I have mentioned this before, and I am mentioning it again, as since I have entered a perimenopausal state officially (unofficially I reckon I've been in it for several years) I have come to realise my woeful ignorance about something which affects all women eventually, and goes on for YEARS. And yet is a subject people shy away from as somehow embarrassing or awkward.
I was therefore delighted to hear Dame Sally Davies, The Chief Medical Officer say that this is a topic which shouldn't be taboo, especially in the workplace. And pleased to hear Kathy Lette on LBC the other day, talking about this very subject. Her dry comment that, You get your own weather was particularly apposite on a day when I was fanning my face constantly. Hurrah I thought, finally, the menopause is being discussed openly.
Just think about this for a moment. Not all women have a bad time at the menopause, but many do. Symptoms include: heavy periods, incontinence issues, forgetfulness, moodswings, hot flushes, dry vaginas, loss of libido, anxiety, exhaustion, stomach problems, etc etc And all while we try to carry on our normal lives, be it working, looking after chidlren, or most often than not dealing with elderly relatives .
It can be exhausting and demoralising realising that even the most simple tasks sometimes feel overwhelming. And yet it's something we DON'T talk about. It's not just at work. I don't think I ever discussed the menopause with anyone properly till it started happening to me. And it starts off a bit furtively - Oh yes, I have heavy periods too, yes I'm always hot, before you realise the majority of women your own age are going through similar. Information is scarce - I have suffered heavy periods for the past ten years (I have a bulky womb apparently, but we shall let that pass) - and only discovered in the last couple that the mirena coil can help with that. Incontinence issues are really common, particularly if you have had children. I only learnt what my pelvic floor was when I was pregnant for the very first time aged 30, and though I have done exercises on and off over the years, it's not apparently enough. I think ALL women should be taught about this at school, because ignorance, and embarrassment talking about it makes for a very miserable middle age. Over the last year I've been seeing a fantastic women's health physio (I didn't know such people existed, but frankly they are the unsung heroines of the NHS) who taught me among other things that you can have physio on your vagina and IT HELPS. Why did I not know this earlier? As an educated middle class woman my ignorance is staggering.
So... going back to Sally Davies. I think she's right that women should be able to talk about this openly with their bosses in the workplace. Although the reasons she gave: the forgetfulness, woolly thinking and tiredness aren't the ones I would mention. Flooding - a sudden surge of blood when you are having your period - is commonplace for perimenopausal women and though it hasn't happened to me at work, I know many people who've experienced this. Along with the incontinence problems, these are two horrible physical things that can happen to women, which are embarrassing and humiliating. It isn't something I'd want to rush up and announce to people (luckily I work with women so that makes it a bit easier), but if there was at least an understanding that these things happen and it is no big deal, I think it would make life a lot easier for all of us.
And as for the guy who texted LBC to say all women should retire at 46 because of the menopause, all I can say is I'm glad I'm not married to you. Because the simple truth of the matter is if you have lived with a man for many years, he will be used to your bodily cycle and be aware of what is happening to you now (or should be!). I have had several frank conversations about it with men my own age, which I couldn't have imagined having a few years ago. Men do not need to be protected from this, they are living with it too. So what's wrong with talking honestly about something we're all going through together?
I applaud Sally Davies for raising the issue, and I hope it gets debated more. Maybe then women can enter the third phase of their reproductive cycle without feeling furtive, and somehow tainted by the process. After all, it's just nature innit?