By Lori Hewlett, as told to Michele Jordan
After teaching elementary school for more than 30 years, I have embraced this season of life with open arms. I know it’s not like that for some, but I have learned some lessons that I try to pass on to women as they go through “the change.”
A Welcome Surprise
I started menopause somewhat on the earlier side. I taught school for over 30 years and began menopause during my teaching career. I was about 45 years old, and I remember seeing the afternoon teacher (I taught morning kindergarten) fanning herself while I too was fanning myself! After talking for a bit, we realized we were both going through menopause.
At first, I didn’t connect my night sweats to menopause. I figured it was due to the tea I had before bed or that the house was just warm. I tend to be on the colder side, so being hot was different for me. I would even take my temperature, thinking maybe I was sick.
Insomnia was also a challenge during that time. I thought it was from stress on the job or from just being a busy mom. I remember taking an allergy medication when I couldn’t sleep. Back then, they said you could take sinus medication if you needed to sleep. I’m not sure that’s what doctors recommend now, but it helped me.
I was thankful because I had moderate hot flashes and night sweats, but they weren’t as bad as some of my friends. They actually weren’t as bad as my mother’s hot flashes, either. I recall seeing sweat drip down her face when she was going through menopause.
I didn’t talk to my doctor a lot about my symptoms other than the time my period lasted 2 weeks. She put me on birth control for a while to get that stopped. She didn’t offer any other medications, but I don’t think I would have been open to them anyway. I didn’t want to use hormones because I had read about some of the side effects and risks.
I’m thankful I didn’t have a long list of symptoms other than hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia. My toughest symptoms were during my periods where I’d have terrible cramps, mood swings, and the full list. By the time menopause rolled around, I was somewhat happy to be done with periods and all that.
Learning to Manage
Those menopause days (and for me, it lasted about 3 years) were manageable because I kept busy. My students needed me. My family needed me. I had to take my sons around to various practices. Continuing to work helped me. It kept me occupied and kept my mind on other things. I also had the support of my husband and sons before, during, and after menopause. Having a support system has made a difference.
At the end of the day, however, I know I have control over how I treat my body. I started getting somewhat serious about my health when I was younger. But, like a lot of people, I was inconsistent with working out and eating healthy.
Right around the time I turned 60, I retired and found myself sitting around, feeling sorry for myself. Then, I told myself I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to make a change. Someone told me about CrossFit. I tried it, and I loved it! I started off with 2 days a week and increased to 4 days, all the way up until when the gym closed during the pandemic. I didn’t let that stop me. My son talked to me about an exercise bike, and I started using one. My husband and I got a rower. Sometimes life happens, and exercise is the last thing on my list, but I know how very important it is.
Eating healthier is also a focus. I’ve done my best to cut down on sugar, excess salt, and red meat. I also do my best to drink lots of water. I’ve become very health conscious. My preference has always been to try the natural approach to health. I’m thankful I didn’t need hormone replacement therapy when going through menopause.
Wise Words for Younger Women
When I was teaching and taking care of my husband and two sons, I didn’t have time to notice everything my body was going through during menopause. Much of the mental impact came later. That was a big reason I got into exercise. I found myself feeling unhappy with all kinds of excuses about why I couldn’t focus on my health. But I knew it wasn’t right and that I had to do something. I’m really beginning to enjoy this retirement life.
For women going through menopause – especially those having a tough time – I encourage them to talk to their doctor. If that doctor isn’t listening, it’s OK to get a second opinion. Pay close attention to your symptoms.
My biggest piece of advice is to do your best to enjoy the ride. You do come out on the other side, and the weather is beautiful. My family kept me going. My students kept me going, also. Watching a child go from not knowing how to read or write to being able to spell their name or read a story was amazing. It reminded me that everything is a process. You just have to keep going.
Photo Credit: E+ / Getty Images
Lori Hewlett, 67, retired elementary school teacher, Pomona, CA.