As we approach World Menopause Month this October, and World Menopause Day on 18th, I’m drawn to reflect on what the narrative might be in media and other public discussions. Will this be the year that the international community acknowledges the full extent of the menopausal experience or will the conversation keep us firmly in the realms of pathology and medicine? I’ve noticed that the official theme this year is Cardiovascular Disease – perhaps that answers my question.
Sadly, my own investigation of the academic research on the subject of marking our menstrual milestones, (for my still-in-progress PhD literature review), is showing that the medical discourse far out ways that of any other aspect of understanding or supporting the menopause.
Don’t get me wrong, as a woman traversing her own menopause journey, I am all too aware there are challenges. And I agree, wholeheartedly, that access to adequate care should be a right not a privilege. But I refuse to let the medicalised narrative be the whole story. Not least because that keeps the care far removed from the holistic approach that is needed to support such a wholesale shift in our body, emotions and outlook on life.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of voices who see the menopause as a rite of passage – a journey across the threshold into our elder years. Something to be dignified rather than dreaded, downplayed or derided. For example, in the welcome message of their book, Wise Power, authors Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer invite us to consider that “…the deeper truth is that you don’t need rescuing. You’re not suffering from a health disorder, even as you may be experiencing some unpleasant, perhaps distressing, symptoms. Instead, you’re suffering from a huge lack of recognition…from a lack of time, space and support to acknowledge and follow your inner imperative to tend to your own needs.”*
If we entertain that thought for a while, whose responsibility is it to tackle the cultural taboos needed to re-write the story of what it means to be ‘older’ in our society; of what it means to have had a menstrual cycle and, even, of what it means to be a woman?
Of course, to feel empowered, each of us approaching this milestone must take on our share of myth-busting but when your hormone and energy levels are in flux, that can feel like a huge undertaking. And in any case, I would argue, it is only with the full support of our allies – along with a sense of belonging to a recognised and respected peer group – that we can rise above the unhelpful labels ascribed to “women of a certain age” to take back control of the narrative and our own lives.
So, what can we do? Well, to begin with, whether you are on the path towards menopause or know someone who is, take a moment to acknowledge the experience. Spend a few quiet minutes reflecting on how this time might be seen as a coming of age rather than a disease and what difference this might make to the experience of it. Menopause it not so dissimilar to the huge transformation we encountered at puberty when all the changes that brought us to adulthood began to unfold – hormonal and otherwise. For many of us, that may well have been an under-celebrated time too…so layer in the recognition of all that is lived through in the time running up to menarche (first period) and menopause (last period) – the highs, and the lows.
Now, I realise this is much easier to say than to do. So, for those of us encountering this milestone, I encourage you to ask for support from your loved ones or from a trusted outside source…or both. And for our allies, I implore you to seek out ways to deepen your understanding of this pivotal time. After all, the broader our discussions are, the wider our perspectives can be and the more we will make menopause matter.
* Wise Power: Discover the Liberating Power of Menopause to Awaken Authority, Purpose and Belonging, A. Pope and S. Hugo Wurlitzer (Hay House, London 2022)