Personal Essay: My Biological Alarm Was Ringing and I Hit Snooze

Jan. 12, 2006 — -- I sat in my doctor's exam room, anxious and on the verge of tears as the nurse made light conversation. I told her I was concerned that I hadn't had but one period in about 14 months. The nurse rolled her eyes comically: "Oh, isn't that great? I can't wait until that happens to me!"

I asked if she'd had all the children she wanted. Her tone switched, realizing her faux pas. She had three children and was happy with that. "Well," I said, "I have just one and was hoping for another." She mumbled an apology, then quickly reverted to her cheery, professional tone.

Having had a trouble-free pregnancy at age 35, I assumed I would be able to have another child a couple of years later. When, at 38, my periods stopped, I chalked it up to stress. But when they didn't return, I finally went to see a doctor.

A week later I received a call from the same nurse with whom I'd dealt upon my visit. She told me in a casual, almost breezy tone, "Well, you're definitely postmenopausal."

I was dumbstruck. "Oh," was the only response I could muster.

"But that's good news, isn't it?" she asked, "I can't wait for my periods to end." I couldn't even pretend to agree.

In the next couple of months I fought with depression, swinging from shell shock to vehement denial. When I collapsed into tears, my husband, Bill, held me and searched my eyes for the course I wanted to take. My parents and my sister expressed deep empathy and offered support. Two or three friends really mourned with me and shared in my sorrow.

But I was most shocked by the scores of women, some close to me, others not, who considered me lucky to no longer have to worry about periods or birth control. I now know, and can assure anyone who thinks otherwise, that menopause does not simply herald the end of messy menstrual cycles and pesky fertility.

Whether a woman has had one child or 10, losing the gift of bearing children is heartbreaking. And considering all the health problems that go along with menopause, I would gladly have my periods back.

Now when I look in the mirror I see gray hair, lines around my eyes, expanding thighs and a disappearing waistline. I know that eventually I will adjust to the image of myself through the lens of this newfound knowledge, but until then my perception is decidedly warped. Being told I am postmenopausal makes me feel suddenly old.

I know how blessed I am. I had a child with no trouble. It could be that, had I waited another year, we would not have our son, and I am so grateful for him. Also, my friends tell me that I look great, but there is nothing like having to worry about osteoporosis to make a 39-year-old woman feel ancient.

There is no cure for POF, but awareness is key. Had I acted more quickly and not assumed my lack of periods was stress induced, we might have had a second child. It is very common for women of all ages, when periods stop, to chalk it up to stress and not see a doctor. Our doctors may have our best interests at heart, but that doesn't mean that they'll think of everything. Our questions may trigger them to pursue an avenue they hadn't considered.

And last, support is of the essence. Go online to the International Ovarian Failure Association ( or find a POF or menopause support group in your area. With more information available, there is less reason for anyone to suffer alone the effects of this mysterious ailment.