Last year I wrote an honest blog outlining the difficulties women, trans men and non-binary people face during peri menopause and menopause. This World Menopause Day, I wanted to primarily reflect on lessons learnt as a cis woman and the challenges still faced.
Challenge No 1
The healthcare system
I sometimes wonder if medical schools cover female biology. It certainly seems a mystery to many GPs. Things my friends and I have heard from medical professionals in the last year:
- Given your age, you will probably experience menopause soon so there is no point in doing anything.
- What would you like me to do?
- Do you need hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if you are still having periods?
- I cannot advise you as I am not an expert in this area. Probably best to do some research and let me know how you would like to proceed.
The medical system feels designed to ensure women have finished menopause before they are able to get support. This coupled with brain fog and heightened emotions is not a good mix. It is dehumanising and lonely.
All GP surgeries should run menopause clinics enabling women access to information and a safe space to talk. Empower us to cope with menopause. Make it a positive, liberating experience (if possible!). A report in the Lancet (2022) showed that only 39% of women were offered HRT immediately when the GP or nurse knew they were experiencing menopause. It should be the first thing offered rather than anti-depressants.
Challenge No 2
You have negotiated the NHS, seen a GP face to face and been prescribed HRT, but can you get it?
2022 saw unprecedented shortages. A positive as it was partly due to the increase in women being prescribed HRT but a total nightmare to find alternatives. It went like this:
- Order a repeat prescription from the GP allowing plenty of time.
- Two or three days later attempt to pick up prescription from pharmacy.
- One item usually unavailable.
- Attempt to contact GP.
- Wait two or three more days for a response.
- Start panicking as stock looking low at home and wonder whether you would be likely to kill someone when the hot sweats take over again.
- Be issued a different prescription.
- Wait another two or three days for it to hit the pharmacy.
- If lucky get your HRT or start process again.
Challenge No 3
Share your needs within the workplace. Talk to your line manager, explain the issues you are facing and suggest some changes you may need on occasion. There are days you may need to work from home but with understanding and support from work, it is possible to keep going.
I am not sure legalised menopause leave is the way ahead. It is far better to change the policies and behaviours within the business as this will drive societal change in a far more effective way. Easy for me to say from the Director’s chair I know!
Challenge No 4
Society – how it views women and their role especially in the West.
Where greater emphasis is on the value of femininity and sexuality, aging is viewed negatively. Youth is celebrated and older women devalued. Even our language has changed to reflect this.
Take the word ‘gossip’ for example. Derived from the word ‘godsibb’, it initially described a child’s godparent but later came to mean a good female friend. An increased patriarchal society used the word to demean the relationship between women and their role defining it as ‘idle chatter and rumour’. No comment on that one!
Words and perceived value have turned the menopause in a negative journey, but it can be a release:
- Aboriginal women look forward to the menopause as it is a time of greater status and an opportunity to lead.
- The Chinese call the menopause ‘the second spring’.
- The Japanese honour the experience and learning that comes with age.
Placing value in the ability to produce children removes greater purpose in later life but our wisdom and experience are essential in society and business. We need to remember this in amongst all the brain fog, hot sweats, and pain!
What have I learnt?
Every menopause journey is different. We need to take ownership of it and make it manageable as no one is going to do it for you. Celebrate getting older and all that comes with it. It means you are still alive!