[Men: you can take the day off from Time Goes By; I don’t think this is of much interest to you. However, do scroll down to the end for the link to today story at The Elder Storytelling Place.]
It was recently pointed out to me that Google returns nearly 13 million items when you search menopause. Amazon has almost 21,000 book listings on the topic.
A new report suggests that less use of hormone replacement therapy is reducing the number of cases of breast cancer and these days, thousands of “natural” products are touted to ease the symptoms of menopause. (Whether they are useful or not is different issue.)
Did I miss something about menopause? When did it become so much a “problem” that millions, perhaps billions of words are now written about it?
A small percentage of women run into real medical issues with menopause, just as a few have difficulties with menstruation. But for the rest of us – a large majority – it is a normal biological transition, and how or why it has come to be treated almost as a disease is baffling.
I was shocked when, at 43, a doctor told me my newly erratic periods were the beginning of menopause. If I had ever thought about it, I supposed it was way off in some indefinite future. But he said women who begin menstruating late – I was 15 – stop menstruating earlier than other women. When I asked what I should do about it, he said, “nothing.” It is a normal function of getting older and so I treated it that way.
Hot flashes were a hoot. It awed me that my body could go from dry to dripping in less than five seconds. It made me laugh when I wasn’t peeling off soaked clothes. I wore a lot of silk blouses and dresses in those days which I immediately ditched.
My mother had an ingenious solution: about two weeks after I complained about hot flashes, a big box arrived at my home. Inside were ten sweat shirts, each in a different color, with dyed-to-match lace sewn onto the front. They looked terrific under suit jackets for work and soaked up the excess moisture without leaving wet spots. (If you’re thinking of using this idea yourself, the sweatshirts must be the cheap, thin kind to fit under jackets.)
I invested in several beach towels for night sweats and slept with one beside me. That way, when I woke up drenched and shivering, I could just roll over onto the dry towel and go back to sleep.
The good thing about menopause is that it’s not forever and the sweating gradually diminished until it stopped after a year and a half or so.
As to memory – mine has always been poor and I have kept daily lists since adolescence; I didn’t notice any change during menopause. And mood swings? Yes, that happened, but I would be hard-pressed to decide if they were due to menopause or some difficult times I endured during the decade it took until menstruation ended for good. Depending on life circumstances, I’ve been through many giddy and depressed periods before and since menopause, so I don’t see the difference; it's called life.
Toward the end of my menopause, a new gynecologist urged me to begin hormone replacement therapy. I told her that everyone in my family dies of cancer and since the verdict on HRT and breast cancer wasn’t in yet, I preferred to be prescription-hormone free. She pushed, I pulled and so it went until she said I would get wrinkles if I didn’t take hormones.
Angry that a physician – and a woman! – would rank appearance over possible increased risk of disease, I immediately found a new gynecologist.
Since then, undoubtedly due to the lure of bucks from millions of aging baby boomer women, the menopause industry is charging full steam forward with unneeded and questionable remedies for what is a natural, biological function. Sure, it has some irritating side effects, but they are not anything a grownup can’t handle.
To return to Google and Amazon as rule-of-thumb measures of popularity: I am still puzzled about how so many people have so much to say about menopause. Menstruation lasts a lot longer with many more consequences and possible medical issues, but Amazon lists about the same number of books for each. Google returns five million items - less than half the number of listings for menstruation - for menopause.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nikki Stern tells of food and family and grief and comfort to be found In the Kitchen.]