It’s galling that the menopause is seen as yet another thing that women should grit their teeth and get through
News that the country’s supply of HRT is running out reminded me of a postcard I have on my office wall which says, ‘I am out of oestrogen and I have a gun’.
And while I’m not saying that hordes of menopausal women deprived of HRT would resort to violence, they could offer a solution to the political mess we are in. It’s now six months since my local pharmacy warned me of ‘distribution problems’ with HRT when they gave me just half my prescription. And while warnings that this was Brexit related were initially dismissed as scaremongering, with Brexit still to happen, they now appear to have some substance. But even if you view this national HRT shortage as having no clearly identified cause, the coincidence with our imminent withdrawal from the EU and warnings of drug shortages and stockpiling, remains hanging.
And with the temperature soaring, it’s galling that the menopause is just seen as yet another thing that women should grit their teeth and get through. Like childbirth and menstruation. As Holyrood publishes its annual ‘health of the nation’ issue I am reminded that the health inequalities for women are stark.
Women spend their lives restricted by their biology: monthly periods that are a regular painful reminder that despite the years of campaigning for equality, some things just don’t change.
It’s hackneyed but a truism that if men had to go through this, there would either be a cure by now or we’d be extinct, because no man would, realistically, ever consider pushing a baby out of their nether regions and then think it would all go back to normal.
But still we feel guilty when we ‘give in’ to relying on drugs or even surgery to make life more comfortable. And now this.
The Department for Health has admitted awareness of ongoing supply issues since last December and its advice thus far to a looming crisis has been a mealy-mouthed suggestion to discuss alternatives with your GP.
From menopause magnets in your pants to black cohosh, ginseng and evening primrose oil, women are inundated with advice about what to do. Like we haven’t already tried everything else before turning to HRT in desperation and as a last resort.
HRT has transformed my life. From previously waking up every morning feeling like I had been hit by a 10-tonne truck, my twice-weekly patches have restored some sense of normality, and I’m not about to give up on that now.
Yes, it is true that with Brexit people with life-threatening conditions will be worried about supplies of drugs, but that’s not another reason to knock women down the priority list in terms of their health and wellbeing.
If you question whether getting HRT is a matter of life or death, ask yourself, would you ask that of a man?
It’s not unusual for women of a certain age to feel invisible, to see our demands pushed to the bottom of the pile, but HRT is a lifeline for many of us, not some nice add-on.
And in truth, menopausal women are likely also to be the carers, stumbling through brain fog, hot flushes, depression and sleep deprivation while looking after elderly relatives, teenage kids and more.
The fact is that while women are being told to ‘man up’ and seek alternatives to a drug that just makes them feel normal, Viagra is being stockpiled pre-Brexit for men that might need that extra lift after the, eh-em, withdrawal.
And in the same month that Scots discover our life expectancy is stalling, a drug that can help women live longer by decreasing their risk of heart disease goes into critically short supply, we are asked to consider how much worse it could be.
Oh, lucky, lucky me.
More than 60 per cent of women will suffer the ill-effects of the natural process of ageing - ‘the change’- but that doesn’t mean they should take it like a man because frankly, he wouldn’t.
One in five girls and young women in the UK are teased or bullied about their period and 10 per cent of women are so debilitated by their symptoms, they consider quitting their job.
Period poverty is a real and current deprivation with schoolgirls missing out on lessons because they can’t afford sanitary protection.
Later in life, they can look forward to weight gain, sleeplessness, depression, headaches, loss of memory, hot flushes, vaginal atrophy and an absence of libido.
Women put up with too much and then feel guilty for ‘giving in’ but there are no medals for stoicism and we shouldn’t have to put up with anything that can be relieved.
And on that note; let’s talk about urinary incontinence. Those adverts that have women asking ‘what’s a bit of pee compared with being a mother?’
One in three women suffer from urinary incontinence after childbirth and yet there is no need to put up with it.
Imagine if men were walking around wetting their pants (OK, that isn’t much of a stretch) every time they had a sneeze, laughed too hard or just jumped on a trampoline?
Urinary incontinence can blight women’s lives. It isn’t something they should endure or feel grateful that they can now buy black paper pants that should be done under the Trade Descriptions Act for being called ‘pretty’.
The NHS spends millions on urinary incontinence pads alone and yet with the right advice and a good pelvic floor exercise routine, the problem can readily be solved.
And with the bonus of better orgasms, what’s not to like?
But people aren’t talking about it. It’s a women’s thing and even the Scottish Government, such doughty advocates for women’s equality, has so far refused to include advice about the importance of pelvic floor exercises in their baby box. Why?
When it comes to health, it’s not always women that need fixed, it’s the attitudes towards them.