I am just about reaching the end of my third cycle of HRT. Already I am struck by that word: cycle. I didn’t plan it this way, but it seems I have timed my monthly bleed to coincide with the full moon. The wolf moon was the first, the snow moon the second. Now, the worm moon approaches, the last full moon before the winter equinox. It is the moon that brings to an end the darkness of winter and heralds a new cycle of life. Traditionally, the worm moon is associated with fertility and renewal. And what an apt metaphor it is for me. HRT has given me renewed energy, banished the darkness of my angry moods, and has brightened my outlook on life.
It was something of a shock to bleed again. Yet, dare I say it? It was strangely uplifting to see the spots of blood staining my underwear, as though I was reconnecting with something I had not even realised I had lost. There is something comforting about shedding the womb lining and I had forgotten that menstrual blood has a kind of sweetness in the scent of it. As if it knows that it is meant to nurture and support.
I was always one of those women who found a strange comfort in the menstrual cycle. In the pattern and rhythm of it. Yet it had taken me months to truly understand the absence of it in my life, and the accompanying grief for the loss of my fertile years, even if I did not long for another child. However, I was all too acutely aware of the debilitating symptoms that accompanied peri-menopause, from the hot flushes, the insomnia, and a a weariness that seemed to fill the very marrow of my bones.
In just a few months with HRT all of that seems to have been reversed. No more waking up at 4am, boiling hot, throwing off all of the blankets to then wake two hours later freezing cold. I have an energy that I have been lacking for months – although whether that is because I am finally sleeping again, or because there is some sort of witchery about the hormones, who can say? Yet so many women are adamant that I should not be using hormones, that I should instead take “supplements” and embrace a natural way to manage the almost unbearable symptoms of peri-menopause that I was experiencing. (Reader, I was already taking all the recommended supplements).
While everyone is entitled to find their own path through the maze that is the menopause experience, I find it infuriating that women are encouraged to abandon medical solutions to health issues. And at the same time, it is just too depressingly familiar. Almost from the moment our bodies hit puberty, they becomes a commodity that the entire world seems to have an opinion on, and this is particularly insidious when it comes to the question of our reproductive health.
We are encouraged to “enjoy” natural childbirth, forgetting our long history of maternal death, the inherent danger that childbirth poses. Yet we are told not to take painkillers, that the pain is natural, that we can somehow bear it because it is a good kind of pain. Women who suffer from endometriosis or other reproductive health issues can also have the added indignity of having their pain minimised, or dismissed by medical professionals who are supposed to support and help us – not dismiss our pain as a product of our overworked imaginations. We are told to try and breastfeed even when to do so is a torture to us – it will be OK if we just persevere.
In 1591, a midwife names Agnes Simpson was burned the stake. Her crime – attempting to alleviate the pains of childbirth by administering an opium or laudanum. It was an abhorrent way to die, being punished for trying to help ease a woman’s pain.
Yet here we are, nearly half a century later, and people still try to discourage us from reaping the benefit of the medical and scientific advances that can spare us our pain, or even save our lives. Don’t have pain relief when you give birth, that is what we are encouraged to do. But why? A mother should be able to choose to have it or not without the whole of society weighing in to have an opinion on her choice over how she manages the pain that her body must endure. Don’t have HRT, I was told. It is unnatural, “they” say. Again, I should be able to make an informed choice with my medical practitioner without having the whole of the world judge me for doing so, tell me I will end up with cancer, or telling me that I just need to take a few vitamins. I do not need the world judging me. Women do not need the world to tell them how to live their lives.
HRT has been nothing but positive to me. I have had my review with my doctor and we both agree that it is working for me. That is all I need. It works for me.