If I had to draw a picture of what menopause looks like, I'd probably sketch a woman with gray hair, a few wrinkles, and a little pouch belly, maybe wearing a pantsuit from Chico's. She wouldn't look anything like me -- blond, athletic, and seemingly younger than my birth certificate would indicate.
Yet here I am, at age 40, in full-blown menopause. In addition to feeling suddenly old and unsexy, I'm infertile -- which is a hard reality to swallow since I was on the fence about trying for a third kid.
Aside from my mom and one friend who had a hysterectomy, I don't know anyone else who experienced early menopause. I feel completely alone as I come to terms with my blood test results and the fact that I can't wistfully say "maybe" to another child.
I never expected menopause to come so quickly, less than three years after giving birth to my second son. I thought the preschool years would be filled with adventures, and that my biggest headaches would revolve around potty training. Instead, I'm exhausted from hot flashes that keep me up all night.
More from CafeMom: 15 Ways We Can Teach Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies
Yup, I'm still wearing bikinis, but I'm about to begin hormone replacement therapy. It seems so wrong!
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. When I was 35 and trying to get pregnant, I was told that my high FSH (follicle simulating hormone) levels indicated I had barely any viable eggs left and was already in perimenopause. Hearing this news was unbelievably stressful, but somehow -- with a combination of thyroid medication, DHEA, progesterone suppositories, prayer, acupuncture, wheatgrass juice, an ovulation test kit, and luck -- I got pregnant within six months of trying. And then, right before my firstborn, Nathan, turned 1, I found out I was pregnant with my second son! I never felt more like a woman than when I was pregnant and nursing, curvy and overflowing with milk, and as supple as ever.
Needless to say, I forgot all about perimenopause and redirected my energy to other things -- like finding AA batteries for zillions of toys. At some point, I stopped getting my period, but I figured that was because of my IUD, and I didn't really have time to pause and think about it (replacing batteries in toys is an intense activity).
But in January, I found myself burning up with hot flashes several times a night and at inconvenient times (like, in the middle of a thick crowd during the Women's March in New York City). One quick blood test later, I was a statistic, part of the 1 percent of women who enter menopause at 40 or younger. Days later, another doctor and I were discussing how I'd need hormones to get my groove back.
More from CafeMom: Photographer Proves 'Fed Is Best' With Powerful Photo Series
Hormones?! But I just became a mom, I told him.
The fact that I can't have any more children when so many older moms are conceiving their first, second, or third child makes me feel like a shriveled-up prune. Lately, when I look in the mirror, I see a minefield of wrinkles. For the first time, I'm thinking about Botox and fillers.
While it's easy to find other women who want to talk about cosmetic injectables, the one thing I can't find is a friend my age who has been through menopause. Where are the cool "Gen X" chat groups with hip, youngish moms dishing about hot flashes?
While my husband swears I am as sexy as ever, I am usually too tired to appreciate his advances. I fluctuate between feeling guilty at the thought of wearing lacy lingerie (I don't mentally equate "menopause" with "sexpot") and angry at myself for feeling guilty (I only got married six years ago, and damn it, I still look good in my wedding negligee!).
Around the time of my menopause diagnosis, I learned that 39-year-old Amal Clooney is pregnant with twins. It has occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn't spend so much time on Twitter. The more I try to compare myself to mamas like Amal, or to Gwen Stefani and Tina Fey (who had kids over 40) -- the worse I feel that I can't produce another.
But even when I'm not surfing celeb gossip sites, I'm bombarded by well-meaning mamas in my community who seem to constantly ask, "Are you thinking about another?" or who tell me, "There's still time!" I can't blame them. For most 40-year-olds, there really is still time. It takes a lot of effort not to snap, "No, there really isn't time, thank you!"
I'd love it if a sexy mama in her early 40s who is also experiencing early menopause would stand up and be my patron saint. I'd love it if she spoke about her loss of fertility, perhaps coupling it with a public proclamation of donor eggs or adoption. I'd love it if she told the whole world that she wouldn't let some dumbass diagnosis define how many kids she can have -- or how sexy she is.
More from CafeMom: 10 Moms Reveal What Postpartum Depression Really Feels Like
Unfortunately, that celebrity isn't coming out to save me.
Perhaps by writing this essay, I'm taking the first step in becoming that person whom other women look to when their estrogen hits new lows and they're burning up in the night. Maybe it's up to me to make menopause sexy, to embrace gratitude for the children I was able to have, and to get on with my life.