After aeons of silence and secrecy on the subject, open conversations are now starting to happen around the menopause. It’s about bloody time, if you pardon the pun. Every single woman on the planet will pass through this major lifestage.
Obviously, being peri-menopausal myself, this is great news. A bit like you only notice dishwasher ads when you need a new dishwasher, some of the content out there on menopause has really caught my eye. The trouble is, there’s just not very much of it, and anecdotal evidence from women across the UK suggest this is the case wherever they go to seek advice and support.
And recently, after being criticised for having to rely on a screen to help deliver a simultaneous oral translation to French (which, you know, is a bit of a brain feat in itself), I suggested to my male colleague that this recent development was because of my ‘menopause brain’. His response? ‘TMI.’
So what’s going on? Why the culture of silence?
Oodles of info on puberty, but not the menopause.
Thinking on the recent experience of my daughter, she got plenty of information, help and support on her passage into puberty, and the menarche. It’s something we, she and her friends openly discuss and there is loads of information and support out there, on any sphere and experience of it. Schools offer modules on it, from Year 4 upwards.
I don’t know about you, but my only brushes with the menopause up until recently had been one reference in sex ed, one in biology and my mother telling me that she was post-menopausal one day. That’s it. The information communicated was ‘your periods will stop when you get older’. Nothing physiological, nothing medical, nothing remotely social in terms of context. Certainly no mention that you might pass through this event naturally at an expected age, early at an unexpected age, or that a medical intervention might precipitate its arrival.
So why is conversation about menopause important now?
- There are more than 13m women peri- or post-menopausal women in the UK. This is more than at any other time in history – seems obvious but it bears saying.
- And what’s different now is that we are living much longer, and a significant number of women are working for most of their lives.
- In the mid to late 20th century, our mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t necessarily have been out at work at this lifestage. Their experience of the menopause was very much ‘at home’ and it wasn’t talked about.
- Husbands and families just understood the point of reference, mainly through Les Dawson’s ‘the change’ sketch (hilarious really, on so many levels) or jokes about wives hiding behind doors with kitchen knives and bursting into tears (not so funny).
- Occasionally, mothers would pass on some wisdom to their daughters but usually only when asked directly, especially when the daughter is trying to divine at what age she may be start experiencing the symptoms.
- There is also the connected issue of a widespread and creeping stigma of getting older, being seen as professionally and personally ‘past it’. Given our average life expectancy, a woman’s mature, post-menopausal phase is usually by far the longest!
Women can experience a plethora of symptoms related to the dropping levels of oestrogen in their bodies, for up to 10 years. The list is as long as your arm; all medically verified and waiting to be experienced. It’s a fact that oestrogen has a wide and varied role in our bodies, and there are health implications when it falls away.
Some women are lucky and experience only a few issues. The unlucky find their symptoms absolutely debilitating. Others even lose their jobs, or quit their jobs because they think they are unwell or have early-onset dementia. Some partners have said that the right support at the right time has saved their relationship. Having trouble making decisions? Find power surges unbearable? Heavy and unpredictable periods mean long meetings or away days are now a no-no? Palpitations and rising anxiety? Oh yes, this all happens. And more.
There is no reason whatsoever why this cannot be discussed openly and freely in this day and age. Its secrecy and stigma should be banished, for good.
What’s happening now is a team of dedicated women are calling on the Government and the NHS, via a campaign called #MakeMenopauseMatter and a petition, to upskill professionals in the support of women going through the menopause. Our GPs don’t get much training on the subject, and although the NICE guidelines are out there, I’ve been told that many haven’t read them. And no, Mariella Frostrup, most women won’t be getting private medicine to support them in it.
- Please join us in calling on the Minister for Women and Equalities and Ministers responsible for health, work and education named in this petition to #MakeMenopauseMatter, and sign the petition here.
And it is to the GP that many go, having experienced problems, things just ‘not right’, or feeling downright unwell. No disrespect to doctors here; it’s tricky to deal with a plethora of symptoms in a 10 minute slot, order the sometimes inconclusive blood tests and send the lady away with a solution that will help to make her feel better. It’s no wonder then that HRT is the solution that many doctors offer off the bat. But it’s not right for everyone, and as always, there are several elements of choice that need to be researched before finding something that’s right for you.
There are quite a few good (and some bad) books too on the subject but in reality most will turn to the internet so prominent ladies like Diane Danzebrink and Lauren Chiren offer a beacon of hope in what can be a very dark place to be.
So what can you do? Read, absorb the info, seek help wherever it comes from, ask friends and family. Get good at Boolean searching to find answers to your questions online, however specific. If your next stop is the doctor, arm yourself with the facts before you go, and a bunch of questions that you have that need answers. Book a double appointment so you have 20 minutes to chat (yes, this is possible).
Ultimately, it’s not for me to tell you what you need; I’m helping in a very small way by running a Ladies Lifestage yoga workshop for those local to me in North Wiltshire, which I hope might turn into a Menopause Café, where women can openly talk and support each other, rather than hide away and suffer in silence. I find yoga helps me in many ways, and with the help of content from far more learned people than me such as Diane, Lauren and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli I would love to be able to be available to support women through this time wholeheartedly. Namaste and good luck!
Annabel Wallis is a marketing professional and yoga teacher based in Wiltshire, and wrote this at 5am during the most recent phase of menopause-related insomnia.