Medicalised Menopause – what is the real effect on women and their lives?

by Kate Greenaway, Physiotherapist, Goonellabah

In my younger years I saw my mother going through a phase of anxiety, agitation and unrest and eventually she started taking hormone replacement therapy. Hearing the doctors around me (I had a lot of doctors in my family) give their medical opinion as to what was occurring didn’t really support me to understand what was going on and what was actually happening to her.

What was happening to her?

It was simply menopause. But the way it was discussed was as if it was an ill health condition that needed to be managed medically, rather than something normal and natural that can actually be a very beautiful process in a woman’s life. 

There are many instances when medical intervention can be necessary during menopause and this is not a criticism of medicine, or anyone that needs medical support during menopause. Nor is it a criticism of doctors – I work closely with many medical practitioners for the greatest support of our mutual clients.

The problem is that menopause, is often by default viewed as ‘an issue’ for women, in both medicine and the general population. It is often seen as something that has to be braced for, something women have to ‘get through’.

Discussing this topic with a group of women recently, I realised the extent of the harm that is done to both women and men when we are fed and swallow lies about this time in a woman’s life.

This can deeply affect how younger and older women view themselves and their bodies through menopause and beyond.

I was never at ease with the general medical and societal version of how women are or should be in this time of life, as it is the opposite of the truth of what the cycle of menopause can be for a woman and all those around her.

I know many women in their 60s and 70s who live and love their deep beauty, wisdom and have a consistent joy in life – yet you rarely hear about these positive experiences of women’s elder years.

I am now a 56 year old woman well past menopause – which occurred when I was in my mid 40’s.

I, like many women I know, had minimal symptoms and for me it has been a time of blossoming, not a time of shrinking.

I have for the first time in my life deeply appreciated my beauty, my body and the wisdom that comes naturally when it is needed.

I am far more content with my body and myself than ever before.

I realise now that menopause is a natural cycle in our lives with a great potential to be the complete opposite to the way society and the medical world generally view menopause.

It is true that there are many changes that occur in our bodies that are common in many post-menopausal women such as:

  • drier thinner skin,
  • dry mouth,
  • more wrinkles,
  • droopier fleshy parts,
  • not as strong in our muscles and bones,
  • sometimes thinner tissues in our vagina and pelvic floor and
  • sometimes tighter and drier tissues in the vagina that may cause discomfort or pain with making love,
  • hot flushes that can come at the most awkward times, and
  • there can be emotional changes such as a greater tendency to anxiety and or depression.

However, for many women there is a positive shift, in that this is a settling time for them:

  • They don’t have young children to focus on and constantly care for, and while they may have a partner and are caring of them, many women do have a sense this is also a time to give back to themselves.
  • For them it is a cycle in their life to do what they love to do, what nourishes and nurtures them, which may be as simple as walking more regularly in nature, exploring their expression in music/art, developing their purpose in community activities and spending more time with old friends and family.

When women open up and start sharing their experiences of their bodily changes in menopause and beyond – there are common themes.

The changes mentioned above are more the physical and physiological changes, but there are also deeper changes that many women have shared with me – many feel far more at ease in themselves than ever before:

  • They don’t feel they need to be something more or different for others, they know they are all they need to be.
  • In this settling phase they feel more deeply beautiful than when they were younger, they are way more content with themselves and their bodies – as they feel they have nothing to prove anymore.

It is not inevitable to have all the uncomfortable bodily changes mentioned above. Again, many women I know – as with myself in my 30’s and 40’s – have slowly grown from being very driven in our ways and movements, driven by trying to ‘get the job done’, to being far more gentle with ourselves and others.

We learned how nurturing it was for our bodies to move more smoothly and to be tender with ourselves. These women, as I did, had minimal changes in their bodies, no hot flushes and for myself I didn’t even know I was in menopause except that I didn’t have my periods anymore.

What if instead of women learning to dread menopause, our societies and the medical world opened up to the very true experiences of so many women?

The wisdom that menopause is a cycle for the potential enrichment of women – to let go of the ‘to do’ tasks and ‘trying to be more’ and being someone or something for others, and to settle into the deeper stillness, beauty and wisdom that all women innately are within.

The natural elder quality would then naturally arise, and we would have wonderful and true role models for younger women.

As this way is lived more by our older women, our younger women will be able to appreciate what a beautifully blossoming, enriching time menopause can be and they would be able to look forward to this time in their own lives.

 

Read more:

  1. Menopause and hot flushes – what’s it all about? 
  2. Menopause – recognising our inner beauty as women. 

11 thoughts on “Medicalised Menopause – what is the real effect on women and their lives?

  1. What a lovely article to read and feel, a totally different understanding from what we’re told from the medical system. It’s no surprise the body gives out so many signals when it’s out of its natural cycle, but once we can feel its rhythm, the beauty and wisdom of elder women is a gorgeous reflection for all to embrace.

  2. If menopause was presented as a time for women to deeply understand and know their bodies on a deeper level and to honour what is unfolding, the period of menopause would be viewed as a time to celebrate the beautiful women that we are – an opportunity to cherish the innately Divine.

  3. It makes me wonder why do we accept that in one part of our life we feel beautiful, vital, gorgeous, sexy and so on and that in another part that would all go away, as in after menopause? What model of life has designed this way of looking at ourselves as women?

  4. Thank you for writing this great post! I think a lot of the negativity around menopause is with the media and mainstream aversion to the natural process of ageing, particularly so for women. Men don’t feel comfortable talking about women’s topics but I think they need to be enlightened! I haven’t got there quite yet but have seen two of my aunts pretty much sail through it, save for an occasional lashing out at a rude queue-jumper or such thing (and what’s wrong with a woman putting her foot down and not giving a hoot about not being perceived as nice). We can change stereotypes and fearful beliefs, one conversation at a time.

    1. I agree with you Taniem we need to have these conversations about all aspects of life with each other, like your aunts I sailed through menopause years ago now and I absolutely love this period of my life where I still feel very vital and strong and where most people are looking forward to retirement I’m still working and loving every minute of it. So is it possible we have allowed society to pigeon hole women into believing that menopause means that women are left on the ‘scrap heap’ of life when this couldn’t be further from the truth?

  5. So true Kate – the way society views menopause, and older women in general, is that we have to do all we can to avoid/minimise ageing and the changes in the body that naturally occur when, in fact, there is so much more on offer during this time that can be extremely enriching for everyone.

  6. Thank you raising the topic of menopause as it is a topic that seems to me to be hardly spoken about. For example I have three older sisters and it was only the eldest sister than mentioned to me in passing that she had to take the hormonal treatment because she said she felt so depressed, when the hormonal treatment kicked in she felt herself again and only came off the drug when the research suggested that taking the drug over long periods of time had a detrimental effect on women’s health. That was when she first raised the topic to ask me what I thought she should do, there are so many women’s health issues that we do not speak about and this has never made sense to me, that we can chat about the weather, our children, education issues, husbands, but not so much about ourselves or what is happening to our bodies.

  7. Very beautiful article Kate. It’s so important to share these experiences to reimprint what ‘normal’ is. Unfortunately and with a lot of aspects of our health, menopause has for many transitioned into being a health issue rather than all of what you have so beautifully shared. I have certainly become aware of how women are towards women as they approach menopause. As I navigate this time myself, I have received many comments from other women that have been less than helpful. “You wait until this or that happens….” In a way it feels I am being passed a poison chalice or that I am being cursed in some way. So it highlights how important it is that we certainly honour our own experiences, but acknowledge that they may certainly be very different for another woman. But we can also use our own experiences and importantly what we have learned from them to support other women and even enrich the experience of another woman as they transition through this time. As you have done here Kate. Many thanks from one who is enriched by your exquisite sharing.

  8. Beautifully said Kate. Being in one’s elder years can be a wonderfully enriching time as you develop an ever deepening connection to your body and have a gentle wisdom to share with others.

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