Blasted Hormones

I turned on the new series of The Crown this week to catch a glimpse of the epic Gillian Anderson as Maggie Thatcher.

Baffling amounts of volume.

Aside from being amazed by her coiffure, I was shocked and surprised by Maggie’s words to HRH Queen Elizabeth II in their private tête-à-tête about the make-up of her cabinet. In response to HRH’s assumption that her cabinet would not include any women, Thatcher quipped (spoiler alert):

« There are no suitable candidates. I have found women in general tend not to be suited to high office. They become too emotional. »

Perhaps this is a theatrical demonstration of Thatcher’s extreme witticism, the sharing of great irony between the two most powerful women in the country. Or is it an example of how the patriarchy is so deeply engrained and can influence the minds of intelligent women…

Thankfully the quote is absolutely 100% made up; there is no evidence to suggest she actually said this. (That would need to come from HRH). But still I sat there reeling. That could easily have been real. Many will think it was an accurate quote. Women are emotional. We are emotional. So what does that mean?

True story

Émotions are something I’ve been suffering from in abundance of late. Too angry, too exhausted, tearily grateful, deliriously happy, deliriously hungry, hanger (all the time), cross, confused, sad, overwhelmed… suffice it to say Thatcher wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole.

I’ve been trying to understand the source of the intensification of all of these feelings so that I can get it under control. Is it lockdown? Post partum? Sheer exhaustion from 3 under 5s? Âge? Lack of human interaction? The fact that its the end of my maternity journey? No more newborns?

In the quest to understand, a few fingers have pointed to hormones. I’ve put a lot of my own (bad, grumpy) behaviour down to these hormones, especially in the particularly tough moments. Post partum, estrogen deficient, wildly oscillating levels of hormones. Par example:

  • Sorry I want to karate chop you in the face, its my hormones!
  • Sorry that I started screaming like a banshee when the kids didn’t tidy up, I think its my hormones!
  • You may have noticed I dramatically launched myself onto the pile of laundry, screaming « IT NEVER ENDS » but that was actually my hormones shouting, not me.
  • Yes, I burst into mad tears because you ‘only’ gave me a 3/4 full glass of wine, sad down on my half of the sofa and ate two of my crisps; my reaction may have been tempered by my hormones. Smiley face!

I realised I don’t really understand what hormones are or how they work. If I’m going to blame them for everything, I should at least understand where I’m pointing the finger.

And that train of thought got me thinking even more. This level of thinking is not advisable for a relaxing night. Nor for a sleep-deprived crazy lady at any point in the day or night. Anyway, I thought to myself …. what are emotions?

Ok let’s set some realistic targets for this post. Anything that blows my mind is out of scope. Let’s focus on the hormones. Dr Google tells me hormones are chemical messengers, secreted by our endocrine system, to get parts of our body to function in particular ways. So hormones control the way parts of our bodies function. Sounds clever. They help our bodies with important processes, like regulating blood sugar, desire, and hunger. Hormones flow everywhere through our bloodstream, but only receptor cells designed to receive them will respond to them. Like a lock and key system.

Particular moments in life where hormone release is a game changer include during adolescence, during monthly menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause. Those seem to be largely women related. Do men have hormones? Why yes, yes they do – they have testosterone. By the way women have some of that too, but in smaller doses. Men’s testosterone rises in the morning and decreases in the evening on a daily basis. Men do not get « premenstrual », as they don’t have a uterus and the monthly shedding of its lining. Lucky. But there is such as thing as « Irritable Male Syndrome » and, guess what Maggie, men can behave just as irrationally as women.

So which hormones are in play when you’ve had a baby? And how can you keep them in check?

As I understand it, pregnancy is one of the most dramatic hormonal times for women. The placenta is an organ that is built during early pregnancy to produce progesterone and which will support the pregnancy until labour. When you give birth, and your placenta is ejected after your babe, there’s a massive hormone imbalance that occurs. Your placenta is responsible for the high levels of progesterone and estrogen in your body during pregnancy. When the placenta leaves your body, those hormones, especially progesterone, reduce by 1000% in just a few days. This causes a huge tidal wave of emotions.

This rollercoaster period typically lasts 6-8 weeks and this imbalance in hormones is responsible for sending confusing messages like « I feel so tired I can’t cope » « I don’t want to be doing this » « everything hurts I will never get better » « I don’t know how I feel » « I’m so blinking happy I could cry, I am crying, I can’t stop crying, what is wrong with me I’ve broken my eyes ».

Estrogen being dominant can be responsible for:

  • Hips, waist and thigh weight gain ( – no mention of bat wings?)
  • Bloating/water retention
  • Irregular preiods
  • Heavy, painful periods
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Haïr loss
  • Mood swings

Once the initial imbalance has calmed, the wheels should set in motion for a series of changes that will help you recover from birth, and breastfeed. The most joyous of hormones linked to breastfeeding is oxytocin, the « happy » hormone. There’s also a hormone called prolactin, which affects your libido whilst you breastfeed/produce milk.

In order to ride out this tsunami-style tidal wave of chemical messengers, here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Take it easy. Don’t do too much. This is particularly possible at the moment in a time of lockdown. But it’s not always « easy » staying home. In fact imho it can magnify stress and anxiety if you aren’t careful. Sometimes you need help, you need to talk, you need fresh air. Take it easy in the way that best suits your needs and mood in that moment. (I am working hard on getting some mental and physical space as this has been one area I’ve not given enough attention to in these strange times).
  • If this is your first time, try to prepare your other half, better half, lover, sister, brother, mother for the extreme ride ahead – forewarned is forearmed.
  • Even if it isn’t your first rodeo, keep those key milestones in mind as you navigate the early days. My mum always has her listening ears and snuggly shoulder ready for new mamas floundering in those initial days of « baby blues » aka – as we’ve now learnt – progesterone slumpyslumperson. I shall follow in her footsteps.
  • If you are breastfeeding, keep in mind that your monthly cycles will be irregular (at best) and so progesterone won’t be around to counter balance the estrogen, most likely for around a year after giving birth. The estrogen aiséments mentioned above might be more prolific.
  • Stress can also affect the production of progesterone – stress about lack of sleep, anxiety, going back to work etc. Those all sound quite familiar to me. Again, the stress causes lack of progesterone and potentially more of the estrogen-related ailments.

Right, that’s enough science from a rookie for today. Forewarned is forearmed. That’s the key.

Now, time to focus on the excitement that lies ahead. I’m sure I’m not the only one that is beyond excited about holiday season… but we are probably the only ones that cracked out our elf in mid November! Looking forward to celebrating with you all in spirit(s) and please do leave comments, corrections or sales pitches for strange hormone products below! X

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