How did this happen? My daughter is entering her reproductive years and I’m leaving mine.
I feel like I am experiencing what she is experiencing, but in reverse! How are we going to get through this?
This is the first in a special series of three articles for moms written by Dr. Metten on perimenopause. In this article she discusses the changes happening in your ovaries.
If you are in your forties, the changes you are recognizing in your body are possibly because you have entered perimenopause.
It does seem a little unfair to moms who are in perimenopause to have daughters who are in puberty at the same time, but this is common.
What is perimenopause?
Before I describe what is happening in your body during perimenopause, let me share a quick overview about what takes place during a normal 28-day menstrual cycle.
During each menstrual cycle, a special part of the brain called the pituitary gland sends hormones to the ovaries to get the cycle going for that month (see picture at right).
- During the first half of the cycle, the ovaries produce increasing amounts of estrogen.
- At mid-cycle (about day 14), an egg is released (ovulation) from one of the ovaries.
- During the second half of the cycle, the ovary that released the egg produces increasing amounts of progesterone.
The number of eggs you have continues to decrease.
There has been a slow loss of eggs in your ovaries since you were a fetus inside your mom’s uterus. The ovaries weed out eggs at a remarkable rate.
- At 20 weeks gestation (while still in the uterus), you had about 6-7 million eggs in your ovaries.
- When you were born, there were about 1-2 million eggs in your ovaries.
- When you started puberty, there were about 300,000 eggs in your ovaries.
- With each menstrual cycle you lost about 1000 eggs.
- Only about 400 eggs are ever ovulated throughout your reproductive years.
As you enter perimenopause, there are many less eggs in your ovaries than at any other time. Also, the ovaries slowly stop responding in the same way they have in the past to the brain’s direction.
This is a signal that the ovaries are beginning to wind down.
As long as there are still eggs in the ovaries, you will continue to ovulate but not on the same schedule you had in the past and you may not ovulate in every menstrual cycle. Your periods will become closer together or farther apart.
The amount of the hormone made the ovaries, estrogen and progesterone, begins fluctuating in relationship with one another and the physical and emotional symptoms of perimenopause are upon you.
The few remaining eggs gradually disappear until they are all gone. Now you are in menopause and there are no more menstrual cycles.
Back to about your daughter, who is entering puberty while you are in perimenopause.
Your daughter’s experience is actually very similar to yours, but in reverse. Her ovaries are just beginning to respond to direction from the pituitary gland in the brain and she will begin releasing eggs at ovulation. Her initial periods, too, will likely be inconsistent and her hormones, estrogen and progesterone, will fluctuate in their relationship to each other for a while.
Both of you are in a reproductive transition with physical and emotional side effects.
In the next article, Dr. Metten explains physical changes you might expect during perimenopause and explains why “surprise” pregnancies can happen.