What is the perimenopause?
A woman officially enters the menopause when she has not had a menstrual period for over 12 months. The perimenopause is the stage before that the transitional period between the fertile years and the menopause. This period can take a few years, and it is at this point that women will start noticing changes in their menstrual cycle and their body. A woman experiencing the perimenopause might have the following symptoms:
- Changes in menstrual periods you may have periods less often, and they can be heavier or lighter than before. They last shorter or longer, but something will definitely be happening.
- You may have those infamous hot flashes, and night sweats.
- Mood swings are another common menopause symptom.
- You may be gaining weight, especially in the abdominal area.
- Heart palpitations are a side effect for some folks too.
Trying to conceive during the perimenopause
Your typical woman enters the perimenopause in her mid- to late forties, but some women have an early menopause and may realize they are going through the perimenopause in their thirties or even earlier. Whether a woman is late in her wish to become a mom, or she entered the menopause early, some perimenopausal women would like to get pregnant. Generally speaking, women are most fertile in their late teens to mid twenties. At this point, only seven percent of women who are actively trying for a baby will face fertility problems. By a woman's early forties, she will have big chance that she will not be able to conceive naturally as much as 29 percent of women over 40 who are trying to conceive will be infertile. By the time they reach the perimenopause, conceiving becomes almost impossible. Almost impossible is very different to actually impossible though, and perimenopausal women do get pregnant sometimes! If you hope to be among them, you can arm yourself with ovulation tests and try to catch one of those last eggs that you have.
But of course, perimenopausal women are nearly at the end of their egg supply. You will certainly increase your chances of getting pregnant if you approach a fertility clinic and discuss your options. In your case, jumping straight to IVF isn't too much of a precaution, though you'll need to discuss the specifics with your doctor.
Post-menopausal fertility treatment?
Have you read the stories about women who became mothers after they went through the menopause? You've probably heard about the 68 year old Romanian woman, and the 72 Indian woman who gave birth to children after receiving IVF treatment. The Romanian was a single mother by choice who waited a little too long, while the Indian already had daughters but "needed" a son too. More recently, a 58 year old British woman was approved for IVF treatment "in principle". She would normally have been deemed too old, but she already had a daughter conceived through IVF, and her partner is 11 years younger.
Of course, debates are always ongoing about the ethics of becoming a mother after the menopause. On the practical side of things, when you are postmenopausal, you will need to use donor eggs to get pregnant. That means that any children you have through these fertility treatments will not be your biological children. It also means you will have to look for an egg donor, perhaps abroad because postmenopausal women are rarely approved in western countries.
Perimenopausal women do you need birth control?
An acquaintance of mine practiced the cervical mucus method of birth control for years, without any problems whatsoever. She was so happy that monitoring her cervical mucus kept her from getting pregnant when she didn't want to get pregnant that she blogged about it for quite a while. Then she turned perimenopausal, and the cervical mucus method wasn't so reliable anymore. She got pregnant, after a very long time of relying on nothing but cervical mucus as a birth control method.
Do perimenopausal women need birth control if they don't want to get pregnant, or is being perimenopausal quite enough as a contraceptive? Though my acquaintance is only one person, her story does illustrate that you really should use birth control if you don't want to get pregnant, even when you are nearing the menopause. Many women think that hormonal birth control is not suitable during the perimenopause, but but it will still stop you from getting pregnant and will often also ease or even prevent some of the most common menopause symptoms like hot flashes (or hot flushes if you're British) and mood swings.