Signs of perimenopause...?
It's time to change the chip
Female midlife - seeing things differently
This website takes a different approach to understanding "signs of perimenopause" from what you'll find on many other sites about menopause.
This site challenges the all too prevalent stereotype that women’s midlife transition can be understood simply in terms of the biological process of menstruation ending.
Throughout this website, I try to convey the message that the confusion that many women feel about "menopause" and "signs of perimenopause" has come about because our normal aging process has been taken over by the medical world - as if it were a medical phenomenon.
This has happened mainly in European and North American cultures in the last 50 years or so, where the "Western" biomedical approach now provides many of the dominant cultural metaphors that we live by.
In other words, menopause has become "medicalised".
So - whenever we think of signs of perimenopause we tend to think of these as "symptoms", which we usually blame on the hormone changes that occur around midlife.
Just as we have seen happen with pregnancy and childbirth, menopause and the signs of perimenopause have insidiously become synonymous with suffering and need for medical consultation and probably intervention in some way.
And at the same time, possible physical discomforts, emotional upheaval and psychological confusion that we may feel around this time of our lives receive so much hype.
In almost everything we read or hear in the media about women’s midlife and signs of perimenopause, we’re told it’s all to blame on our falling oestrogen levels.
Cutting through the brainwashing
According to most of the popular press, almost any twinge, ache or pain in a middle aged woman maybe due to menopause – ie lower oestrogen levels.
But scientific research shows that only hot flushes, vaginal dryness and some insomnia are definitely caused by our hormone changes.
You can read for yourself how thin the scientific evidence is that other discomforts are really caused by falling hormone levels here:
Menopause on trial.
Natural-Menopause-Journey.com is here to sing a different song, and to be a counter voice in the strong cultural wind that would have us all believe that we become prey to our bodies and our hormones at midlife.
Because women’s midlife phase is much, much more complex – and actually much more interesting, than merely the physiological event that occurs when our periods finally stop.
Yes, we may experience physical, emotional and psychological upheaval around this time of our lives.
But when we’re told or if we ourselves feel tempted to describe these "symptoms" as signs of perimenopause, we need to be very careful about how we use our terms.
Because, if we accept the medical terminology uncritically, then we implicitly and unconsciously also sign up to the idea that all these discomforts are "caused by" our hormonal changes and therefore can be "cured" by hormonal intervention.
So let’s take another look at this.
The power of language
Suppose instead of using the word "perimenopause" and talking about "signs of perimenopause", we use the older word "Climacteric"...
Simply by changing the word we use, we change the focus of what we're talking about.
Climacteric – is a critical life phase, that heralds a change in the way we interact with and see our world. And it is experienced by both women and men. Climacteric was a term that was used very commonly before the language of menopause and perimenopause entered popular vocabulary.
You can read more here about the
Learning from other cultures
Anthropologist Margaret Lock did an in-depth study of midlife in Japanese women during the 1980s. Her work is a fascinating insight into how a different cultural setting can create an entirely different interpretation of this life process (1).
In Japan at that time, there were no words that really the same as "hot flushes" and the idea of "menopause" in its purely biological meaning, was scarcely used – either by women or by doctors.
In Japan, the term "konenki" was used to refer to women’s midlife. And this word had a whole gamut of meanings, which Lock explored through interviews with rural and urban living women and with the Japanese medical community.
According to the women Lock talked to, konenki might or might not include the end of menstruation in its spectrum of symptoms. Lock understood from her interviews that konenki is a life phase – which has an entirely different meaning from that which we in the West currently attribute to "menopause".
Signs of konenki are many, but the most common was shoulder pain, with hot flushes or night sweats hardly being mentioned.
Lock inferred that the idea of konenki , was more similar to the Anglo-Saxon term "climacteric," in that it referred to the whole process of midlife change. And in that midlife process, the ending of menstruation was considered merely incidental by the majority of women.
Interestingly, since Lock did her interviews in the 1980s, other anthropologists have found that the terms menopause and "signs of perimenopause" are now being adopted more widely, not only by Japanese doctors but also by Japanese women(2).
Read more about menopause in different cultures
Taking back our midlife process for ourselves - and getting things in perspective
So what does all this mean for women today who want to reclaim their natural midlife process?
Where does this leave us if we do not accept lock, stock and barrel, the cultural programming that tells us that our bodies, minds and emotions are ruled by our hormones?
Are signs of perimenopause really just about our biology rather than about our roles and what midlife means to us?
Are we wrong if we reject the idea that if we feel uncomfortable or anxious or tearful or depressed or sleepless or hot or merely just out of sorts, then it must be because we’re suffering some kind of hormonal "imbalance"?
We live in a very complicated, stressful society, that makes all sorts of demands on us as women.
Midlife – is a time when things do change, often quite radically.
Our lives, our relationships, our work, our expectations and our outlook on our future may all come under the microscope. If we are thinking, sensitive women, it’s normal and natural that they should do so.
It is also true that the world we are living in today is very different from that which our mothers and grandmothers lived in. Society expects different things from us, but more importantly we have been educated and have grown up to expect different lives for ourselves.
And there is no rule book, no map and definitely no GPS.
Women's roles are simply not mapped out the way they were in the past and this is as exciting as it is awe-inspiring.
No wonder we get a bit disorientated.
No wonder we experience weird physical sensations.
No wonder changes in our moods, thoughts and emotions sometimes make us feel as if we’ve been tossed around for weeks in a washing machine.
So how about we stop calling these experiences "signs of perimenopause" and start thinking of them of "signs of climacteric"?
Because they are signs of a much more significant change in our lives than simply our periods stopping.
And like all changes there are losses and there are gains. During our midlife change we lose our fertility but we can also gain a new peace, freedom and confidence.
Signs of perimenopause and climacteric are signs of a change that will bring us to a full maturity and a new meaningful life – if we travel our journey with care, companionship and courage.
- Lock M. Encounters with Aging. Mythologies of menopause in Japan and North America. University of California Press. Berkeley 1993.
- Melby MK, Lock M, Kaufert P. culture and symptom reporting at menopause. Human Reprod Update.2005;11:495-521
First published August 29th 2010. Updated 29/8/2010
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