Could Gen Y break the menopause taboo?
“Women were saying, ‘I have these symptoms, I don’t know what it is, I’m going to my doctor, and he’s telling me I’m too young for menopause, but I have to say, it feels a bit like that’s what it is. Either that, or it’s dementia,’” says Kennedy, 38, who was on the board of the popular female-driven dating app Bumble before starting Peanut Menopause.
She hopes the app will help curb the suffering that often results from the silence surrounding menopause, such as the experience of a close friend, who is currently struggling with “deeply traumatic” premature menopause.
“The best thing in medicine is when people who have [a] disorder can talk with each other.”
Professor William Ledger, head of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, The University of NSW
“She was most shocked that when she went to her mum [after her diagnosis], and spoke to her about it, her mum was like, ‘Oh yeah, no, I did go through that early’,” says Kennedy of her friend, who is 38. “That kind of thing, where you’re like, ‘Did you think that you could tell me?’ Even our mums aren’t really talking about [menopause] with us.”
They’re conversations that fertility expert Professor William Ledger hopes start happening, too.
“The best thing in medicine is when people who have [a] disorder can talk with each other,” says Ledger, head of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at The University of NSW, and a clinician who helps treat women with premature menopause. While it’s crucial that women speak to experienced medical professionals about any condition to find the right treatment, speaking with people who are experiencing the same physical symptoms, as in the stages of menopause, he says, can produce advice that is “much more valuable than ours, about the practical stuff because they’ve actually lived it. We can only talk from the textbook, really.”
Women need all the correct information they can get about this stage of life, says Ledger, given the myths that abound. He points to the Australian Menopause Society and The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as reputable sources.
“I see women who really thought they were so fit and healthy, and avoided all the bad things in life – no alcohol [or] nice desserts – that feel their bodies let them down somehow,” he says. “They’re angry that they’re still in menopause at 50… But ovaries do not go to the gym.” He also sees numerous patients experience premature menopause in their 20s and 30s who ignore their symptoms like hot flushes and missed periods out of the erroneous belief that women their age can’t be in menopause. (In fact, he says, premature menopause is “not uncommon” and affects one in a thousand women by the age of 30.)
But, then, even the medical community continues to be taken aback by the experiences of perimenopausal and menopausal women.
“We were a little surprised with the finding that women aged 50-64 were the highest age group of women getting less than seven hours of sleep,” says Janet Michelmor, CEO of the Jean Hailes Organisation, a women’s health provider in Victoria that surveyed 1224 adults across the country in July. The organisation expected women aged 35-49, many of whom would be parents with young children, would have suffered the worst sleep.
And, says Ledger, many GPs still “don’t have great knowledge” about premature menopause. “A young person might go to her GP, who might look at a healthy looking 30-year-old and say, ‘Gee, this can’t be menopause’. They might say you might have a thyroid problem, or poly-cystic ovaries. They’re [often] not that clued up that menopause can happen before the age of 40 and 30.”
All the more reason why Berger, for one, is delighted about the new exposure surrounding menopause, saying that the topic is still taboo.
“It’s an area that, you still don’t speak about it [with most people],” says Berger, who feels lucky she had a supportive GP who guided her through the process of taking hormone replacement therapy, which alleviated numerous menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and debilitating anxiety. “Even though I have written about it, talk about it, I still don’t talk about it a lot with my family or friends.”
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