I have been waiting for this moment for 40 years of pain, irregularity and inconvenience joined over the past 10 years by an erratic internal temperature control and very little good quality and uninterrupted sleep. Forty years of an experience through which there was nothing at all to be gained (we formed our beautiful family through adoption).
Yes, fellow humans who do, or used to menstruate, I am talking about periods and that most excellent occurrence of menopause. Also called (I did a quick search), the change of life, the climacteric and disturbingly but not surprisingly, a midlife crisis.
With periods, have you noticed we have moved on from the blue liquid being poured onto a sanitary pad to symbolise and sanitise blood that comes from there and now have the most excellent bloody period undies. Periods, periods everywhere and so great that they are not as taboo as they once were, even being almost normal in conversation now. Menopause however, is still in the vault (excuse the pun).
I feel as though I am outing myself writing this, as if you would never otherwise have noticed the skin changes and lovely wattle I am now sporting on and underneath my face that are the result of ageing. Not to mention obviously, the increased wisdom and Zen like aura I am now exuding as an ageing woman.
This is not a space for moaning though. I am very happy to be heading towards menopause, marked by 12 months of no periods (I don’t want to give the impression I am obsessed, but I am currently at 136 days). The point I am making here, is that the language used to describe this normal process, often pathologises and demonises both menopause as a point in time and the symptoms that are associated with it that occur over time (remember midlife crisis?).
The language commonly used in relation to menopause makes it sound like it is the switch between being young and being old. It isn’t. In reality it is a process that happens over years and is called, in medical terminology, perimenopause. This I think, is a bit of a misnomer as ‘peri’ in Latin means around, about and beyond. I would say it’s more through and across, like the changes in our face and bodies that happen throughout and across many years.
In relation to pathologising menopause, think about the products and the ads for them that suggest we can get ‘relief’ from our ‘symptoms’. These include (among many other things), reducing anxiety, discomfort and pain and promoting harmony, energy, balance and (often miracle) weight management. The assumption being, that when we are going through and across menopause, we no longer have control over any of these. I don’t know about you, but at various times, throughout my younger and periody life I have struggled with all of these ‘symptoms’ and sometimes I have been at the top of my game. This continues. For me, menopause is just another thing my body is doing, that I have to manage.
In other words, perimenopause and menopause are perfectly normal processes of life and of getting older for all people who menstruate. It can suck sometimes, but so do periods. And the alternative is not so great. But we tend not to talk about it openly.
When menopause is mentioned I notice, it is in hushed tones, as if we are at a funeral and need to be discreet when talking about the loved one who has passed. I find this language of loss around menopause unhelpful and limiting. It promotes a judgement of us being less, and this puts us at a disadvantage both with how we compare ourselves and when we are compared by others, to men of the same age and other women who are deemed to be menstrual (I acknowledge here that some of you will have experienced early menopause for any number of reasons and dare not speak of it).
But it is important to remember that menopause is not who we are, it is something that is happening or has happened to us. Just like stuff has always happened to our bodies from puberty onwards that we must manage.
I do know though, that many people who menstruate, do experience perimenopausal symptoms that are very uncomfortable and can impact activities of daily living. The GP is always a good port of call during this period of our lives (sorry another pun). I do think, that if we all started talking about it with each other, creating a shared understanding and experience would help us all and put it into perspective, as it does with managing periods and pregnancy for those of us who have experienced that.
It’s not a switch from young to old, or a doorway that we can avoid going through. It is, like anything in life a process, sometimes frustrating, sometimes fine and sometimes funny. And because we have managed everything else, we can manage this and because of that, we can manage anything!
By the way, I do have a pair of bloody period undies, which I bought in a moment of despair that I would never reach that pinnacle of 12 periodless months. I am hoping to repurpose them for post -menopausal bouts of slight incontinence should I need them. I’m ready for my menopause party, how about you? Keep your fingers crossed for me!