Our Bodies, Our Lives
By Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen
When, on earth, do we have time to nurture ourselves? Between loads of laundry, field trips, college applications, ailing parents and dinner? Women ask us this question every day.
It’s difficult to answer. But we know, despite the screaming of children, the ringing of the phone and the dinging of incoming emails, we must take time to find answers.
Success can come from eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a close network of friends, finding reward in daily work — or changing what we do — and pouring out extra love even when our “feel-good” hormones are lower than they’ve ever been.
Estrogen, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine all decrease with age. For some women, replacing those hormones or medicating deficiencies is needed and, for that, we have a host of safe, viable options. For others, the natural state of aging can be managed without even noticing — really.
So many of our patients have overcome incredible odds — broken marriages, single-parenting, abuses of vast and horrific proportions.
We tell them this is your time. Something has brought each of them to a place where they are asking for help. Trying to be everything to everybodyis wearing them thin.
As we age and our hormones transition, there is a real and measurable shift from nurturing others to nurturing ourselves, documented by the changing chemicals in our brain. When we discover the effect those chemicals have on our behavior, we can learn when to trust the instincts they propagate and, hopefully, when not to. Sometimes the things we load on our to-do lists legitimately need to be done and on schedule. Sometimes they don’t. Maturity, wisdom, life experience and gut instincts help those of us at midlife to know the difference.
More than 65 percent of divorces after the age of 50 are the decision of the female spouse. Some of these are women who have finally decided to put themselves first.
Louann Brizendine, author of “The Female Brain,” explains that after the tumultuous years of peri-menopause, the mature brain stabilizes and women are better able to process and manage emotions. We aren’t about the drama anymore. The monthly ebb and flow that continually changed throughout our teen and reproductive years is finally replaced with a new kind of calm, focused sensibility.
A sense of accomplishment outside the home becomes more important to women during this transition, and those with rewarding careers have better self-acceptance and independence. They function more effectively and report better physical health. If a woman does not yet have a career or independent interests, this is the time that allows her the freedom and self-confidence to pursue those dreams.
If she has not been “allowed” the time in her busy life to know those dreams, she can finally sit back and consider her own wants, needs, desires and pursuit of something more fulfilling. This is her time. Everyone else has learned to wipe their own bums, make their own coffee, complete their own class assignments, serve their own dinner and get a drive to practice. If not, they need to.
The average age of menopause is 51 years, with the onset of hormonal shifts in the early 40s. Nearly 50 million women in the United States are between 40 and 60 years of age. It is time for us to rewrite the rules. We need to redefine our relationships, revamp our identity, respond to the very real rewiring of our brains and reignite our passions, whatever they may be.
.Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women's sexual, gynecological and emotional health. Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen are gynecologists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more information at utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.