Laying the Groundwork for a Lifetime of Sensitive Subjects

The St. Louis Kids Magazine Spring/Summer issue is out, and while it’s full of good info and articles, one in particular resonated with me. The topic is one that probably makes most of us flinch, especially parents of tweens: puberty.

I’m not going to give all of writer Amy Burger’s excellent info away – you’ll have to pick up a copy or check it out online on page 24 of our digital edition – but she makes a great point about the importance of communication between girls and their female relatives.

Guys, this is your cue to make a guilt-free exit, unless you’re particularly interested in menstruation.

My mom encouraged an open dialog, and to my surprise it’s serving me better now at 40 than it did back in my early teens. My recent experience of steadily increasing flow, a common situation for premenopausal women, was already a problem and, from the sound of it, was going to become a nightmare if my genes had their way.

For teens and young women, a heavy or irregular period is often treated with anti-inflammatory medicine (such as ibuprofen, in Motrin, or naproxen, in Aleve) or oral contraceptives. However, many women who either are planning to become pregnant or are no longer interested in having children are also no longer interested in the hormones in birth control pills.

The surgical options vary depending on what is causing the excess bleeding — for example, it could be a benign polyp or a buildup of tissue — and unless a woman is going through a pad or tampon more than once an hour or needing to double up on protection (for example, use an ultra tampon and a maxi pad), her doctor may not want to go this invasive route. But fortunately for those who need them, the treatments have improved greatly in recent years, according to my gynecologist at Women to Women Healthcare in Ladue.

In my case, there was a double whammy of a benign polyp and excess tissue, so the route we went was endometrial ablation, a fancy term that basically means getting rid of the uterine lining. There are a variety of new techniques for this, some of which sound like science fiction (extreme cold, microwave, radio frequency, free-flowing hot fluid). Mine was an outpatient procedure that required general anesthesia and a couple of days of recovery. The upside is that I most likely will stop having my period, or possibly have it but much lighter. Also ­– and this is a real plus – I didn’t need to have a hysterectomy, a much more invasive procedure where the uterus is removed.

When I talked with friends about the whole situation, I was surprised to discover just how many of us have had to leave a party early, excuse ourselves during a meeting that runs long, avoid the swimming pool in the middle of summer, call in sick to work, or otherwise alter our normal daily life. Every single month.

More surprising was the number of women who had not spoken with their doctor about it. For some, it was due to embarrassment about making an already unpleasant exam even worse. For others who were planning to become pregnant it was an assumption that there was nothing to be done. It turns out this is also inaccurate, because some treatments do not affect a woman’s ability to have children.

So take Amy’s advice. Talk to your mom or other female relatives to get an idea about what to expect, even if you’re well past puberty. And if you have a daughter entering puberty, give her the lifelong gift of open communication.

By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting

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Amy De La Hunt is a journalist and editor who lives in the St. Louis metro area and works across the country as a writer, copy editor, project manager and editorial consultant on everything from fiction books to monthly magazines to blog posts. When she's not chauffeuring her teenage sons to activities, Amy is an enthusiastic amateur cook, landscaper, Latin dancer and traveler. Follow Amy on Instagram @amy_in_words

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