By Rachel Lankester, Mutton Club editor and founder, Magnificent Midlife Movement
I reckon menopause deserves a re-brand. So when I saw the headline: ”Doctors halt menopause for 20 years”, my heckles rose. Such statements grab attention and promise the earth, but when you get into the detail, they raise far more questions than they answer.
Others can tell you exactly what this ‘revolutionary’ new treatment actually offers women. But it seems to me this frozen ovarian tissue grafting treatment can certainly benefit women who have had reproductive issues at a young age. It might even have been beneficial for me when I discovered I’d gone through early menopause at 41, when I was trying for a longed-for second child.
But to suggest any woman who can afford the not insignificant fee should now freeze her ovarian tissue in advance, to gamble on her fertile years lasting longer and delaying her menopause indefinitely, seems bonkers to me.
If we’re told anything about menopause, we’re taught to fear it. We’re taught that older women lose their value with their fertility. Our society worships youth and the fertility that goes along with it.
Women are sold anti-ageing creams in our 20s. We’re told to cover up the visible signs of female ageing. Men become silver foxes. Silver vixens? Not so much.
The reality is menopause is like puberty or pregnancy. Some women might not like or want either, and some of us struggle with both. But most women are intrigued by the changes our bodies are undergoing and excited about what lies ahead. Most of us don’t fight puberty or pregnancy. They are natural transitions in life.
The prevailing narrative is that post-menopausal women aren’t sexy, beautiful or even that relevant any more. Rubbish!
If we viewed both ageing and menopause as positive for women, why would we want to delay either? That’s where we need to change perceptions, not focus on how we ‘fix’ natural aspects of life.
There is so much to like about being post menopause. No more periods. No pregnancy risk. No more pre-menstrual tension. Off the estrogen roller-coaster. More able to prioritize ourselves rather than being driven to nurture everyone else. More confident and secure in our skin. Often calmer (or is that just me?)
Perimenopause may be difficult for some women. But only 25% suffer badly. (And less in other cultures.) For many of us, it’s not difficult and if it is, there is much we can do to help ourselves.
More than a decade after my early menopause and lots of research, I now see menopause both as a gift and as the canary in the coal mine. Menopause can highlight or exacerbate existing health issues, rather than necessarily actually causing them. Its symptoms can be viewed as an early warning that all may not be right with our lives.
If we women listen to our bodies, we have an opportunity to change our lifestyle in midlife to set us up for long-term health. By masking our natural transition with hormone replacement therapy (HRT/HT) or surgery, for an extended period, we may miss that opportunity to make changes.
For example, caffeine, alcohol and sugar are known to exacerbate hot flushes and anxiety. Reducing these may be just enough to make menopause manageable. It’s worth a try. Sorting out your diet in general, increasing your intake of natural phytoestrogens (organic soy and flax, for example) and upping your exercise all help dramatically.
But doing that doesn’t put money in the pockets of those promoting HRT or invasive surgery as the solution to menopausal woes or delaying becoming post-menopausal for as long as possible.
I find it interesting that many of those most vocal about the benefits (especially long-term) of HRT and surgery for menopause are private practitioners not National Health Service (NHS). HRT is of course useful for many women, but I do not believe, as some practitioners promote, that women should be on it for life.
There are many natural ways to help us transition vibrantly through menopause without resorting to either HRT or surgery. No matter how safe we’re told both are, this menopause generation is the guinea pig.
I was advised to take body-identical (NHS prescribed) HRT because of early menopause but chose to come off it at ‘normal’ menopause age of 51. I’ve managed any symptoms naturally since and I prefer it that way. Darcy Steinke has written in her book Flash Count Diary, about how female humans and whales are the only creatures to go through menopause. Female killer whales become the leaders of their pods after menopause. Some have lived 50 years post their reproductive ones.
In traditional hunter gather societies, older women knew where the good food could be found and what was poisonous etc. Their wisdom and experience were of great value.
So why have women evolved to go through menopause? There must be a good reason. Perhaps, like whales, we’re more valuable to our communities as leaders than as bleeders. When we’re done making babies, we’re ready to make solutions.
Now there’s a thought. If you consider menopause like that, it becomes a lot less scary. Perhaps even something to look forward to! No more shriveled up old prune knitting in the corner.
We can be striding ahead, leading our tribe, living our best lives. Enjoying greater hormonal parity with men and re-balancing the world. And goodness me, the world needs some more female leader energy, don’t you think!
By all means delay menopause for early menopause sufferers until normal menopause age. But after that? No thank you! Bring it on!
This article first appeared on Medium.
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Rachel Lankester is founder of the Magnificent Midlife Movement, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age.