Talking point: why menopause matters
I hadn’t given the menopause a lot of thought until recently.
The only time I briefly contemplated it was when complications of my second pregnancy included the risk of having an emergency hysterectomy as I delivered my baby.
I remember thinking that might not be such a bad thing – it would rule out the possibility of ever getting pregnant again (the aforementioned complications meant I didn’t want to have another baby) and it would also bring an end to the misery I endure every single month.
What could be so bad about that?
After attending Holyrood’s recent policy event on menopause in the workplace, I was hit square in the face with the answer to my question.
In a room largely full of either menopausal or perimenopausal women, I discovered their experiences of going through this inevitable, completely natural process were far from liberating, but rather, full of despair, isolation and frustration.
It was the complete opposite of the relief that I imagined women might feel as they waved goodbye to Tampax and crippling monthly cramps.
The most frightening part was that most of the women spoke of very similar experiences, where their GPs had written them a prescription for Prozac rather than HRT.
They talked about feeling like they were “going mad”, knowing there was something wrong with them but not knowing what, and the frustration of not being able to do anything about it.
And there were women who suspected their symptoms were menopausal but not only had to self-diagnose to their doctor, but actually had to fight to get treatment to help them.
One woman I spoke to was even referred for numerous cancer tests, enduring months of worry and stress, before it was finally discovered that her suspected cancer was in fact the menopause.
And it’s not just GPs that seem to be lacking in knowledge of a condition which half of the population goes through when they hit their early fifties (or for some, even earlier).
The STUC reported that 99 per cent of almost 4,000 members who completed a survey on the menopause didn’t have, or didn’t know if they had, a menopause policy within their workplace.
And, even more depressingly, 63 per cent said the menopause had been treated as a joke at work.
Treated as a joke for going through a natural process that they have zero control over and that every single woman of a certain age experiences? Treated as a joke for suffering pain, anxiety, fatigue, severe headaches, mood swings, heavy bleeding, night sweats, insomnia and memory problems?
If any employee other than a menopausal woman reported experiencing even half of these debilitating symptoms to an employer, would they be ridiculed? I doubt it very much – at least not without a resulting employment tribunal.
Terms like ‘the change’ – and I feel a bit sick just typing that – are bandied about flippantly, largely by men trying to downplay the devastating impact this has on women, their relationships, their careers.
Yes, it is a change, but it’s a monumental one which comes hand in hand with a host of recognised medical conditions – so why are we still allowed to get away with discriminating against menopausal women?
This sexist 70s sketch show attitude has no place in the 21st century and the more we call it out, the more we talk about the menopause, the more we are open about the severity of the symptoms and their impact on day-to-day life, then the more chance we have of ensuring that everyone knows that menopause matters.