by Lori L. Tharps
In late 2021, I launched a podcast called My Bloody Hell in response to all of the women’s voices I’d heard looking for menopause resources. It seemed that everywhere I turned, there was a woman lamenting the lack of resources and information about menopause. What’s more, most women felt that they had to keep their menopause stories and experiences to themselves and effectively, suffer in silence.
My hope in starting the podcast, was to create a vehicle where women could get useful information about menopause and hear inspiring stories from women with unique menopause experiences. In other words, I was going for inspiration and information. The thing is, other than my desire to help, I myself really knew nothing more than the average Jane about menopause. But as a professional journalist and seasoned podcast host, I figured I could figure it out. And I did. I launched the podcast, hosted fourteen great episodes and met some incredible women along the way, including Kathy Garland!
But there’s more.
Not only did I accomplish my goal of launching the podcast, but I also got the added benefit of learning a whole lot about menopause. And these are lessons I can take into my own menopause journey to help make it a better experience. So, I figured, why not share those lessons with others.
So here they are, my top ten takeaways after a season of producing the My Bloody Hell podcast.
1. Perimenopause and Menopause are Not the Same Thing
Even though people use the word menopause as the word to describe the entire journey leading up to the end of your menstrual period and beyond, I discovered that menopause refers to the actual date when a woman goes twelve full months without a period. The four to seven years before that is actually referred to as perimenopause. Now, does it matter what you call it? Not really, but it is helpful to know that there are stages and phases of this process–perimenopause, menopause, post-menopause–which makes it easier to track and understand.
2. No Menopause Experience is the Same
After recording fourteen episodes of the podcast and hearing from so many different women during the process, I’ve learned that every woman experiences perimenopause and menopause differently. Some women actually make it through to menopause with no physical symptoms at all, while other suffer from debilitating symptoms including migraines, spontaneous bleeding, bed-soaking night sweats, and chronic insomnia.
3. Menopause is a Natural Phase of a Woman’s Life
Despite what I just wrote above, menopause is a normal part of a woman’s aging process. It is not a disease, and it is not a deficiency. Sometimes referred to as the “second puberty,” menopause should be seen as a natural stage in female development and should not be medicalized or seen as something abnormal.
4. Diet and Exercise Can Make a Difference
Understanding that menopause is a natural phase of life means there are “natural” ways to help alleviate some of the negative ways perimenopause and menopause manifests in the body. In other words, once we understand that menopause occurs because of the decrease in sex hormones in our bodies, we can do our best to counterbalance the effects of those losses. For example, to counterbalance the decrease in estrogen, we can add soy to our diet which is a phytoestrogen. And as far as exercise is concerned, because menopause leads to a loss of calcium absorption and a propensity for osteoporosis, we can start doing strength training exercises to help strengthen our muscles and protect our bones.
5. Hormone Replacement Therapy Should be an Option
Even though I just wrote that diet and exercise can be helpful in diminishing the negative effects of menopause, we should not reject the idea that hormone replacement therapy might be necessary for some women who suffer from severe and disruptive menopause symptoms.
6. The Field of Medicine is (Still) Sexist
Considering that women have been going through “the change” since women walked the earth, one would think there would be more knowledge in the medical community about the best ways to deal with some of the more aggravating and debilitating menopause symptoms, both physical and emotional. Research shows that only about twenty percent of doctors received adequate training in medical school about menopause, which means the majority of women have to rely on Dr. Google to help them solve their menopause-related questions. Which is just sad.
7. Menopause Makes Your Body Do Really Strange Things
Thinning hair, tingly limbs, an overactive bladder, uncontrollable crying spells, orgasms that make you bleed … yes, menopause does it all. It seems that between ages forty-five and fifty-five, if anything strange happens to your mind or body, it can probably be blamed on menopause.
8. Menopause Can Be a Gift
One of the best things about launching the My Bloody Hell podcast was getting to talk to a bunch of different women about their own personal menopause experience. And in so doing, I heard a lot of women say that menopause was actually a blessing for them. Namely, because they didn’t have to deal with periods anymore and they could finally have sex without worrying about getting pregnant. One woman said menopause meant freedom for her. With all of the complaints I heard, it was refreshing to hear some women see the beauty and benefit of hitting “the Pause.”
9. Hitting Menopause Should be Celebrated
If menopause is a gift (see #8 above), then women should be celebrating the day they hit the twelve-months with no period day. If we now have divorce parties, and period parties for our teens and tweens, then a woman who has successfully hit menopause should get a party too. This transition should be treated like the right of passage that it is with balloons, a piñata, and cake!
10. Post-Menopause is a Thing
Okay, I’ve been contradicting myself throughout this entire list, so I’m not going to stop now. Despite the fact that reaching menopause means the end of periods and the need for birth control, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the goofy symptoms experienced throughout perimenopause. Sorry. Night sweats and insomnia may stick around for another decade. *sob* When I learned this sad fact, I felt betrayed. Why does it have to be so hard, Mother Nature? Why? But at the end of the day, I guess it’s best we know these things ahead of time rather than be blindsided by hot flashes that continue on into our sixties!
So, there you have it. Those are my takeaways from my time as the Oprah of Menopause. If I had to sum up, I’d say that knowledge is power. The more you know and understand about the changes your body is going through during this transition period, the better you will be able to optimize the experience instead of suffering through it. And while the medical industry is definitely sexist, (see #6 above), the captains of industry are turning their attention to serving perimenopausal and post-menopausal women with products and services heretofore unseen. So, that’s a bonus. Yes, some of the stuff being marketed to menopausal women is just snake oil and sugar pills, but there are some great hair and beauty items, as well as apps and clothing that definitely seem to be worth checking out.
At the end of the day, we need to normalize talking about menopause and honor our unique and resilient bodies. It’s time to throw away the shame box and support our fellow sisters in solidarity.
Lori L. Tharps is an author and journalist whose work meets at the intersection of race and real life. She blogs regularly at MyAmericanMeltingpot.com.