I owe a sincere and long overdue apology to all the older women in my life. Please let me explain why.
I remember a few years ago, a fairly typical Sunday night, when the whole family had gathered at Mum’s place for a roast dinner. Midway through dinner mum jumped up from the table and suddenly started opening up all the windows and madly fanning herself.
She had recently begun to go through menopause, to which we were all aware, and the uncomfortable hot flushes that she was experiencing were becoming more intense and frequent.
“She is having another one of her power surges”, someone chimed and we all laughed. Even mum joined in the laughter (her ability to laugh at herself has always been one of her many wonderful attributes).
“It’s freezing with the windows open!” we all chorused. “Can’t you just pop outside” someone suggested.
And that’s just what she did. She took her glass of wine and stood on the deck all by herself until her hot flush passed. Without comment or complaint, she eventually re-joined us at the dinner table.
On this occasion, and so many others just like it, I offered her not one ounce of empathy. I made no acknowledgment or allowance for the fact that she might have been in emotional or physical distress.
Mum, you bore this discomfort alone and in silence. And for this I am so very truly sorry. You deserve better.
Now onto my older female colleagues. You deserve this apology too.
As a new mother returning to the workplace I have been bestowed with empathy and concession for the sleepless nights and emotional upheaval that come with having a baby.
But, until recently, I have offered no such kindnesses or compassion in return. I have not considered that you too might be exhausted from sleepless nights and emotional turbulence spurred by menopause.
I have not recognized, until now, that perhaps the workplace is filled with uncomfortable challenges for you at the moment. You try to keep abreast of your workload whilst possibly enduring mood changes, bladder discomfort, pain in your joints and unbearable hot flushes. And you bear all this in silence, without empathy, understanding or acknowledgement from your colleagues or managers.
Occasionally, I have even had the audacity to whine about the air-conditioning being set too cold. How self-absorbed I have been.
I am so very truly sorry. You deserve better.
The only excuse I can proffer for my behaviour and attitude is pure ignorance. Until recently, I had little to no real understanding of menopause, other than knowing the bare basics.
As a woman in her 30s, it feels as though knowledge of menopause, and its detrimental effect on women’s quality of life, is kept a secret that one only discovers when you reach the age to join the club.
In order to rectify the gaping hole in my knowledge, I set out to become better informed. Here are the basics that every person should know about menopause:
- The average age of menopause is 51, but onset can be earlier.
- Most women experience symptoms for 5 to 10 years. Prior to this women also go through a period of perimenopause, where symptoms are also apparent.
- The symptoms of menopause include, but are not limited to, changes in menstrual periods, hot flushes, night sweats, problems sleeping, pain in joints, tiredness, anxiety, mood changes, dry vagina and bladder discomfort.
Whilst some of this was not new information to me, I was unaware of just how disruptive menopause can be to the lives of some women. I learnt that one in four women will experience debilitating symptoms that can last up to 15 years!
A recent survey conducted in the UK found that 50% of respondents said the menopause caused stress on their close relationships, 60% said they had lower self esteem and 84% reported that their productivity at work was reduced.
With menopause having this kind of impact on women’s quality of life, I can’t help but think that my heartfelt apology to the older women in my life really isn’t good enough.
In Australia, social and cultural attitudes around menopause need to shift.
Men and women of all ages should have an understanding of what menopause is and how it can impact the lives of older women. Starting in school, children should receiving education about menopause, just as they receive education about sexual health and puberty.
With 17% of the Australian workforce comprising of women of menopausal age, it is essential that workplace policies be established to support women during this phase of their lives. Adjustments to physical work environments, provisions of information and support, flexible working hours and training for line managers are all examples provided by the Australiasian Menopause Society of ways in which workplaces can best support menopausal women.
Most importantly, open and honest dialogue needs to be established in the workplace so that any discomfort being felt by menopausal women need not be exacerbated by feelings of shame or embarrassment.
We may not be able to eliminate the physical symptoms of menopause but, as a society, we can alleviate some distress by providing older women with empathy, understanding and support.
As women transition out of their reproductive years, they should be valued and celebrated for the experience, knowledge and maturity that come with aging. Older women deserve to be treated with the respect and empathy, as they continue to offer their invaluable contribution to all our lives.
You may also like to read ‘IT’S NATURAL TO BE A JUDGY MUM‘
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