Why DO so many women pretend the menopause doesn't exist
21:26 GMT, 11 July 2012
Chatting to a couple of elegant women at a London drinks party last Christmas, I thought I’d try a little self-deprecating bonding.
‘No mulled wine for me,’ I confided to a 50-something lawyer acquaintance. ‘My hot flushes keep me warm enough. Maybe it’s back to HRT’
If she hadn’t been Botoxed-up to the hairline, my companion would have looked horrified. As it was, she smiled, twisted a strand of hair girlishly, and said: ‘Ah, I wouldn’t know about that. Haven’t got there yet.’
What hot flushes Some women deny the menopause so they can still feel young
Her designer-clad, late-40s chum — all Kate Middleton-curls and nude wedges — smiled sweetly, and offered: ‘My husband and I haven’t ruled out another baby yet. I’m so lucky.’
I wasn’t so much baffled at their extraordinary claims of on-going fertility, as stunned by their brazen deception.
Why do modern women want to deny the menopause is happening to them
After the menopause, the mind clears and the moods stabilise — you’d have thought women would want to shout about it from the rooftops.
So why don’t women want to own up to it Perhaps, as the theatrical fear of not revealing your age in case it kills your career spreads down into wider society, so too is it becoming virtually impossible to read about well-known 50-something women going through the menopause.
It is as though every famous female is miraculously fertile for ever.
So discussion about it is always hypothetical. How would one deal with it, medically or emotionally Would it be safe to take hormone replacement therapy Always jam tomorrow, never jam today.
But the average Western women goes through menopause at 51 — meaning a total end to periods — and this begins with the peri-menopausal years from 45 onwards (symptoms of this include hot sweats, mood swings, hair loss, adult acne, loss of libido, insomnia, joint aches, urinary tract infections etc, etc).
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Research suggests more women than ever are entering the menopause early with environmental factors to blame.
it is inconceivable that most women are not in menopause in their late
40s and early 50s. Almost as inconceivable as the idea that so many
famous women in that age bracket are having children naturally — such as
actresses Geena Davis, Holly Hunter and Beverly d’Angelo (who each had
twins at 47, 47, and 49 respectively).
The cult of the older mother and delayed menopause are one and the same — the desperation to stay young and fertile, to be desirable and therefore still valued.
Twenty years ago, in her book The Change: Women, Ageing And The Menopause, Germaine Greer wrote: ‘A grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living’ and exhorted women to stop treating the menopause as some sort of tragic full stop.
One in 20 women go through the menopause under 40, which puts them at greater risk of heart attack, stroke and bone disease
But is anyone listening to Germaine now More likely, they are admiring Team Toy Boy — whose members have included Madonna and Demi Moore — and wondering if a young man on the arm will make them, too, look younger. Or whether they should share skinny jeans with their daughters like Carole Middleton.
Men turn this trick by fathering children after 60. Nothing says, ‘I am still with it, promote me!’ like a silver-haired man with a baby sling.
I am not advocating ‘growing old gracefully’ and ditching leather trousers for slacks. I just want to keep growing as a person, without denying the reality of ageing and what’s happening to my body.
Our generation of women need to embrace the menopause just as Germaine Greer advised her contemporaries to — and that starts with owning up to it.
In order to achieve this, we first need to end this cult of prolonged fecundity. This idea that it’s our biological right to have a baby in our 40s, or even older, is partly to blame for the huge rise in late IVF.
Recent IVF figures revealed that over the past 20 years the number of cycles of fertility treatment undertaken by women in their 40s has increased by more than 500 per cent — with up to eight times more cycles of IVF carried out on those aged 47 and 48.
Sage advice: Germaine Greer said 'a grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living'
While some women in their 40s reach IVF through the saddest of circumstances — undiagnosed infertility, cancer — others treat it as something to schedule in, after you’ve saved up for the villa in France and achieved a promotion.
I have sympathy for the former — and the latter. Women brought up in the Seventies were told to get their career in place before they started a family. It was a generational diktat that no one had thought through, and while some just squeezed through the biological window of opportunity, many did not.
Meanwhile, our daughters (mine is still of primary school age) are still being sold the lie of eternal youth and endless fertility — and goodness knows what that will do to them. I suspect many will end up childless and disappointed.
We do them a disservice if we don’t admit that IVF in your 40s has a heart-breakingly low success rate. Just 12 per cent of women aged 40 to 42 who have IVF using their own eggs end up with a baby. You can have a career and a family — but maybe not in that order. Twenty-first-century women have much to celebrate. With luck we should reach our mid-80s with ease. So the modern menopause is now not the end, but the half-time whistle — a fabulous chance to decide where the next half of our life goes.
According to U.S. neurologist Louann Brizendine, during peri-menopause, the change in our brain chemistry impels us to alter how we behave.
Just as oestrogen levels fall, so do the levels of the so-called nurturing hormone oxytocin. This floods us during pregnancy and drives us to care for anything around us — from children to guinea pigs, husbands and even colleagues. As levels of the hormone fall away, so does our biological impulse to care.
Furthermore, Dr Brizendine points out that testosterone levels rise at the same time. ‘In women, this often emerges as a new assertiveness,’ she says.
‘Not only are we not so interested in caring for others, we’re less afraid to say so.’
Perhaps I should have been more honest at that drinks party.
I should have told them that I became peri-menopausal at 41.
That six years later I am in the menopause (brought on by a drug that inhibits the production of oestrogen) awaiting a hyste-rectomy to treat endometriosis. And so, by October this year, I will officially be Victoria Lambert, mark 2.
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I won’t deny the menopause has its downsides. Hot flushes can be appalling — I’m having one as I write. My face is burning, the heat seems to radiate out of me, and I’m resting my wrists on ice cubes. I am exhausted by insomnia, suffer aching joints, and, yes, my hair is finer.
But here’s the thing — it is not all bad. From puberty onwards, I’ve been controlled by oestrogen. Its appearance saw my weight jump by 2st. I felt bloated every month and suffered agonising period pain (something the hysterectomy will at last address). I was moody — oh so moody. As many will testify.
I’m certainly looking forward to being free of all that. Already, my moods are sunnier. And, curiously, my sense of smell has sharpened.
I did try HRT in the beginning (and I’m a huge supporter of a woman’s right to take it, if it helps them), but now I am not sure I want to pump my body full of hormones again. I have lost weight. I no longer look puffy.
Of course, I no longer look like a woman who could have a baby tomorrow. But, then, I am not sure I ever did.
And that’s fine with me. I’m busy listing my dreams for Lambert 2.0.
So far, they include launching a website, learning to ride side-saddle, writing a novel and wearing brighter clothes. I’m going to philosophy festivals, watching more theatre, and eating more cake.
I’m proud to be in the menopause and I’d like others to embrace that feeling, too. Young women are great at making babies. The rest of us should be more focused on making the most of our lives.