The M word

Meno ………. Pause……

Now it really is time to address the dreaded M word. Why on earth is it that when I mention I am suffering one of the side effects of being menopausal, that so many women immediately say ‘Shhhhhh!’ or look mortified as though I’d just announced loudly that I was suffering from a particularly vicious infestation of crabs? When I say it to younger women they all, inevitably say ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous of course you aren’t, it’s just hot in here’. This is disingenuous as they are trying to say ‘oh but of course you are/look far too young for that’. When of course I am not and I don’t.

Why is it that in this day and age, after more than half a century of feminism are women still so afraid and ashamed of the menopause?  Firstly, to be accurate, all the hot flushes, sleepless nights etc. are the by-products of peri-menopause. The menopause has only occurred when a women has been free of periods for a full year. Then the symptoms of peri-menopause usually settle down and eventually vanish. I think that there are a number of reasons for the whispered references to the euphemistic ‘change’ and pretty much all of them are depressing and soul sapping.

I think that the main reason for keeping hush hush about menopause is cold, hard fear. The fear we women have, as a result of a ridiculous cult of youth that now exists, of growing old. We really couldn’t give a stuff about being regarded as sage old gnarled tribal elders, dispensing advice and being venerated for our great wisdom. We want to be hot forever, fancied, desirable and sexy, which really when you think about it is bloody pathetic. Life goes on, it is a cycle of birth and death, it always has been and always will be, so we need to get over it and move on and not waste precious hours, sobbing into our gluten-free granola, mourning the fact that our tits are moving steadily south and take solace in the fact that we can’t see the wrinkles without our reading glasses.

There is also undoubtedly a realisation of our mortality. When we are young we know in an objective way that death is inevitable, but it is abstracted and intangible that we don’t really pay any heed to it. In midlife death begins to stare us in the face. We have all either had, or know someone who has had a life-threatening illness. Our friends start to die – heart attacks and cancers strike randomly and we begin to fret over the unwelcome funny little lumps, bumps and skin tags that begin to spring up, about our bodies. I know that I can no longer spring out of bed, I have weird sore feet, my knees hurt and my back is banjaxed.

For those of us with children it is also a peculiar time. If you are an older mother, as I am, you worry that you won’t be around to see your child settled or to meet and be able to enjoy grandchildren. It is hard to let go and see our children grow up and go about their own business and for us to no longer be the centre of their universe. Their peers, not us, become their first port of call.

None of the bad stuff about growing old should hold us back though. Growing up was no picnic either if you bother to take off the rose-tinted specs – being a teenager was torture, fantastic fun but torture all the same. Remember the spots? The crippling social anxiety? The broken hearts? And what about endless exams? Instead think how wonderful it will be – no more periods for a start. Economically we are likely to be far better off in later life, no more school fees or pocket money. Holidays for one or two instead of a family and cheaper bills. After years of climbing career ladders (or not) or raising families and putting yourself constantly paddy last this is a time we can, corny as it sounds, blossom.

Men often go off the boil in later life, but for women there is generally a great burst of creativity. Free from domestic chores women often get a second wind. Writers such as Penelope Fitzgerald and Mary Wesley only began their careers in post-menopausal later life. Most women only start gardening in late middle age too. Intellectually this can be a very exciting and fulfilling time for women.

Please, I beg you all stop treating the menopause as something to be ashamed of and hidden away. Accept aging with grace. Stop the Botox and ridiculous lip fillers – they fool nobody and are demeaning. It is time to face this last feminist frontier and remove the element of taboo and make the second half of our lives the best bit ever.

P.s. A couple of years ago, my friend Aisling Grimley woke up to the fact that all she could find out there for women during and post menopause was a world of support stockings, stair lifts, Tena lady pads and funeral insurance policies decided to do something about it. She now manages a fantastic website called My Second Spring.



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