As a child, periods were known as "The Curse". There weren't any advertisements for feminine hygiene products on television or advertisements for erectile dysfunction and the word "menopause" never came up except in whispered, cryptic communications. My own mother's menopause experience seemed to be such an awful, dramatic event that disrupted not only her life, but also the lives of everyone in the family. The mood swings were the worst. One minute she would be smiling and laughing, the next either crying or screaming with anger. So, as I approached my own menopause, these images terrorized me as what I believed my own reality held.

Menopause is defined as the cessation of bleeding for 12 consecutive months. That is the end point. The years of leading up to this are what is termed "peri menopause". Peri-menopause can last up to 10 years. These are the years of rapid change. Spiritual, physical and emotional change. This is because during peri menopause fluctuations in hormones can cause all matter of alarming symptoms. Especially when the woman has not been taught or learned how to understand what is going on in her own body.

The two hormones responsible for a woman's reproductive system from puberty, through the years of fertility, until menopauses are estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones tend to balance one another out. If this balance is off, the body undergoes hormonal stress, and many symptoms can develop. These include extreme P.M.S., decreased sex drive, irritability, insomnia, loss of vaginal lubrication and elasticity, headaches, backaches, dry skin and hair, hot flashes, weight fluctuations, and arthritic symptoms.

Estrogen is a hormone that is produced by the ovaries all month long. It peaks just before ovulation and just after the period. There are estrogen receptors throughout a woman's body: bone, brain, blood vessels and cholesterol are all influenced by estrogen levels.

This hormone is also produced by the ovaries but only after ovulation and is maintained during pregnancy. It too has receptors throughout the body. It can have the effect of sedation, mild pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties.

Estrogen levels may vary with a woman's weight, as they are stored in fat cells. These alternations may cause a woman's weight to fluctuate an additional 20 pounds up or down with the variation of estrogen.

Estrogen dominance is the most common hormone imbalance. This may lead to breast tenderness and bloating, mood swings, sleep problems, cycle changes, low libido, hot flashes and foggy thinking. Estrogen dominance can be avoided by keeping your blood sugars balanced, maintaining a healthy weight, and the use of herbal supplements.

Herbs associated with helping with estrogen balance include:
Soy, Black Cohosh, Red Clover and Chaste Tree Berry.

Herbs for irritability and sleeplessness are:
Kava Kava, Chamomile, Catnip, Hops, Oats, Motherwort, Passionflower, Valerian, and St. John's Wort.

Lack of sex drive may be influenced by Passionberry tincture.

Vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy:
These problems are common and should not be ignored, whether a woman is sexually active or not. These tender tissues need to be kept plump and moist. The balance of hormones through exercise, diet and herbal remedies. Prescription creams are available. Unlike hormone replacement therapies, these creams have no negative side effects.

Adrenal gland fatigue:
The adrenal glands often become stressed with hormonal changes. Reducing the intake of sugar and stimulants such as caffeine, a healthy diet, exercise, and vitamin and herbal supplements can help this. Vitamins C, the B complex, especially B5 are particularly beneficial.

Hormone Replacement Therapies
There are many pros and cons of hormone replacement therapies, or HRT, as well as many differing opinions about their use. In studies, estrogen prescribed alone without progesterone has been linked to many serious health issues including heart attacks. Estrogen and progesterone prescribed together have been shown to have far less health risks. But, there are still some concerns. Women with high blood pressure, a history of blood clots, high cholesterol or smokers are at higher risk of developing health problems while on HRT.

As with all use of vitamins and herbs, using these listed should be discussed with a woman's physician. The decision whether or not to use HRT can be discussed with one's physician who can further elaborate upon the pros and cons as well as the risks verses the benefits. Ultimately, the choice of whether to use HRT belongs with the woman herself.

I personally choose the use of HRT therapies when I went to my gynecologist with a laundry list of symptoms including irritability, being overly emotional, hot flashes, migraine headaches and night sweats so severe I could wring sweat out of my sheets. I used a combination of estrogen and progesterone for 3 years of peri menopause and one year after menopause began. For me it was the right choice, primarily for financial reasons. My insurance would pay for the prescription HRT, but I would have had to pay for any herbal or vitamin supplements out of my own pocket. I did use a high quality B Complex, an amino acids supplement and an antioxidant tablet which included supplements such as vitamins C and E.

Once one understands the physical issues around menopause and the array of the proactive measures you can take, what are left are the fear and the insecurity around the word "menopause".

A woman's body moves in cycles like the seasons. In many ancient cultures these phases were termed the Maiden, the Mother and The Crone in some variation. The word "Crone" brings up negative connotations to our modern ears, but in the past, the Crone was the Wise-Woman. When our bodies begin to prepare us for this aspect of ourselves as The Wise-Woman, we may become self-absorbed because of the fluctuations and shifts in our bodies. We may become irritable and blow things out of proportion. Cry easily. Mourn the loss of our youth and the inability to have a child, whether we want one or not. Become overly angry at even small transgressions
However, looked at another way, all these things can be taken as opportunities. A time to reflect and reevaluate our lives and figure out what is truly important and what is just excess baggage that can be let go of for our own personal growth into a true Wise Woman. During contemplation we may find things that are depleting or demeaning to our spirits….and have the ability to let them go once and for while. That insomnia that keeps you awake can be an opportunity to search our souls under the stars and the moon.

For me, menopause has been an amazingly freeing experience. Since puberty, when I first became "boy crazy", the drive to find a mate had over run my drives for education, career, artistic pursuits-everything but finding a male partner. Menopause released me of that obsession, driven by my hormones. I now feel like I did as a child of 10 years of age. All those dreams of writing, learning about other cultures, having a dog as a life partner and best friend, renewing my fascination at the wonders of the sciences like archeology, the Universe, the miracle of the atom and how life began on planet Earth. I taught myself how to watercolor at age 50 though I was told since childhood I couldn't "do". I have 60,000 words of a rough draft of a novel written. I am teaching myself Tai Chi and take belly-dancing lessons. Both physical activities I would have never had the self-esteem or self-confidence before. I delight in my grandchildren and bask in the pride I feel for my son.

With this new/old childlike innocence I have explored my spirituality and found my place in the Universe.