Sunday, June 7, 2009

Menopause - the final taboo?

Now I have reached my mid 40s I am starting to notice a few physical changes that herald the start of the menopause which has got me thinking about how I am about to enter a new phase of my life.

I have spent so much of my adult life focusing on pregnancy and birth, it has come as a shock to realise I know nothing about menopause. It's not something that comes up in conversation when you're talking to young women who have just found out they are pregnant, or whose boobs feel as if they are going to explore just after they have given birth. But now I have started my own journey into the menopause, I have become a lot more conscious about attitudes to this particular rite of passage.

Needing a comb over
I have found it fascinating that people do not appear to want to talk about the menopause and have been wondering why. For example....

I have noticed that my hair has been falling out. Now I am a pretty pragmatic person and don't worry too much about my appearance, but the thought of going bald has set me off in a blind panic. I was all set to make a mad rush down to the emergency doctors but as I had an appointment to get my hair cut - the hair I have left - I thought I'd talk to the hairdresser about it first.

What the hairdresser thinks
The hairdresser is like the local catholic priest - you can tell her anything. The salon I visit is small so conversations are shared. Customers and hairdressers talk about anything although discussion does tend to focus on relationships and sex. So I looked forward to a good old chin wag with 'the girls' about my hair and what to expect.

When I brought the topic up, the very nice (and very young) hairdresser whispered to me that yes, your hair does thin when you become menopausal. And in an even quieter voice which I could barely hear she told me it's because there is a rise in testosterone levels. Then she gave me a rather pitying look and changed the subject.

Hushed tones
What struck me was that if this had been a conversation about sex, pregnancy or even death, it would have been at a normal volume level and more than likely included everyone who was in the salon. But despite the fact that the salon was full of women, my hairdresser and I were talking in whispers. I wanted reassurance and information. What I was left with was a sense of isolation.

So my question - is menopause the final taboo?

Image: 'window voyeurism' .danica


Dot said...

I don't know if you know 'A Midwife's Muse' - as the title suggests, she is another midwife blogger, but she blogs quite a lot about the menopause and is also good about responding to comments, so you might want to give her a visit.

I agree, this one really is a taboo, and I think maybe more so in the current culture of very overt sexual display and artificial youthfulness. I realise I even know very little about my own mother's progress through the menopause, apart from the odd grumble she has let slip about her menstrual cycle. (Not that I would accuse my mum of being a victim of raunch culture or any other kind of contemporary fad.)

Hope you got a good funky haircut:-)

Dot said...

Oh, I meant to give the URL for A Midwife's Muse:

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for that, Dot-I have seen those posts that midwife muse has written and they are very interesting.

I just find it fascinating (and I am sure there will be heaps of research on this) that we share our pregnancy stories and talk avidly about sex, but don't talk much about menopause. Now's the time to talk to your mother because in 20 years time it will be very relevant.

Sarah Stewart said...

BTW, using my son's hair gel to manage my hair challenge :)

M-H said...

Sorry, Sarah, I haven't been reading for a couple of weeks. Yes, it is a huge taboo. A woman at work in her late forties was complaining about her trouble sleeping the other day, and I said "That'll be the menopause". She was extremely offended! Apparently she's not old enough for that yet. Hmmm. When I told her I'd been perimenopausal by 42 and had my last period at 46 she was floored. Sandra did a research study about shiftwork with dozens of mid-life (40-50) nurses, and not one of them mentioned menopause as an issue that affected their lives. When they were asked at the end of the interview if they thought menopause might be a factor in their increasing difficulty with managing shiftwork, every single one of them was shocked that it might even be considered a factor. 'Plenty of time for that!' was the typical response.

We've got a long way to go, even among women who should understand more.

Jacqueline said...

Hi Sarah,

I've been enjoying your birth posts, but just wanted to throw a comment in here as I've been having some similar issues (i.e. hair thinning). You might want to read the Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup as an excellent primer in menopause and also check out the website, Women to Women for their articles on menopause (part of a holistic practice founded by Northrup). Here is the main menopause article from W2W: Perimenopause — the beginning of hormonal change.

I've found both these resources very helpful.

Good luck!

Jacqueline Tourville
author, Big, Beautiful and Pregnant

Sarah Stewart said...

@M-H Thanks for your comments which I agree with 100%. If the average age of the nurse & midwife is 52, then the issue of how we support our colleagues through this time of their lives is a very real one.

@Jacqueline Thanks so much for those references. I will go and have a look. I haven't done much reading around yet although I know I'll find heaps of information. I've sort of taken the stance that I won't worry until I have something to worry about, if you see what I mean. :)

Lilianna said...

Great post! It seems like there are too many symptoms of menopause to count. It happens to all women at some point and we're not talking about it, but then again talking about your period used to be a social taboo and I see girls now a days calling accross the mall asking for a tampon! Hopefully it will get better. I'm starting a forum for women that are dealing with these issues. Should be launching soon. Feel free to join us!