Is It Menopause or Am I Pregnant?: A 45 Year-Old Mom Learns To Love Menstruation


Being a middle-aged woman is the best! Besides the fact that you can literally hurt your back sleeping wrong, you now get to ask yourself the fun question: is it menopause or am I pregnant? 

I recently found myself anxiety-eating an entire box of popsicles while vacillating between crying and obsessively checking my phone to see if it magically knew what was wrong with me. News flash: it didn’t.

I had all the symptoms of my period, but no period. Could I be *gasp* pregnant? As much as I love my kids, having another is just not in my very tired life plan right now. A cursory Google search told me that I sure could be pregnant or just experiencing the beginning of perimenopause. Um, say what now?

is it menopause or am i pregnant
Not bothering with one of these!

Calling my doctor or getting a pregnancy test was just too logical a solution for my angst. I love spending time contorted with hormone-induced anxiety! It wasn’t until I got my usually super-punctual period almost ten days late that I was able to celebrate by joyfully wolfing down another box of popsicles while hiding from my kids. 

Sorry, Mama’s going through something and popsicles are on sale at Costco. Now scram.

Want to know a mind-blowing fact? Roughly 1.8 billion people menstruate every month in the world. BILLION.

That means that around 300 million others are surfing the red sea with me today as I write this, but shh. Let’s keep that a secret. Hide away your tampons, cups, and period underwear! Don’t want to upset those sensitive menfolk by talking about menstruation, menopause, or pregnancy. Might disrupt their delicate sensibilities. Or their conversations about controlling female reproduction. Whoops! I’ve said too much already. 

Sadly, that isn’t even a joke. The first thing a menstruating person learns, after how to manage monthly bleeding, is how to soundlessly hide a sanitary product in your sleeve or pocket so you can manage your unmentionables when you’re not at home. Because how dare anyone see your sanitary products. That’s gross! It’s also a big part of how we teach women to feel shame around our bodies and men that they can control us.

So, instead of hiding, let’s all start wearing sanitary product jewelry! Tampon earrings. A Diva Cup necklace. A scarf made of period underwear. It’s practical, empowering, and a little menacing. Sounds perfect! (Or for something even better, try these gorgeous uterus earrings from Soul Simone. They will send a very empowered message, and in gold!)

is it menopause or am i pregnant
Uterus jewelry for the win

We’ve become a society that wants to hide this natural bodily function like we are mortified by what our bodies can do.

I’ll admit that I’m sometimes reluctant to talk about the onset of menopause or even just menstruation in general with some of my fellow mom acquaintances. Even though at this point, I’m pretty sure our cycles have synced and we all have our periods at the same time. 

There were only a few very close mom friends that I could frantically ask in between bites of popsicle: is it menopause?

I’m also willing to bet that if a biological man had blood coming out of his nether regions for five to seven days every single month, and was experiencing cramps akin to a heart attack, everyone would hear about it. Often. Cramps would be a legit reason to miss work and period lounges with heated massage chairs, salty and sweet snacks, punching bags, and nap cubbies would be built to accommodate all the rampant menstruating bros.

Whether we want to admit it or not, many people’s lives revolve around menstruation. 

a woman with a calendar in her hands is it menopause

My period has been on my mind for about two weeks every month for the last thirty-plus years. I’m hormonal (i.e. easy to piss off but equally tired and clouded with brain fog) the week leading up to it, and cramp-filled and bleeding the week of it. I wish I knew more about menstruating than what I’ve learned from the internet or my period app.

But what I really lack is information about that very hidden subject of the end of menstruation, or menopause. 

The reality here is that for most menstruating folks, when Aunt Flo doesn’t come for a visit, we ask ourselves if we could be pregnant. This question is repeated for the majority of our adult lives, even when we get an x-ray at the dentist, have a mammogram, or get a routine check up, until the question feels routine. 

Then suddenly, there’s a new question we’ll eventually be asking ourselves every month if our period is even a second late: is it menopause?

And if you’re not in it now, you will be. That sweet spot where you could be pregnant or beginning menopause. Either is reasonable! Take a guess! Bring the super absorbency products and snacks! 

After I had my first baby at the geriatric age of 38, I got my period back within two months. Even though I was cosleeping and exclusively breastfeeding on demand like an exhausted cow. Fine, period. Be that way. With my second, who I had days before turning the elderly age of 40, I got my period back so fast I called the midwives because I thought something was wrong. Turns out, I’m just one of those lucky gals whose period couldn’t bear to stay away any longer. I told you it’s usually very regular. A nine-month pause was apparently too much for it to handle. 

But now that I’m very firmly in my “Middle-Age-Mom-Era,” I thought I was an expert-level menstruater. When you do something every month for three decades, you get to know it pretty well, right? Wrong. 

Because there I was, obsessively Googling “Is it menopause, or am I pregnant.” Did you know that pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause all have basically the same symptoms? This means for many people, our 40s become the optimal time for a super fun guessing game to play while hormonal and hopped up on popsicles: period, pregnancy, or menopause? No wonder I feel crabby. 

I thought I understood my cycles and hormones at this point in my life. Apparently, menstruation is like an infant, once you get one stage figured out it’s on to the next indecipherable, tantrum-filled stage. 

I should also confess that I don’t know the difference between perimenopause and menopause. I’ve heard through the old-lady-grapevine that perimenopause is the lead-up to menopause. But it isn’t menopause until you miss your period for an entire year. Say what now? Does that mean I’ll be playing the “Am I pregnant or is it menopause” game for an entire year or more? I need a giant nap just thinking about this prospect. 

I thought getting pregnant after forty was about as possible as riding a golden unicorn backward over a glittery rainbow. Or having a weekend without a kids’ birthday party or soccer game to attend. You know, nearly impossible. 

I’ve come to find out that as long as you’re still bleeding, you’re still fertile. Look at Alanis Morissette. She had a surprise third baby at age 45. So did a whole slew of other women I read about who were equally shocked by what is very rudely called a “late-in-life baby.” There is literally no rest for the weary mom.

In my life, I’ve had months of hoping to get my period and months of hoping to not get my period. 

I’ve had times of such intense worry about my period that I could’ve powered a small steam engine on my anxiety alone. All heightened by that super fun hormone roller coaster. 

What makes it even harder now is that I suddenly don’t know what’s coming for me or when it will even arrive. I still don’t know the answer to the question, is it menopause? Perimenopause? I know I’m not pregnant, but maybe now I’m perimenopausal? Whatever that means.

a maxi pad with a heart in the middle. is it menopause
Why aren’t all sanitary products so beautiful?

So, how can we talk about this more? How can we disrupt polite society to add frank and honest conversations around menstruation and menopause? I can talk about it with the other witches in my coven… I mean, my friends, but if they haven’t gone through perimenopause or menopause yet either, then all of our information comes from that maniac Dr. Google, who clearly needs to have his license revoked. (Stop scaring moms, Dr. Google, you jerk!)  

As of now, I’m going to try and talk more about it with the women in my life. I’m also going to avoid frantic internet searching around the question is it menopause? Instead, every time I ovulate I’ll just slip brochures about vasectomies onto my husband’s pillow and stock up on popsicles. I heard they can be helpful during hot flashes. 

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