Unpacking Menopause

Photo by Shiny Diamond on Pexels.com

“It shouldn’t require an act of feminism to know how your body works, but it does. And it seems there is no greater act of feminism than speaking up about a menopausal body in a patriarchal society. So let’s make some noise.” ~ Dr. Jen Gunter

I am turning forty-seven in October. In the last six months, my period has significantly changed for the first time in thirty-five years. It has gone from being regular and predictable to intermittent. This is an early sign that I am entering into perimenopause. Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.

Unlike the transition into puberty, this stage of a woman’s life seems to be shrouded in mystery. Neither myself, nor the friends that I have talked to about it, have any real idea what to expect, or how to prepare ourselves. In general, our mothers did not share their experiences, and due to my own mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease, I can no longer ask her about it.

I have decided to start educating myself on menopause and I am heartened by some of the good information that I have found out there so far. Notably, The Menopause Manifesto, was published in 2021 by gynaecologist Jen Gunter. It is a combination of personal anecdotes, hard science, and medical advice. Gunter breaks menopause down into its component parts, robbing it of its shame and secrecy. The book is organized in a way that makes it possible to pick and choose what to read based on need and curiosity. Each chapter ends with a useful summary, and diagrams help to illustrate the book’s statistics.

During the menopause transition, women can expect to experience symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes, abnormal bleeding, temporary cognitive changes, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, decreased libido, depression and joint pain. There is also increased risk of osteoporosis, dementia, metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), type 2 diabetes and urinary tract infections.

It is not all, however, doom and gloom. As a gynaecologist, Gunter provides vital information on available treatments and support, from traditional hormone replacement therapies (HRT) to alternative medicines. She also discusses where we may be led astray by celebrity endorsements of natural remedies, and by “compound” therapies – treatments that resemble traditional HRT, but which remain largely unregulated and untested.

Gunter notes that patriarchal social structures mean that a woman’s worth is often weighed based on her youth and fertility. Gender and racial bias in the medical profession increase the risk of women with symptoms of menopause being dismissed. There is also a strong link to cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for the death of 1 in 3 females: more than die annually from breast cancer. This is why it is so important for us to be educated on our options and make informed choices about our healthcare.

In addition to reading Gunter’s book, I also recently listened to an interesting podcast released by Zoe on menopause, which I found to be very helpful. It features an interview with Dr. Louise Newson. She is a menopause specialist who holds an Advanced Menopause Specialist certificate with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and the British Menopause Society. She is passionate about improving education about the perimenopause and menopause and improving awareness of safe prescribing of HRT to healthcare professionals.

I hope that these resources are useful to you and I encourage you to share any others that you come across with me. I am interested in learning more about this transition so that I can support myself and my friends through this significant life change.