Growing up, I think we can all recall a moment in our lives when a woman, having been perceived as acting somewhat erratically, has been conferred about in hushed whispers with stolen glances. “It’s the change,” I can remember my cousin whispering to me as we watched my aunt storm about downstairs from behind the safety of the banisters.
Of course, neither of us knew what the change really was. It was a phrase we had heard relatives use with a look of trepidation, a knowing nod of the head from the women and a slight shrug of the shoulders from the men. Whenever we had pried further, our questions had been deflected, the subject changed. You’ll know when you’re older. There was to be no further discussion.
Obviously to a child, the idea of a change is both thrilling and terrifying. the most fantastical scenarios arise in the mind. What exactly was she changing into: a squirrel? A witch? One of those women you see at parties who squeeze your cheeks and tell you how much you’ve grown, and then promptly fall asleep in the corner all night?
As you get older, the change remains as much as a mystery as ever. It has a name now - the menopause - and you vaguely understand that it happens when a women hits a certain age, but truthfully it’s spoken of little and the bit they teach you in school is tagged onto the end of learning about reproduction so you don’t pay it much heed. Plenty of time to worry about that, you think.
I don’t think it ever really fully sunk in that the change was something that would happen to me. Even when my mother was going through the menopause, the comprehension wasn’t quite present enough to understand what was happening. Whenever she suffered from a flush or mood swing, it was easy to roll my eyes at what I perceived (in hindsight shamefully so) as her being melodramatic.
Life continues in this vein until one day, it creeps up on you too; your periods start being slightly irregular and you begin to notice some of these changes, before so alien and odd, in yourself. It is as if your body is betraying you, admitting to an age you don’t feel and sending you down a path you cannot return from. There is the wobble; the panic as you consider what this means for you as a woman. Does this mean you are no longer feminine? Attractive? Will people think about you in the same way you thought about those before you?
Most of all, there is confusion.
The initial shock is perhaps the hardest part to get your head around. Growing up, no one ever mentions the perimenopause; you don’t even know it’s a thing until you’re in it. Periods don’t just stop, but night sweats come along and so do hot flushes, and mood changes and vaginal dryness and all these other things that you weren’t expecting yet but suddenly now have to deal with. It’s not like it’s a short period of time either. On average, it lasts from between three to five years for most women and typically starts in the late 40s.
Once we’re through the perimenopause, it’s onto the menopause, featuring more of the same. Its not unusual for the drop in oestrogen levels in our bodies to affect our hair and skin and sex drive. Anxiety and depression can be triggered. Oesteoporosis looms its unwanted head. It all sounds pretty miserable doesn’t it?
What’s the answer?
Well, we can talk about it. Previously considered a taboo topic, there’s a growing group of women (and men) who are opening up the platform to discuss all things menopause. It’s true that with knowledge comes power. By discussing with each other, it’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone in your experience. Whilst women can experience the menopause slightly differently to one another, the fundamental elements remain the same. Simply by talking, we can alleviate our fears and help the future generations understand by educating them, just as we educate about puberty and the birds and the bees. We can empower each other and continue to work towards changing the perception of the menopause that is often perpetuated by the media, and to prove what we all know; this is just another stage in life, one that doesn’t change who we inherently are and one that makes us no less fabulous than before.
This, the educating of future generations and the rewriting of commonly held beliefs, is the true change we need to talk about.