I will never forget a trip to the supermarket with my Mum when I was about 12. As we unpacked the trolley, I held up one item and said quite loudly
‘What kind of towels are these? They’re tiny!’
The cashier suppressed a laugh and my Mum looked a bit embarrassed. ‘I’ll tell you about it in the car’. I knew I had said something wrong and inside felt mortified.
On the way home my Mum explained everything. It was the pre-internet age and with just brothers in our family, it was my first proper introduction to periods.
A big operation…
A couple of years later my Mum went in for ‘a big operation’ (code for hysterectomy) in a central London hospital. During her convalescence, my mates and I were up in London, so we all popped in to see her. We stood around her bed and chatted “You alright Mrs Kuhrt, how’s it going?”
At the time, I did not really think much of it but it caused quite a stir because they were not used to groups of teenage boys visiting the women’s ward after such operations. My Mum still talks about it.
Both of these situations stick in my memory because I remember a clear sense of embarrassment, awkwardness and shame that surrounded these ‘women’s issues’. Today, there seems to be more openness and honesty and certainly my teenage children talk about such things very differently.
So what’s the point of this article, especially as its written by a man?
It’s because I think that similar issues of ignorance, secrecy and shame surround the menopause. Despite the profound impact the menopause has on relationships and families, it is not talked about or understood as it should be.
It still remains the basis of shallow jokes. Too often, the quality of conversations around the menopause are similar to how teenage boys at school talk about periods. We can do better.
During lockdown, I have been having regular zoom calls with different groups of mates and we have tried to be more honest and open about how we are doing. One subject that has been raised is how the menopause is affecting our partners, us and our families. I realised that when I first mentioned the word ‘menopause’ I leaned in very close to my screen and spoke in a whisper, whilst nervously looking over my shoulder.
My nervousness illustrated both the sensitivity of the issue and that men can feel like they are betraying their partners in talking the issue. I now think differently. We need to talk about the difficult things and not brush them under the carpet.
It has been profoundly important in our relationship that my wife has been open and upfront about how she is feeling during the past couple of years. It has helped me understand how she is feeling and how I should respond. I have learnt a lot about how I can be less annoying!
If we care about relationships and families then the menopause is exactly the kind of issue that we need to talk about. Being truthful allows us to show grace to each other.
Just consider the findings of recent research from Nuffield Health:
- Approx 13 million UK women are either peri- or post-menopausal
- Symptoms can last up to 15 years
- 60% of women experience symptoms resulting in behaviour changes
- 1 in 4 women will experience severe debilitating symptoms
- Half of menopausal women feel depressed and a third suffer with anxiety
- Women commonly complain of feeling as though they are going mad
- 38% seek help from their GP but many are incorrectly diagnosed and given anti-depressants
- The subject remains a taboo in the workplace. 90% said they felt unable to talk to a manager or colleague
These facts show clearly what a hugely significant issue the menopause is. Of course it is women who are most directly affected, but it also has a huge effect on relationships, families and workplaces. Two thirds of women say there is a general lack of support and understanding
The charity Menopause Support campaigns for better education and awareness about the impact of the menopause.
They have excellent resources such as this Guide for Partners with 10 steps for what men can do to help their partner and protect their relationship during this time of change.
We need to be more open and talk about the impact that the menopause causes. Not as the basis of jokes, or to blame others, but to build better understanding.
Both women and men need to talk more about how they are affected and share with others the actions that help. There is much to gain and nothing to be ashamed of.
- Join me and sign the Make Menopause Matter petition
- If you interested in an example from the Bible about how Jesus brought these issues into the open, read the first comment below