Last week, Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark appeared in a documentary on the Menopause. To be honest it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know but it was nice to hear about another woman’s experience because we just don’t talk about it in this country, not even amongst ourselves. Yet it will happen to every single one of us. I remember joining my Camera Club and was talking to a woman there in her early 60s. I was rampantly hormonal that night and got confused so said jokingly “ignore me, I’ve got Menopause brain” and her eyes nearly popped out of her head that I would mention the ‘M’ word in polite conversation.
Historically, women’s hormones have been a taboo subject because we’ve lived in a male dominated world, even though men are currently in a 48% minority here in the UK. Yes we had a female Prime Minister in the form of Margaret Thatcher but she only rose to power because she acted like a man, which kind’ve defeated the entire purpose of having a woman in charge. Girls have always been seen as emotional, hysterical creatures simply because we behave differently to men and anyone who shows emotions is still seen as weak and not to be relied upon – then we wonder why mental health issues affect 1 in 3 people
Women are just supposed to get on with their periods. The adverts on tv tell us if we only use x brand of tampon we’ll be running marathons or climbing mountains, and if we pop a Feminax Ultra we won’t know what pain is. Thankfully for some women this is the case but for others periods are a form of 4 weekly torture and going about our day business as usual is jut not possible. This of course intensifies during Menopause yet we’re supposed to act like nothing is happening. We are, thankfully, now sympathetic to puberty-induced erratic behaviour, door slamming and crying fits, and pregnant women are allowed days off work if they’re unwell, but the Menopause is still ignored and I can’t for the life of me understand why. It’s the largest bodily change in any woman’s life and can cause absolute havoc.
We aren’t even honest about Menopause amongst ourselves. When my periods first started to change and I suspected peri-menopause I went to see my (female) GP who said “well it’s a bit early but it only lasts 2 years then it will all be over with” which even I knew was a big fat lie! Six years on and there is still no sign that my periods are about to stop for good. The biggest shock of the documentary for me was to hear that at age 61, and ten years after The Change, Kirsty still has Menopause symptoms in particular the fact that she still doesn’t sleep well. The myth that our periods stop and that’s the end of that may be true for some women, but certainly not for all. In a phone-in for the documentary a 72 year old woman rang up to say she was still having hot flushes every single day of her life twenty years after her final period and I remember my paternal Grandmother started to sweat profusely following Menopause and didn’t stop ’til the day she died. My own Mum’s vagina atrophied so much in her mid seventies that she was prescribed oestrogen pessaries and her (female) Gynaecologist joked “women were supposed to die shortly after Menopause, so to be honest we’ve no idea how to treat hormone-induced symptoms in old people!” which tells you everything you need to know about the lack of information given to medical students in respect to older women and the female-related issues they face.
I don’t particularly want to celebrate my Menopause but I have no intention of ignoring it either. I will bring it up in conversation if I feel the need and people can be as shocked as they like. I won’t beat myself up, or apologise for, feeling irrational or emotional and will pamper myself when I’m feeling physically crap. I won’t be hard on myself when I’m fatter at 55 than I was at 45, or joke about needing an afternoon nap. All this is normal and it’s about time society recognized this huge transition in women’s lives and made allowances.