Susan Torres, 51, is a casting agent and survived being told “absolutely nothing” from her mother about her body. Of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent, growing up, Susan’s mother was a devout Catholic who never spoke about anything related to her body or sexuality. Currently perimenopausal, she began experiencing disruptive symptoms at age 49.
“Among all of my many female relatives — the words ‘menopause’ or ‘perimenopause’ were never used. I had absolutely no idea what was happening. I knew I was sleeping — A LOT, starting to not remember — anything, and experiencing inexplicable passing heat waves. I told my mother I may be seriously ill when she casually responded: ‘Oh you are not sick. You are in your ‘private summer.’ Period. End of discussion. Welcome to my world …"
You have to tell me more about this “things that go unspoken” thing between you and your mother. Do you think it’s cultural?
There is no doubt in my mind it is cultural. My mother is Venezuelan. My father is Puerto Rican. They never spoke of our bodies — or anything sexual for that matter. They may have little nicknames among the elder female tribe — but you don’t hear about that until you are there.
Do you have resentment?
Definitely! I first got my period at 12-years-old. I dragged my mother into the bathroom. Her response? “Well, you’re a woman now. Watch yourself and don’t come home pregnant.” That was it.
So, do you feel this was about our bodies being a secret — something to be ashamed of?
It wasn’t shame. It felt like: Here’s another one who’s probably going to get herself pregnant.
And she was right. I had a teenage pregnancy.
I wish she had said: “Now that you have your period, let’s talk about protection.” But that didn’t happen.
Why do you think she handled it this way?
My mother was a practicing Catholic. To her, my innocence was gone. And — she had seven kids. She was exhausted.
So, there you were — young and pregnant. Who taught you — well, anything?
Being a young teenage girl is where the shame came in. So, I moved in with my boyfriend’s mother. She was a second mother to me and taught me what she knew. I didn’t have to figure out everything on my own. I wish she was around now to help me with this perimenopause. (Laughs)
Well, how are you feeling now — what are your worst symptoms?
Hot flashes. I am getting ready to put my trusty fan on now — I call her Fanny. Also, brain fog. Lack of energy. And: I gained weight. My lifestyle changes fixed the weight and some of the brain fog. But the heat … only Fanny fixes that!
Do you mind giving us some tips you’ve learned to help manage your symptoms?
I don’t eat meat for 1 or 2 weeks — so mostly fish and vegetables then. I drink juice with kale, carrots, and my favorite — ginger! Gave up sugar. More fruit. A whole lifestyle change. The younger Susan would never recognize me.
What about your libido?
I’ve been celibate for fifteen years. I’ve lost the urge. Don’t care.
What advice would you give to your daughter if you had one?
I would say everything my mother didn’t — about stages in a woman’s life and be PROUD. Be knowledgeable. I would love a chance to be that GRANDmother!
Is there any good news about perimenopause?
Oh yeah: You don’t have to spend money on heavier clothes and coats! You’ve got your own built-in heater!
How are you and your mother now? Is she proud of you?
Very proud. I am an accomplished manager and agent — a long way from barefoot and pregnant...
Now, mom and I even talk a little bit about perimenopause — once she mentioned the “secret” password: ‘Private summer.’ (Laughs)
Susan Torres, 51, is a casting agent in NYC. She began experiencing perimenopause at age 49.
Steffanie Lopes, a 48-year-old dancer and teacher, has been experiencing perimenopause for the past five years -- and fighting the blues with music and dance...
“Being perimenopausal has been a ride! The insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes and tears have been almost as tumultuous as puberty — and that’s saying a lot.”
Do you remember how you first learned about menopause?
From Claire on the Cosby show! I was about 16 when Claire realizes that she’s going through it — moody — emotional — and that episode totally opened my eyes to what my mom was going through. My mother never offered any information — but she goes there when I probe her — now.
So how has perimenopause affected your life?
Insomnia’s the worst! I teach dance for a living, and I need to rest. And those night sweats — the heavy flow —depression. And EMOTIONAL. I mean, when I see any baby on TV — even a diaper commercial — I weep through it. I have only one daughter — so the idea of not having any more biological children is upsetting. But at the same time, I almost went one full year with no period, and that was the best year EVER!
What do you do about that insomnia?
I crochet all night.
What are you taking to relieve these symptoms?
I heard about this bioidentical hormone cream from Suzanne Somers. It’s really helping my insomnia. She’s got a couple of books and they’re quite informative, good nutrition tips too.
How is your doctor involved?
She’s my gyno and primary care physician. And she believes in healing the body naturally — with supplements and food — not with drugs. I have support.
What's your diet like?
I always ate healthy and still do — following my mom’s tradition. The cooking’s simple: Lime, beans, chicken, rice, manchupa stews — my favorite. I love good chocolate, red meat, red wine. Now I add a lot of hummus for peri — thanks to Suzanne for that! I try not to limit what I eat and drink so I don’t stress myself out—peri is stressful enough!
Any sexual changes? Dryness, libido shift?
My libido is more like it was when I was seventeen. I’m single now, but If it were up to me, I’d have some form of sex every day.
What about depression?
The depression has been for the past three years. I think that’s a combination of menopause and seasonal. I need to get back to my sunny California…where I grew up. But it has been tough to get up — with ease and get moving. THAT has been a very big change.
Any surprises in perimenopause?
Yes — how it mimics puberty: Mood swings, high sex drive — like a whole coming of age.
Who do you discuss perimenopause with?
I’ve been going through it alone. I’m the oldest of my friends— and at work. To have people going through the same thing would make all the difference in the world. I love the idea of a community to hash this out with.
On that note, what are your words of wisdom for people in perimenopause?
GET ACTIVE. Music and dance — that’s who I am — where my roots are. So move your body — remember that mind/body connection and it will help get you through!
Steffanie Lopes, 48, has been experiencing perimenopause for the past five years.