The Challenges of Premature Menopause in Your 30s - Stella
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5 mins

The unique challenges of premature menopause in your 30s

byIsabel Mohan

Isabel, an award-winning writer and media consultant, knew that genetically an early menopause was likely on the cards for her. What she wasn’t prepared for was how hard it would hit. With a young family and a demanding job to cope with, things got a bit hairy when she started experiencing symptoms in her late thirties. Here’s how she managed… 

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The clock had always been ticking. When I met my husband, I was 30 and he was 28, but it wasn’t long before I told him “My mum went through menopause at 36, and I really want kids, so if you like me then you need to knock me up before I’m 35. Wait, come back!” 

I started feeling weird at 38, just a few months after I’d stopped breastfeeding our second child (yes, my evil impregnation plot worked; our kids are now 6 and 4), but I was pretty sure I knew what was happening. My periods, mood and sex drive went WILD, like my body was furiously hurling eggs out from a great height, and I was suddenly spending all of my disposable income on anti-ageing potions after previously being a face wipes and concealer kind of girl. 

But just because I knew what was happening didn’t mean I knew what to do. So, a couple of years on, here are a few things I’ve learned about going through menopause in your 30s…  

Not everything is the pandemic’s fault

It wasn’t long into my perimenopause plight that Covid reared its ugly head. I thought I was a stressed out, exhausted, emotional wreck with zero ability to concentrate because I was working full-time from home in a brand new job while my kids sprinkled breadstick crumbs onto my MacBook, but it turns out that my raging hormones were likely making lockdown a whole lot worse too. At various points I found myself feeling blind rage towards my husband, my kids, my son’s school, my colleagues and quite a few random people on social media. 

After spending most of my life thinking that mental health was something that only affected other people, I also started having terrifying panic attacks and fantasising about running away.” 

Once I’d started on HRT, the panic attacks stopped and I just felt a manageable amount of pissed off with it all. Funny that. Read more about rage and menopause.

Some doctors DO take premature and early menopause seriously

I’ve heard tons of stories of women who haven’t felt listened to when they’ve rocked up at the surgery struggling to cope with menopause symptoms in their 30s, so I want to highlight that it isn’t always the case. My GP is amazing.

As soon as I explained the strong family history of premature menopause on the maternal side – my sister, auntie and gran all went through it in their thirties, along with my mum – my GP took my symptoms seriously. She sent me for tests and squeezed me in for elusive in-person appointments. Initially, we just kept an eye on things but by spring 2021 my symptoms became unmanageable. So I agreed to try HRT, feeling informed, supported and positive. My periods were so frequent and furious that I’d had to start taking iron tablets.

My mood swings were off the scale, I couldn’t focus on anything and the hot sweats had kicked in.”

I’d advise anyone struggling to be heard to seek a second opinion if they can (I would also advise them to join my surgery but then I’d never be able to get an appointment). My doctor can’t be the only brilliant one out there.

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Annoyingly, fertility really can jump off a cliff

I’d fallen pregnant with our daughter the very same day we decided we’d quite like a second child, and yet two years later, I was told my hormones were in the decidedly menopausal range and it was virtually impossible for me to be fertile.

I had definitely imagined more of a slow decline, but premature menopause – the medical definition of which is before 40, while “early menopause” is considered to be before 45 – tends to be quite accelerated. You can go from full fertility to menstrual mayhem in the blink of an eye, just like the scaremongers warn you, dammit. It feels a bit like that scene in Notting Hill where all the seasons change in quick succession – if Notting Hill was a horror film.

It’s hard being a pioneer for menopause in your 30s

Being the first of my friends to go through menopause (in my 30s!) hasn’t been easy. I’m a very communicative person (yes, this is a euphemism for “never shuts the hell up”) but feeling like I’m at a different life stage has sometimes been a bit isolating. While a lot of my mates in their late thirties and early forties are still moaning about PMT and debating whether or not to have another child, I’m out there on my own, rubbing Estrogel into my thighs late at night and reading The Shift.   

Because of this, when I come across people in the same boat – a slightly older school mum, for instance – it’s TMI overload and my enthusiasm for discussing my mood swings and rollercoaster periods knows no bounds. This is where online communities have been a massive help too, and why apps like Stella are so crucial. I know that even for people going through a “normal” menopause, it can feel, at best, a bit embarrassing and, at worst, lonely and stigmatising. I’m so grateful for all the groups, forums, webinars, books, experts and apps that are now out there, uniting us when we’re feeling low, answering every question we could possibly have and busting taboos. 

I’m also patiently holding out for 2032 when my close mates are in the thick of it, and I can be the calm, perfectly balanced one, dispensing wisdom and cold flannels while they all lose their minds.

Exercise can change (almost) everything

Menopause isn’t the only huge transition I’ve been through over the past couple of years – I’ve also become a massive fitness bore after barely moving for the best part of 40 years. Around the same time the symptoms first began, I started experiencing an unfamiliar urge to exert myself and when I told my aforementioned awesome GP about this she said I had effectively been self-medicating with exercise. 

A couple of years on, my body has changed dramatically and I no longer have to take the blood pressure medication I’d been on since my first pregnancy. Alongside the HRT, I use running and strength training to keep feeling happy and healthy and, while I was definitely hit hard by irregular periods and even more irregular moods, most of the other main menopause symptoms have passed me by. Is it linked? I’ll never know for sure, but the possibility that it might be is a great motivation to keep lifting weights, signing up for half marathons and boring the pants off everyone on Instagram. 

My mum isn’t always right

One of the hardest things about all this has been explaining to my mum that I’d decided to try HRT. My mum is a very loving, kind and understanding person, but like a lot of women from her generation, she’s convinced that everyone who goes down the HRT route will get cancer – while admitting that she breezed through menopause herself and so can’t relate to feeling the need for it. Read more about the HRT debate.

I’ve sent her all the latest research, told her to watch the Davina documentary and, now that I’m about a year into being bang on the hormones, she has conceded that it was clearly the right decision for me…mainly because I no longer phone up every week sobbing that I can’t cope. I firmly believe that HRT is the only reason I’ve managed to hold down a career and a family, and that’s got to be my priority at this age.  

I am very lucky

There’s so much pressure on women to tick off various milestones before 40 and the possibility of early menopause in your 30s only adds to the oppressive doom. I know how lucky I am to have had my children before my hormones went haywire, but it very easily might not have been the case. I can only imagine how hard it is when it doesn’t line up.

I guess one day I’ll have to delicately explain to my daughter that, potential scientific advances aside, if she really wants kids she might need to get a wriggle on, but for now I’m grateful that we can just talk about Frozen and who her best friend is that day.

But…it’s not always a hot flush

While I am beyond grateful for my children, biologically I’m pretty sure menopause is supposed to line up with kids being in their teens and twenties. You know, when they’re semi-functioning humans who don’t want to touch you all the time or sleep with your nose in their mouth. I’m sure dealing with puberty and menopause in the same household has its challenges, but I refuse to believe it can be as bad as dealing with a toddler and menopause in the same house (IN A PANDEMIC!) 

This was perfectly illustrated towards the start of my menopause journey when I was in bed with my terminally sleep-resistant daughter, who was then potty training. I woke up to find my back and bum drenched in what I thought was sweat, only to realise she had, in fact, wet the bed. Yep, those menopause continence dramas are real. They’re just not happening to me.

Read more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.

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