulous for their age. I’m tactful about it, but quite strategic. Unbeknownst to them, I’ve based my recommendations for myself and for my practice on these observations. Since those early years in practice, I’ve stock piled my “menopause treatment arsenal.” Just in time to help guide me through this process. I came to WomanLab with the mission of sharing this very arsenal with all of you.
As I mentioned above, every woman’s experience is different. So while I cannot provide medical advice for everyone in this forum (more later on why we all should have a doctor we trust), I can share my own experience. The menopausal journey can be a rough road, but the tips I have gleaned from my mother, friends, and other doctors along the way has made all the difference. This series is my take—both clinical and personal—and my fountain of youth. Stay with me for more on…
- Nutrition and exercise
- Mental wellness
- The importance of having a doctor you trust
- And, of course, sex, menopause, and how all of the above can contribute to maintenance or restoration of sexual function
Edited by Leilani Douglas