I’m a man, a man in my 50’s, and if I were a woman, I would probably spend much of my time thinking or perhaps more likely worrying about the menopause. A few months ago, I watched a TV documentary on Channel 4, presented by Davina McCall called Sex, Myths, and the Menopause. It was a real eye opener for me, I had no idea that not only were most men in the dark re the Menopause but, so were women too.
It gives me no pleasure to admit this, but I was thoroughly ignorant of many of the facts in that programme – and there was me thinking I was modern and progressive, but that admission seems not to set me aside from many others in society including many women. The discomfort my ignorance unleashed has made me do something about it.
It is important to put things into perspective sometimes and the fact that the majority of people in society seem to have a ‘patchy’ at best understanding of the menopause is quite something given that half of them are probably going to experience it at some point. It is inconceivable that we are better prepared for puberty as children than women are for menopause in adulthood – how can this happen? It’s not as if the menopause is a small-time thing; limited to a few people – 4 billion people in the world are female and they all face the prospect of experiencing a wholly natural process called the menopause; so why is it such a great mystery or a secret?
Reading a range of articles on the menopause, presents a picture of something akin to Victorian England, where some subjects were simply not discussed for fear of offending others. The Victorian’s, had a preference for keeping up appearances rather than discussing the issues, gathering facts and informing… ignorance clearly was bliss. It’s a similar situation today, the Menopause as a subject is not really discussed even in female circles. Information is not widely available and, in this vacuum, – as is often the case myth and rumour take a hold. For many women the prospect of the menopause is something to fear, partly because of the misinformation they hear, and the limited information being made available to them. For something so natural and inevitable it is incredible that there is so little discussion or information being made available that could prepare women for what lies ahead, give them time to make some informed choices and potentially save many hours of worry and anguish. There is plenty of information regarding the menopause hidden away on the internet, and it’s easy to establish fact from fiction in that respect.
I would suggest that men take an interest in the menopause because as a basic principle, society as a whole needs to understand and learn more. Women don’t live in isolation, they are wives, partners, mothers, sisters and colleagues etc… and they live in homes, work in offices, schools, hospitals and factories etc… Men should gather information and understand the menopause so that in a variety of situations they can be more supportive and understanding – whether this is in the home, in the workplace or elsewhere.
I will quickly try to dispel some of the major myths and untruths re the menopause here, attempt to make the menopause just slightly less of an enigma – but will also leave some links to some further detailed reading at the foot of the page.
As with many things in life, the fact that we are complex beings means that we often see, feel and experience things differently. And the menopause is no exception, and it can be experienced very differently by different women – so keep this in mind since some of the symptoms may or may not be experienced by all or may be experienced in different ways.
The first myth is that; the menopause does not automatically kick in on a woman’s 50th birthday – although this is often how it is portrayed in the media. The menopause can start as early as the mid to late 30s, in exceptional cases and as late as the early 60s.
Women can still get pregnant during the menopause – the menopause is only complete after a full 12 consecutive months without a period, only then can a woman no longer get pregnant.
The menopause does not make weight gain inevitable. For many women the menopause takes place at a time when we all find it challenging to control our weight, but a healthy diet and regular exercise should enable women to go through the menopause without gaining weight. i.e., weight gain is not inevitable.
The most common side effect during the menopause is hot flushes. These are not always experienced and where they are they can vary greatly in severity and frequency. Contrary to some accounts there are solutions available including ERT – Estrogen Replacement Therapy and BHT – Bioidentical Hormone Therapy. Women should have a discussion with their GP at the appropriate time.
The menopause is not directly a cause of depression, although depression can occur. Foggy head and mood swings are common as a consequence of hormonal changes, but these can be addressed by hormone therapy and certainly do not indicate a progression to full depression.
Going through menopause means I am old and no longer a woman? These are both myths, being 50 or 60 in modern society does not make you old and as for being a woman the menopause is a natural development and very much a part of being a woman as we move through the cycle of life and development.
In summary, I think it is always better to gather facts, to understand and prepare. No woman will quite know when the menopause will start, and few will be looking forward to it but, on balance it is better to be prepared, understand what to expect, be clear about the support and the options available and be clear about where you can go to get help and support as and when you need it.