Exploring Midlife, Menopause and Meanings

My name is Elinor and I'm the author of this website.

Why this website?

As I was approaching my late forties I became aware that menopause is a taboo subject. And this struck me as being rather strange.

After all, there are so many topics that have come out into the open in recent decades - or at least since my mother's generation was young - sex, sexuality, menstruation to name but a few.

But the "m" word is still shrouded in mystery. We just don't talk about menopause and if we do, it's with a sense of fear and doom. Maybe this is because of its connotations with aging and so indirectly with death, and the taboo nature that death has in our youth obsessed, secular society.

And then I heard a woman only a little older than myself saying:

"The best is over now, it’s all downhill from here on" and, worst of all: she wasn't joking - she really seemed to believe what she was saying.

That gave me quite a jolt and I asked myself:

"Hey what's going on here?"

A natural process, that happens to all healthy women at midlife and not only is it a hushed up secret, but also society somehow connives to make us all feel as if we're not worth anything anymore!

To all of us undervalued middle aged women, the unsaid message seems to be that we'd better go into hiding because the world belongs to the young and wrinkle-free.


Challenging the assumptions

As a young doctor working in public health and preventive medicine in the 1980s and 90s I had a special interest in women's health issues. But now as I myself was entering the years of the midlife change, the assumptions about perimenopause that I'd just accepted without a second thought when I was younger, suddenly didn’t seem so valid:

  • Can it be true that all middle aged women really have a bad time at perimenopause and the "normal" course of action is to let your physician "manage" your menopausal transition?
  • Is the menopausal woman, by definition, "a patient" who needs a regular review by her gynaecologist to make sure that her transition is going as smoothly as possible?
  • Is the post-menopausal woman the "abnormal" one with "abnormally low oestrogen levels - oestrogen deficiency" while the "normal" woman is the premenopausal, fertile woman whose oestrogen levels are "normal"?


I wanted to know the answers to questions such as:

  • Why do we go through menopause at all?
  • What is the meaning of all these symptoms?

So I started reading everything I could about the perimenopause and middle age. And the more I read the more fascinated I became. I soon discovered that the apparent certainty that seems to shroud medical talk about the menopause in the West is in fact based on very thin ground.


Menopause is different around the world

The most important thing I discovered was that the popular idea in the West of what menopause means, is simply not the same in other cultures around the world.

Although of course all middle aged women on the planet stop menstruating – by no means do all women suffer discomforts or symptoms when their periods stop. And if they do suffer symptoms these can be very different depending on culture.

I was startled to find this out.

How could it be that a universal biological phenomenon that ALL women experience at middle age, does not produce the same subjective experience in all women?

I hungrily dived into anthropological research, starting with Margaret Lock’s 1980s classic study of Japanese women.

As I read more deeply I found that the menopause "syndrome" of popular imagination, is just that – a phenomenon that seems to have no real substance because it varies so much between individual women, our cultures, life histories and genetic makeup.


Mind body connection

For me the real fascination of menopause lies in the fact that it is a crucible, a melting pot, in which mind, body and spirit converge.

In short, our midlife journey, is an intriguing example of the power and mystery of the mind-body connection...

Menopause is a shifting, will o' the wisp experience, that varies culturally and defies capture and control, but there is something even more extraordinary about it:

The very process of naming and shaming it as a medical "syndrome", the way that Western society tends to make out that the dreaded "m" is a disease, may even make symptom experience worse ...

This doesn't mean our symptoms are not real...

But it does throw up important questions about how our bodies act and react in the complex social and cultural environments that we inhabit.


Sharing women's knowledge

As I found out more about the perimenopause, I wondered if other women know:

  • How mysterious our midlife phase is?
  • How much of a mind body event it is?

I certainly didn’t know until I started researching it and as I broached the topic with my friends I soon found that they didn’t know either. And what's more, they were interested.

But what a mountain of information there is out there!

And most women either don't have access to this information or if they do - well, it doesn't exactly invite light reading.

So having got so far down the road of discovery ... I decided to take the plunge and set up this site.


Aims of this website

The aim of this website is to help de-medicalise menopause.

That is, the aim is to empower women to understand that their menopause is a completely normal part of life: as normal as adolescence, menstruation and pregnancy.

"Medicalisation" means that a normal, physiological life phase or condition is converted into a medical condition.

You can read more about the medicalisation of menopause here from "Our Bodies Ourselves" - the Boston Women's Health Collective, who have an excellent site covering all aspects of women's health. Our Bodies Ourselves - medicalization of menopause.

It is time to re-focus the spotlight onto the positive aspects of midlife instead of creating and propagating a myth of disease and discomfort.


The virtual river bank

We now have this magical medium, the internet, literally at our finger tips, so there is no longer any need for women's knowledge to be secret and only whispered about over the washing line or down by the river bank...


Overcoming the technical hitch...

I must confess that in the first place I thought about writing a book. But then I stumbled upon this amazing software programme called Site Build It or SBI for short.

SBI is a software programme for those of us who know how to surf the internet and are maybe quite au fait with Facebook and Twitter but who know little and care even less about html or programming. With SBI content is King (or Queen!) and the programme does the rest.

With the help of comprehensive tutorials and the programme itself, SBI has enabled a complete novice like me, make a website from zero.

No need to learn any html or any other tecky stuff - I simply wouldn't have the patience!

(Actually SBI is much more than a software programme, it's more like a Masters course in how to set up and run an online business from A-Z. Site Build It.)

So after I found SBI, I gave up the book idea and decided to build a website - because I believe it's vitally important for a more positive image of women's midlife to be created in our culture.


More about me

The professional...

I'm a UK qualified medical doctor and specialist in Public Health, registered with the UK General Medical Council and with the College of Physicians of Barcelona (Col.legi de Metges de Barcelona). I am also a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health of the Royal College of Physicians, UK.

And the personal...

When I present the information on this website I try to be as objective as possible.

But I'm as human as the next person, so here's a bit more about my personal views on the midlife transition, so that you can understand a bit more about where I'm coming from:


First...

I don't accept that menopause is a problem that automatically belongs in the province of doctors any more than puberty and adolescence.

Of course a minority of women need medical help to alleviate unbearable symptoms. For this reason I believe there is a pressing need for medical science to understand more precisely the physiology, biochemistry and psychology of perimenopause so that safe and effective remedies for our discomforts can be found.

I am heartened to see that the American National Institutes of Health are also promoting the view that menopause is normal and has become unduly medicalised in our society.

Second...

I firmly believe that the end of fertility evolved by a process of natural selection and that as such it must exist for a very good reason connected to the survival of our species.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for trying to keep as youthful and fit as possible as we age - in fact as my friends will verify, I'm a bit of a fitness fanatic. But staying fit and at one's best is no reason for denying the existence of our natural biological processes.

And finally...

I have an open mind about whether and if so how much, our social and cultural environments and the subliminal messages of social expectations can influence or even create a symptom complex that we have come to think of as "menopausal syndrome" in the West today.

This unknown and largely unexplored mind-body territory is a source of intrigue for me.


This website is here to help women to reflect upon and reclaim our midlife journey for ourselves.

I hope you find it interesting.


You can let me know what you think by contacting me here.


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Published 2/5/2010. Last Update 2015

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