The menopause talk
Imagine your body is changing. And you don’t feel like you’re allowed to talk about it.
And a lot of other people are going through the same exact thing, except they’re not talking about it either. It feels like everyone has agreed that we’re not discussing this. That, for some reason, the topic is taboo.
Perimenopause and menopause are a natural part of our lives, but they’re both shrouded in myths and misconceptions. So much so, that we often miss the cues when it’s happening to us.
It’s no wonder. Few of us properly understand our reproductive hormones and how they work. And when they start to change in perimenopause, we are often blindsided.
Whether we experience symptoms or not, we all have increased health risks once we achieve menopause. And most of us are unaware of those risks.
Half of your life in a menopausal state
The average Canadian woman will will spend up to half of her life in a menopausal state – perimenopause, menopause, postmenopause, according to the Menopause Foundation of Canada. As menopause is defined as just one day – the one-year anniversary of your last period. That’s a lot of time in peri- and postmenopause.
And yet, most of us have little to no information. Many of us struggle to find support and solutions. Often we are dismissed.
Why is there no ‘talk’ for puberty in reverse?
This is “the talk” we’re missing out on culturally right now. The menopause talk.
We give the “talk” to people experiencing their first periods. And can you imagine what it would be like for your body to go through so many changes and to not be prepared?
Most of us didn’t have to go through our first periods alone or without support. Most of us got the “talk”, and the very lucky ones got a celebration when achieving this meaningful milestone.
But, culturally, we forget to close the chapter. And we’re doing half the world a disservice by not having a simple conversation.
You shouldn’t have to go through the menopause experience alone, confused, and frustrated. We should have a new “talk” – the menopause talk.
Because one day, you will miss your period. But this time, the reason is different than it’s ever been before. This time, it’s your first missed period in perimenopause. Bu you might not realize until months – ever years – later.
Eventually you’ll have the last period you’ll ever get. You won’t know at the time, but this is when you’ve officially reached menopause.
But again, you won’t be sure until much later — after you’ve gone without a period for 12 consecutive months.
You only get to experience these things in hindsight.
Bodies are weird like that. Life is weird like that.
Why is menopause so hard to talk about?
Everyone’s journey is unique
The menopause experience varies greatly from person to person. Symptoms range in intensity – from nothing at all to severe. Some of us experience all the symptoms, some of us only one or two.
One woman might only experience a few hot flashes a month. This is considered “mild”. Another may get hot flashes multiple times a day, along with night sweats.
And for some, the symptoms can change month to month. At the beginning of the year, you could be talking to a friend about how your periods have changed and you think “I’ve been lucky, my periods have gotten lighter.”
Then, a month or two goes by, and your next cycle catches you by surprise with a sudden flow of blood. A heavy flow. Like hemorrhaging heavy and full of clots. And It’s steady for 5 to 10 days. What the hell?
These variations are all part of the journey. And can be very challenging. Especially when we have no reference points, education, or support.
Break the silence
Another reason this journey feels so isolating is that we don’t talk about it. And most of us don’t receive adequate information about what to expect during these times of transition.
And while this paradigm is changing thanks to social media and celebrities like Oprah and Naomi Watts opening up about there experiences. We still have a long way to go.
I often wonder why? Is it because we’ve been brainwashed over the years to tie our worth to our looks? If we’re not youthful, slim and beautiful, then we’re no longer desirable? Is it because historically a woman’s role was to bare children, and if we’re not doing that anymore, well then what use are we? Or is it because we were taught to not to talk about sex and our parts ‘down there’. Or that as women, our mamas told us “get a grip and bite your lip just to save a little face”?
Whatever the reason, this needs to change. It’s more important now than ever that we start to break the silence. Because in the spirit of Miranda Lambert, this ain’t your mama’s menopause.
It’s not shameful to experience menopause. It’s not the end of your life when you start going through menopause. Menopause is simply a new phase of growth and discovery.
Lack of women’s health research
Another reason why menopause is such a taboo subject is the lack of research for women’s health.
Historically, women’s health concerns have been underrepresented in medical research. Ever wondered why? Women were excluded from medical studies due to the belief that fluctuations in our hormones during our monthly cycle would make us difficult to study.
Until about the 90s. That’s when government agencies and health leaders finally started recommending that women be included in studies about their own bodies.
So while things are slowing changing for women’s health, there’s still so much we don’t know.
There hasn’t been adequate research on midlife health for people with ovaries. In fact, menopause has received even less attention than other areas of women’s health. This makes it difficult to draw specific, scientific conclusions about the experience of menopause. We need more attention, effort, and funding to undertake meaningful research that will enable better care and solutions.
Lack of education and training
There are gaps in menopause education in medical school and specialty training programs. A 2021 survey in the UK revealed that 41% of universities lack mandatory menopause education in their curriculum.
Dr. Wendy Wolfman, Director of the Menopause Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital and President of the Menopause Society of Canada, recently stated that the training in Canada’s medical schools is slim to none.
Lack of training is one of reasons the menopause experience is still so misunderstood. It’s also why many of us think menopause is something women need to go just get through.
According to Dr. Wolfman, “The biggest public misconception is that menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats are trivial and short-lived. Menopausal symptoms are seen as something women have to endure, almost like a woman’s burden. Women need to know that they should not suffer in silence and that there are a range of options to help them.”
Change is going to require ‘all hands on deck’.
Normalizing the menopause talk
We have to keep telling our stories and our truths. Even when it gets uncomfortable, we need to normalize this conversation. Being open and leaning on each other is a must.
Let’s help ensure that no one continues to believe that putting up with or enduring symptoms is acceptable. There are solutions. Feeling great during the menopause experience should be the norm.
Expecting more from our medical providers should be everyone’s responsibility. This means coming to our medical appointments with questions, information, and requests. It may also mean asking for referrals, or looking for new medical providers who are better able to meet out needs.
Everyone should understand the health risks that come with achieving menopause. There are preventative measures we can take to mitigate those risks. Knowing what they are is important.
Sharing what we know is important: successes, failures, and fears. All of it.
It’s time we take charge of our health.
Taking charge in perimenopause and beyond
The best place to start is to understand some of the terminology associated with this phase of life. These definitions may help.
Perimenopause and menopause are unpredictable
Perimenopause doesn’t automatically begin at any particular age. It can start as early as 35 and end as late as 59. And while the average age of menopause is 51, it can happen anywhere in that time span. The symptoms are also unpredictable and can be hard to figure out. That’s another reason open dialogue and advocating for the right medical attention and care are so important.
Menopausal symptoms vary widely
Hormone fluctuations impact many parts of our body, and can cause a range of physical and mental health symptoms. From hot flashes and disrupted sleep to loss of sex drive and depression. The number of potential symptoms is significant. And no two journeys will be the same.
We compiled an evidence-based list of recognized symptoms that you can use to help you better understand what has been happening with your body, or what may come. If you’re one of the lucky few, you may not notice any changes at all!
Know the health risks
Something most of us don’t know is that there are health risks that can sneak up on you in the menopause transition. This post walks you through three major health risks women face, thanks in part to the hormonal changes we experience during menopause.
Get the facts
For the last 20 years we’ve thought that hormone therapy, especially estrogen, will give you breast cancer. While this is a misconception from overblown headlines in the early 2000, the pendulum now seems to be swinging in the other direction. Some providers now claim that hormone therapy is appropriate for everybody and will fix all of your symptoms. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.
Annual Breast Screening
When it comes to breast cancer, all women 40 and over should be getting annual mammograms. If you have dense breasts, you should also be having annual ultrasound screening. Need more information? click here.
The importance of the menopause talk
We didn’t have the benefit of a menopause talk to prepare us for perimenopause and beyond. And while the narrative around menopause is starting to change, we have a long way to go.
Let’s do what we can to ensure we’re able to have the menopause talk with our doctors, our friends, our partners, our colleagues and our daughters and sons.
Many of the myths and misconceptions about the menopause experience persist because we don’t talk. We need to normalize the conversation. We need to celebrate achieving menopause. And we need to change the paradigm – it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of what some call the best time of their lives.
Spread the word.
Source 1: Harvard Health https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/menopause-sexuality-and-vaginal-health
Source 2: ACOG https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/menopause-midlife-health/menopause-faqs
Source 3: ACOG https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/hormone-therapy-for-menopause
Source 4: Office on Women’s Health https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/early-or-premature-menopause
Source 5: Healthline https://www.healthline.com/health-news/we-dont-have-enough-women-in-clinical-trials-why-thats-a-problem
Source 6: MaRS https://www.marsdd.com/magazine/why-women-have-been-excluded-from-medical-studies-about-their-own-bodies/
Source 7: Menopause Support UK https://menopausesupport.co.uk/?p=14434