Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Menopause Journal: Is it a hot flash or global warming?

Menopause Symptoms and Causes

Identifying the symptoms and causes may be easier for well-organized, down-to-earth sorts, but that's not the only mystery of menopause. Maybe because it's talked about in whispers or not well researched. Maybe because it's a relatively new phenomenon ? until the last few generations most women died before they reached the cessation of the menses. So measurements and documentation are fuzzy. For instance, how long before the last period does menopause begin or is it perimenopausal until then? Does it end with that last period or is that the beginning? What's the difference between menopausal and postmenopausal? And how do you know? I think I'm confused.

I haven't researched the subject. I've been too busy. My mother never talked about it. My work as a mediator doesn't lend itself to such discussion, and conversations with friends center on work or real life. My friends are busy being teachers, accountants, real-estate agents, counselors or running businesses - an antique shop, a beauty parlor, a dog-grooming service.

Most of us still tend to family in some way: husbands, children at home or in college or moved back in, grandbabies and elderly relatives. Kate is getting married next month. Terry's looking for the right man. She dances every weekend and pilots a plane. Jane gardens and does abstract paintings. And I sail.

Are we so busy that we don't have time to notice what's happening with our bodies or could it be denial? Menopause doesn't have a great reputation. It's not like the budding of breasts or the growing bulge of a belly filled with child, those prized symbols of fertility for which women have been valued.

I remember one Mother's Day my children decorated the house with ancient potatoes that had been buried in the cupboard. They had sprouted a number of 5- to 8-inch "eyes," but the potatoes themselves were totally shriveled, used up. The kids explained that these potatoes were like mothers giving of themselves for the sake of their children. At the time, I thought my children insightful and grateful. But I don't want to be a shriveled potato.

It's not just vanity. It's the fear of being used up, of being discarded. So, it's tempting to try to hide menopause or treat it as an illness to be conquered. For now, however, in the spirit of adventure rather than embarrassment, I'll try to figure out where I am on this menopausal journey. If perimenopause leads up to the final menstrual period, I've been there for a while and it's not that bad. But, sometimes, at night I awaken and throw off all the covers.