Mumsnet Menopause

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I wrote a thing for Mumsnet about menopause.  Here’s the linkie. mumsnet menopause

“When Angelina Jolie Pitt was pregnant with her twins she said something that made me dislike her intensely:

“It’s great for the sex life. It just makes you a lot more creative. So you have fun…”

For most of us, pregnant sex is more comedy than fun, and being creative only means coming up with ways to conceal your leaking breasts and dangling piles. To be fair to Angelina, she’s probably more enthusiastic about pregnant-porking than I ever was because she gets to do it with Brad Pitt.

I’ve forgiven her after reading her article in the New York Times this week, though. She wrote eloquently about her decision to have her ovaries removed, thereby pushing her into menopause, in order to manage her inherited cancer risk.

Seeing a well written, well informed, high profile article about the menopause makes me happy. Probably even happier than a romp with Brad Pitt might. Because we don’t talk about menopause in the public arena, do we?

Information about the menarche is delivered in schools. Though there’s a massive range in the quality of information, and much of what is delivered is sponsored by brands and far from perfect, at least it’s out there. (If you’re looking for help with explaining periods to young women, by the way, then have a look at Period Positive.) You’re usually not a school pupil when you get to the other end of the fertility spectrum, though – so, where are you supposed to get the facts about menopause?

Magazines, radio, articles and online forums are where most women land up, which is fine, except there is a lot of misinformation out there. There are plenty of very earnest articles called things like “dealing with symptoms of the menopause”. But “symptoms” is problematic – menopause is not an illness, and talking about it in such terms only adds to the sense that it is something “bad” and “problematic”, rather than an inevitable part of life for half the population.

The word “symptoms” is problematic – menopause is not an illness – but if you are struggling with changes in your mood, energy, sleep, pelvic floor, skin, weight, muscles, sex life, bones, heart, bladder, memory, hair, gut and vagina then it sure can feel like one.

Saying that, if you are struggling with changes in your mood, energy, sleep, pelvic floor, skin, weight, muscles, sex life, bones, heart, bladder, memory, hair, gut and vagina then it sure can feel like an illness. Some women sail through with barely a blip, others can suffer – and I mean suffer in the Biblical sense – for years. For women who have a sudden menopause, either because of surgery like Jolie, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, the symptoms can be particularly brutal. This is why it’s so important that we don’t suffer in silence, shrouded in embarrassment.

And it’s not easy, when even Madonna is subjected to menopause-based jokes in the workplace (in her case, The Brits): “I’m so excited about Madonna. I snuck into her dressing room back stage earlier and there’s a lot of drugs back there. But don’t worry it’s all HRT stuff”, tweeted the ever-hilarious Jimmy Carr. Because women in their fifties, who have made an informed choice to take HRT to protect their health, are hilarious. I suspect Madonna didn’t fall off that stage, but, instead, exuberantly threw herself off to flaunt her non-brittle-bones. Well, if you’ve got it…

Joking aside, many women keep quiet about symptoms that interfere with their job for fear that it might affect their prospects or professionalism. But with 63% of women aged 50-64 in the workplace, the menopause is an occupational health issue which we cannot afford to ignore.

Of course, help is available via a GP or menopause clinic. “What’s a menopause clinic?” I hear you ask. It’s unusual, that’s what. There are only 29 in the UK, and inevitably, these clinics are serving just a fraction of the women who would benefit from knowledgeable, specialist help. The cynic in me suspects that if it were men who experienced the menopause there’d be at least 30 clinics.

The NHS’s #changethechange campaign – the aim of which is to “put the menopause on your agenda” – is a good start, but we should all follow Angelina’s advice, too: “seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.” So, here are some links for your knowledge. Bring on the power.

All the facts you need to know can be found on Health Talk. Well, not where you left the car keys, but everything else. And Menopause UK is another great evidence-based site.

Evidently Cochrane is the public face of the Cochrane Review, which is where NICE guidelines are born, and has some brilliant blogs on menopause.

And, if you feel like sharing your experiences, but the New York Times won’t publish them (the rotters), then have a look at Menopause UK’s ‘voice for women’ page.

By Elaine Miller