If we journeyed through life feeling that we were a part of an ancient tapestry of women’s experiences, then we wouldn’t feel so alone at any point in our life cycles.
If we learned from an early age to trust our bodies and our abilities to adapt to change, then when we felt discomfort, we’d look within.
And if we grew up intimately observing experiences of the older girls and women in our extended families, we’d already know what to expect at every milestone.
But this is not our reality.
We journey through life disconnected from the history of women’s experiences and mistrusting our bodies; we pick up on stories about how we're supposed to malfunction, and then we wait for that to happen; and when we reach perimenopause and menopause, we bounce confused between Google, the media and misinformed doctors hoping to discover a quick cure for our symptoms – something that will "fix" us.
Over the last few weeks, there’s been no better place to observe this disconnect in action than a particular programme on daytime TV.
Lorraine, a TV host from the UK, is bringing women’s experiences of menopause out into the open.
Through a series of interviews and video clips, Lorraine is helping women at midlife feel less alone by educating her viewers about the symptoms women can experience. This is a good thing!
However, once her viewers reach an ecstatic “yes, that’s exactly how I feel!” moment, she leads them to one clear conclusion: at midlife women’s hormones malfunction, which makes us feel bad, now let’s get fixed!
Despite Lorraine’s best efforts, it’s not empowering to conclude that we malfunction en masse at midlife due to an inherent faulty design.
I discovered Lorraine’s menopause campaign through her video “The M Word” which features TV personalities talking about their utterly awful experiences of the menopause.
Menopause is not spoken about nearly enough, and women are eager to watch and share, even when it makes depressing viewing. As of writing, this video has surpassed half a million views on Facebook.
Encouraging women to learn about menopause from this video is comparable to creating a video called “The Curse” and encouraging girls to watch it to learn about menstruation. While we want to educate girls about all aspects of menstruation we wouldn’t want them to fear it. So why in the world do we want to set up women to fear “The M Word?”
If you’ve yet to catch this video, my comment and all the reaction that ensued, you can do so HERE.
Far less viral and yet equally fascinating was another video clip about menopause cut from her TV show. Whereas the video “The M Word” has one main message – dread menopause because it’s awful - this video has a few more subtle messages for women to internalize.
The video follows five women at midlife who are all experiencing menopausal symptoms. The women, who all know each other, get together with a doctor (who is also the husband of one of the women) and decide that they need to have a blood test so that the doctor can tell them if they are “really” in menopause.
At first, we’re told that they want to test the women to see if their menopausal symptoms correlate with the level of hormones expected in the blood of menopausal women. Later (although you might miss it) the doctor explains that such blood tests are important before women start HRT.
MESSAGE 1: Women, you can’t trust your bodies to tell you that you’re in menopause, you must trust a doctor and a lab.
One woman complains about fatigue being her worst symptom. “I’m not used to it,” she says “I’m such a person that goes 100 miles an hour.”
MESSAGE 2: Don’t ever consider that your symptoms could be telling you something useful. Something like ... how about slowing down?!
With the results back from the lab, the doctor and his wife join Lorraine in the studio to discuss what they found out. The doctor reveals: “One woman who swore she was in the menopause, clearly wasn’t!”
Oh no! This must mean that women can have perimenopausal symptoms even before their hormones drop, just as women can have fluctuating hormones without symptoms and women can have symptoms with fluctuating hormones!
How is this particular woman going to cure her symptoms now that she’s not a candidate for HRT?
Wait, what if our symptoms aren’t created by our hormones? What if women’s bodies don’t always behave in ways that doctors think they should behave? What if midlife change is much more about flow than sudden peaks and troughs that we can pinpoint on a graph in a lab?
MESSAGE 3: Don’t trust your body, you must first get tested. Wait. That was Message 1!
Lorraine asks Dee, the doctor’s wife about her results. We discover that to her huge relief her estrogen levels are low. Dee starts beaming! Hurray, the authorities (her husband the doctor, and the lab) have confirmed that she’s officially in menopause and a candidate for HRT. She’s so relieved because she thought that it might be something to do with her approaching empty nest, while her husband gives away that he thought it might be something to do with the fact that she’s still training as if she were a professional athlete. But no, the computers in the lab said it’s her malfunctioning body instead!
After all, let’s not get curious about what might be changing in our lives and the meaning we place on it (the meaning is really important!), because we all know what happens to women who get curious – think Eve, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard’s wife (by the way, under no circumstances am I insinuating that the doctor is a character from the bible or a fairy tale).
MESSAGE 4: Turn to medicine instead of curiosity.
With these messages being pushed out not only on daytime TV, but pretty much everywhere you look where people are discussing the menopause, it’s no surprise that women continue to fear menopause, mistrust their bodies and find themselves more disconnected from our natural life cycles and the history of women’s experiences. And it’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of women in Western societies will choose to medicate themselves through midlife just to get by.
BUT...IF YOU CHOOSE CURIOSITY...there's lots to read on this website and I'm also happy to share this interesting blog post, from Kristin over at Tales of Faerie, about how curiosity leads to happily ever after :-)