Always on the lookout for perimenopause news, last week I was intrigued to discover that an expert on women’s health, who’s also frequently in the media and a Board Certified Gynecologist, had released a new book on perimenopause and menopause.
Right from the introduction, she writes about the need for scientific evidence (unfortunately, in the areas of perimenopause and menopause, that usually means research funded by drug companies); she compares understanding a woman’s body to understanding an airplane and a carburetor (do you feel that’s a fair comparison?); and warns against listening to anyone who’s not an expert in women’s health (I’m sure she’d include me in that category – I’m unashamedly self-taught and not board certified).
And then it begins, the ode to estrogen – that hormone we never fully appreciate until it’s GONE, she says.
This author (who will remain nameless on my blog) may be well intentioned, and raising awareness about perimenopause and menopause symptoms is needed, but from the moment she defines midlife as a time to yearn for estrogen, and indeed goes on to become an estrogen pusher, she's doing women a disservice.
Throughout the book, she encourages exercise, a healthy diet, meditation (why not?) but the message is clear: if you really want to feel like yourself again, if you want to get a quick fix cure for your symptoms, get yourself some estrogen – first, during perimenopause, in the form of a low-dose birth control pill and then, by the age of 55, you can graduate to “the wonderful world of hormone therapy” – yes, that’s an actual quote from her book.
Like so many doctors in the field, this author argues that you and I should obviously want to replace the hormones our bodies are naturally trying to deplete at midlife.
Now I’m not saying that there will never be a case where hormone support could provide relief for a woman with debilitating symptoms, but when hormone therapy is heralded as the default treatment for all women suffering from perimenopause and menopause symptoms, there can only be one logical conclusion:
Women’s bodies (including yours and mine) are faulty by design.
And here’s why I reject this conclusion.
You and I were once babies. Then we became girls and then teenagers and then women.
Can you fathom how incredibly brilliant our bodies need to be to make that journey? Brilliant indeed!
I (although I don’t know about you) then became pregnant three times and had three natural births bringing into this world three healthy babies. Nothing short of miraculous from my perspective and yet in the scheme of women’s experiences across the globe, also pretty every day.
Even if you didn’t become a mother in your reproductive years, chances are your body kept on with an impressive monthly cycle of menstruation.
And throughout women’s life cycles, in the overwhelming majority of cases, women achieve all of this – transforming from a baby to a girl to a teenager to a woman and then possibly a mother – without the need for medical intervention.
So why does it make any sense that suddenly at midlife our bodies start malfunctioning? It doesn’t! And please don’t tell me that women were never supposed to live through perimenopause and beyond our reproductive years because it’s just not true (more about that claim in a future post).
What if the whole medical community took a completely opposite approach? What if doctors believed women’s bodies are perfect by design but that sometimes our experiences in life (or more specifically our thoughts about our experiences) interfere with our innate good health?
What if we didn’t have to tamper with the genius evolutionary forces that have created WOMAN, the forces that surely hold more wisdom than we will ever find in a medical text book?
What if we could all believe that our bodies act out of love?
What, I hear you cry, do mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, brain fog and other symptoms have to do with love?
Perhaps we don’t need to fix a woman’s hormones when at midlife she experiences severe mood swings when at the same time she feels deep down that she is not enough. Could it be that her mood swings are her body’s desperate attempt to convince her to look inside so that she can understand that she is enough, or in the words of Anita Moorjani, that she is already magnificent?
Perhaps hot flashes and night sweats, which while experienced by 80% of women in the US, are not experienced by all women across all cultures (even though all women across all cultures experience a drop in estrogen and stop menstruating at some point in midlife) are a physical sign of a lack of internal balance, not with regards to our female hormones but again like our mood swings, something more visceral.
Perhaps when a 40-something woman experiences vaginal dryness she can learn to appreciate that her body is not set on causing her pain but rather her body’s primary concern is to decrease the chances that she’ll become pregnant at a time in her life when pregnancy may still be possible but the risks are greater.
Perhaps when a woman experiences brain fog she can understand that the human race (in addition to her immediate family) needs her to embrace her midlife brain*, which is less keen on being bogged down by details, but very interested in priming her for her role as a wiser elder (she’s now at management level!) so she can concentrate on sharing her wisdom from life.
Imagine if we could all approach perimenopause and menopause with the belief that our bodies never stopped being brilliant and every symptom is a sign of love.
I know firsthand that this isn’t always easy. It’s confusing when you’re burdened by symptoms and all you want is for them to disappear quickly so you can start feeling like yourself again.
But think about it, what could your body be trying to tell you?
* For a fascinating discussion on the midlife brain (and other midlife wonders), I highly recommend the book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty – see chapter 3.
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