Breaking society’s last taboo - what its like to experience the menopause when you’re 39
- Credit: Archant
The first rule of menopause is that you don’t talk about the menopause. At least, that’s how it feels when, like me, you go through this dreaded stage of life at the age of 39.
Many of my friends are still out there looking for Mr Right and hoping to settle down, and the concept of the menopause is so far from their minds that I feel embarrassed to mention it.
Having never actually spoken to anyone about the menopause before, I knew very little about it at first.
When my doctor first broke the news, I shook my head and told him ‘no way. That happens to old ladies, not me.’
A Google search when I got home made me feel even worse. It told me that while 1 in 100 women go through early menopause, its drug addicts, alcoholics and women living in economically deprived areas who are most prone to it, and I don’t tick any of those boxes. So where, and who, are the other women out there who are also going through the same ordeal as me?
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It seems like the early menopause is the last remaining societal taboo. People nowadays talk publicly about farting, snoring, even whether or not they are taking anti depressants and are in therapy, but the menopause still remains way off-topic if you’re under 45.
While my 11 year old daughter gets inundated with information about puberty as a rite of passage, for women going through the menopause, there is an uncomfortable silence.
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My mother never mentioned the menopause to me, although I do remember her having terrible mood swings in her forties which in hindsight probably had something to do with it.
While I’m not prone to sudden rages yet, I have had the odd hormonal moment. I’m a little quicker to resort to shouting when one of my children defies me - and I’m probably more prone to tears when they shout back.
The silence around the menopause is of course because we would all rather not draw attention to the fact our bodies are growing older. I went to Ipswich’s first ‘Menopause Cafe’ event last month, which was organised as an opportunity for women going through ‘the changes’ to meet up and have open conversations about the unmentionable. While I was the youngest attendee present, it was helpful to open up, even if it was uncomfortable at first to be discussing such an intimate topic with a room full of strangers.
Many of the women I met shared how they had recently bought a dog to get that extra hit of unconditional loving, while their husbands, in the midst of their own mid-lie crises, comfort-feed their angst with sports cars or gadgets.
A mother and daughter present were both menopausal together. The mum, now in her 70s, had been going through the menopause since the 1980s. Imagine that. When she first started the menopause, cultural ideas around the menopause were different - it was even more of a taboo then, she tells me.
Several women said that going through the menopause had made them feel irrational fears, such as a sudden flying phobia, and many said they felt more invisible now.
Being relatively young means that I’m not struggling with empty nest syndrome yet- my youngest, who is three, is thankfully still a big fan of mummy-cuddles. So I can’t identify with what a lot of these women are going through, although I do sympathise with them.
Luckily I don’t want anymore children anyway, as I already have three, and believe me that’s more than enough.
But the hardest thing about going through the menopause at my age is the feeling that my body pressed the fast-forward button when I wasn’t looking, and now I’m having to face up to the awkward fact of my accelerated ageing.
I have five pet chickens that I keep at the back of my garden, and while four of them are still in their egg-laying prime, one of them, Flossy, stopped laying eggs a few months ago. As her owner, I found this quite irritating as I still have to feed her, and now I get nothing in return. Indeed, its a sobering thought that when farm chickens reach that menopausal stage, they’re killed off, as they have ceased to perform their function in life.
‘Now I feel like Flossy’, I thought sadly upon being told I am menopausal. But actually, I have come to realise that Flossy is now a source of hope to me, as she has become anything but invisible since she stopped laying. Flossy clearly believes in ‘age over beauty’ and now totally rules the roost, pecking the younger hens out of her way to get all the best leftover dinner treats.
She inspires me to believe there’s a reason why nature doesn’t kill Flossy and I off after we pass the reproducing stage. Nature gives us this extra time to reflect on the lives we have lived, and fulfil other purposes in life.
Without the discomfort of having to push out eggs, Flossy is now free to focus on indulging herself in any way she can. I’ve decided that Flossy, and her human equivalent, Madonna, are my new menopause heroines.
So going through early menopause can be frightening, but it can also be emancipating. Without having to carry around all those pointless little eggs inside me, I can make the most of the time I have left on this earth in every way that I can.
And the good thing about the silence around the issue of early menopause is that I don’t have to ‘rewrite the book’, because the book was never written. I am going to make up my own rules now.