A few weeks ago, Women’s Hour, a BBC Radio four programme dedicated a week to discussing the menopause.
I remember waking up each morning, anxious for when the programme will come on air as women from all works of life, experts on the menopause called in, texted, emailed about their knowledge or lack thereof of the menopause.
I was gutted.
This is the United Kingdom, many were educated women,some holding executive positions in their respective fields, yet with so little or no knowledge about their bodies and how it is changing with age.
With each passing day, I began to feel as though my heart was being wrenched from my chest, and I would be filled with regret and with shame. No one, no woman should ever go through this without being prepared, without being aware and without someone to stand by them.
I thought about my mother. My heart sank a few feet more. Oh mother, what have I done?
I am enveloped by shame, pain, regret and a flicker of hope. Hope that menopausal women are not witches as we’ve been taught to believe all our lives in Nigeria, hope that I can still make things right with my mother and hope that there is a low hanging, inexpensive solution to this problem.
Can you forgive me, mother?
For my insensitivity?
I have been thinking, mama, about when you may have first experienced the first signs of the menopause, somehow, I feel it may have been in 2004, about the same time daddy was murdered right in front of you, and when I had those first surgeries that changed our lives forever, not because of any particular reason except your age.
Or was it earlier? I have now read that women can fall pregnant even when they become perimenopausal. Oh, how that must have felt. Losing your husband that way and your body going through all those changes. Were you scared? Were you lonely? Did you know what was happening? How did you feel?
For my lack of understanding?
I recall in 2006, how I made you cry. I had just had my fifth surgery in Johannesburg, I was cold, in pain. It was in the middle of the winter. You opened my hospital room window a tiny bit just to let some fresh air in, and I yelled at you and immediately you started crying. I didn’t understand why. And I won’t pretend I now know why. But I am sorry. I should have been more respectful, I should have reached out to you and apologised and told you I love you and that I was sorry.
Was that the hot flush – described by the National Health Scheme (NHS) website as sudden short feelings of heat, usually in the upper body?
For not noticing you are struggling, that you were changing and for not taking the pain to reach out to you, reach out to others or do simple inexpensive research about what you might have been going through.
When I was a child and even as a teenager, I could never keep up with you. You were always a good distance ahead of me. Those times now seem like aeons of years ago. Things have gone the other way. You are always struggling to catch up with me when we go for walks.
I haven’t treated you with the kindness or patience you deserve neither have I thought about why you complain about your joints. Instead, I have encouraged you – in not so supportive language to reduce your portions and change your diet, walk faster, I’d almost angrily say.
NHS UK reports that stiffness, aches and pains In the joints are to be expected due to hormonal changes.
For not even making an effort to support you.
Mom, there is research and research that says that you are not crazy or irrational. That what you experienced and may still be experiencing is normal and it doesn’t have to be that bleak. With correct information, support and medical intervention, it can be an exciting transitional period of every woman’s life.
Mother, can you forgive me?
We are half the world!
Women makeup half the world’s population. Not every woman will choose motherhood, not every woman will have kids but every woman will experience the menopause, with a suspected 1 in 100 experiencing an early menopause by age 40.
According to a Comres poll commissioned by the BBC on the menopause:
- 48% of women reported that their mental health suffered;
- 72% didn’t have a strong understanding of what was happening to them;
- 70% didn’t tell their employers and didn’t want to talk about it;
The dearth of information about it is stifling. It’s never portrayed in films, or music or books or arts, and when it creeps through, it’s sparse and cryptic. It is as though the world is trying to will us into oblivion, push us up against the wall and get us into perpetuating the ideas that we are unstable and overly emotional and paranoid, unfit to be among stable humans.
The economic impact of this is staggering. According to Dr Louise R Newson's website, around 3.5million women over 50years are currently in employment in the UK, and since women now represent almost half the UK labour force, they, their families and their work are impacted by the symptoms of their menopause on a daily basis.
Why are we not starting a revolution about it?
Why do we allow our mothers and grandmothers die silently or being accused of witchcraft over something entirely natural and inevitable?
No more taboos
Mother, we’ve never really learned to talk, to communicate, you and I.
Can we be friends?
Is it too late to start over?
I want to go back. Can we go to a place where there are no taboos or off topics? A place we talk about even the most contentious subjects with love, compassion and respect?
I want to know about everything. I want to love you through everything, I want to cry with you, laugh with you, hold space with you while we try make sense of what is happening.
Shall we start again?
I want to go back to the time I suspect the menopause hit you, No. I want to go back before then,
I want us to talk about it years before it happens, And I want to hold you through everything you feel when it comes. I want to remind you you are not crazy. That this will happen to half the world's population.
And even now I am scared.
I fear I could never repeat the suggestions experts on the BBC Radio Four Womens Hour programme proffered. How can I tell you that lubricating your vagina might help with some symptoms? Or that masturbation could stop vaginal atrophy? How can I ask about your libido?
But do you see, mother, that this is not just about you, it is also about me. Can you see that though you’ve chosen a different path in life, so that these solutions may not be applicable to you because of the choices you’ve made, it doesn’t mean I have to be like you? Can you see I want to know all about your experiences – what worked, what didn’t so that I can be armed and prepared for when my time comes?
Did you know about your mothers experience with the menopause? Such treasure trough of knowledge that has been lost. Lets not make that same mistake again with us?
We are not witches or irrational or freaks.
Simple solutions to simple problems
The biggest problem is not that these changes are occurring to our bodies, but it is that we haven’t shown a commitment towards finding solutions to them because of the taboo undertone associated with the woman body.
Simple solutions such as menopause clinics/surgeries where women can get information about the menopause, what changes their bodies are going through, what changes and adjustments they need to make to ease the transition, would go a long way.
Dr Louise Newson, while speaking on the Women’s Hour programme shared the relief many women felt when they discovered at her menopause clinic for the first time they were neither crazy nor depressed. That all of the anxiety and mood swings they were experiencing were explainable and could greatly improve with medical intervention. Above all, just knowing this is natural and by sitting in fellowship with other women would be such a huge step towards destigmatizing the menopause.
It is time to #PressforProgress.
I want to start a movement in your name, and raise some hell dust about the menopause so that women and everyone will have information plastered on their palms.
If not for anything but to prevent other women being accused of witchcraft due to lack of information.
Will you come on this journey with me, mother?
Will you be #SilenceBreakers with me?