I've just started my period.
Is that too much information?
You see, the thing is, I'm really pleased to have started my period because I'm getting to 'that age', the age where soon I won't be having periods, but where I might soon be having hot sweats, insomnia, headaches, lapses of memory, mood swings, loss of libido, a leaky bladder and a dry vagina. When my periods stop I could start to suffer from osteoporosis, I might gain weight and lose height and hair.
So I'm pleased that my period started for one more month.
And yet, when I look at this photo, taken on holiday by my lovely photographer friend Vic, I see a body that is not the body I used to see (from an angle I am not used to seeing it from). Even though I am doing more exercise and eating better than at any other time of my life, I see the body of a middle aged woman; a body which has more solidity than before. I see my mother's body as it looked when I was a teenager.
Puberty, Pregnancy and the Menopause
When I was that teenager; approaching and going through puberty, there was much excitement and whispering about puberty and starting our periods. We sat in circles on the school field and talked about our budding breasts, the difference between belted sanitary towels (remember them??) or sticky ones. Some of our circle had mothers who didn't approve of tampons and were envious of those with more 'modern' mothers who did.
We entered puberty having had lessons, assemblies, 'talks' and leaflets, albeit without the boys. Our mother's had stumbled to tell us what we needed to know, some more effectively than others, but we had an idea of what would happen and when. Teachers were tolerant of stomach cramps, or the need to go and 'change' we all checked each other for signs of the dreaded 'flooding'. We went through puberty together.
During pregnancy there was information, guidance, leaflets (which this time included the boy). People were happy to talk about stretch marks, cracked nipples, and the benefits of perineal massage. Health visitors, midwives, friends and family were eager to discuss all the physical changes and challenges of pregnancy and birth. Pregnancy is celebrated. celebrity bumps abound in the gossip magazines, worn with pride, clothed or uncovered.
But where are the celebrity tales of the menopause? How did Helen Mirren Mirren and Judy Dench get through the menopause? What about Madonna and Moira Stewart? Why is no one talking about this stuff (apart from Radio 4's Women Hour).
Puberty was celebrated as the start of maturity and womanhood, pregnancy and birth are celebrated as the start of new life and yet the menopause isn't celebrated; instead it is seen as an ending, a loss; a loss of youth, a loss of potential to create life, a loss of the body we used to have.
Yet in many cultures the end of menstruation signals a new beginning; a step into being the wise elder, free of the obligations and demands of fertility.
Celebrate the menopause
Cognitive psychology has taught us that we can influence how we experience and feel about life if we change how we think about it; so let's lay claim to the new beginnings of the menopause and initiate a culture of celebration and excitement as we enter this new phase in our lives.
Rather than focusing on what is ending, let's look at what we can celebrate and start:
- More time for you - now the children have left or are growing up we have more time to do what we want to do and see who we want to see.
- More resilience - we are less shocked and shaken by what the world can throw at us as we have been there before
- Less material striving - Most of us have more of what we want than we did in our 20s and there is less that we want. For many of us, material acquisition, status and striving loses it's attraction and drive
- Self- acceptance - we know ourselves better than we did in our 20s, we know what we like, what we are good at, what our values are.
- Reclaimed sex life - free of the fear of pregnancy and the inhibitions of youth, many women are having their best sex ever. We know how to turn ourselves on, we have found our G spot and we know what we like and aren't afraid to ask for it. For other women a drop in libido can be a welcome change and a chance to use their energies in different ways.
- Relationships - for many couples, this is the time when long term marriage break down as the children leave home and the couple are left looking at each other. As much as there is a sadness and a loss in these endings, there are also celebrations of people stepping out to look for what they want and need now. For other couples, this is a time of renewal and re-connection; time alone, time together with an increased deepening of bonds and commitments.
- More freedom - as family obligations change there is more time to travel, to paint, to visit friends and to do what you enjoy doing.
- Health - As our body changes we are given an opportunity to focus on what we eat and how we move and exercise in order to optimize our wellness. This is our chance to focus on our self-care, on our needs and our vitality.
- Friendships - I have friends have known me for nearly 40 years; these are the people who know me inside and out, who have seen me through thick and thin and who I can share anything with. It takes a long time to make an old friend and by this stage in our life many of us are lucky enough to have these kinds of deep and enduring friendships. This is also a great time to make new friends by joining new things and developing our interests
- Networks - by now many of us have a huge network of friends and contacts. We know where to go to get our car fixed, our hair done. We know who can help us with our accounts and our diet, we have people who can guide us, give us information and support us. We are also in positions to mentor and support others, to share our experience and to see others thrive
- Learning - Now is your chance to learn something new. Not only will it keep your brain healthy, but you'll meet new people and have more experiences. Whether we start learning the piano, or return to ballet or start to study again, keeping our brain active is key to an engaged life
- Wiser - we have lived a life and know how it can be. We have seen relationships come and go, we have dealt with illness, loss, birth and possibly death. We have seen into the hearts and minds of many, we have read much and listened to more. We have a life time of experience to draw on and share with the world
- More empowered - we know what we're good at. We know what we like. We know that we can't please everyone all the time and have stopped trying. We know how to say what we think. We know who the people are we can trust. We are less scared than we were in our youth because we have faced so many of the things we were scared of and survived. We know how to look after ourselves.
- A chance to turn inwards - So much of our lives are spent looking outwards to the world, looking at work, family, and being busy with all we have to do. Now is our time to press pause and turn inwards, to sit quietly and listen to our inner wisdom, to our intuition and our heart.
- A time to be in the moment - as we approach the menopause and stand firmly in our middle years we see that our death may now be closer than birth. This is a huge opportunity to come into the moment more and more, to appreciate what we have, to notice the dew on the grass and the smiles on the faces of the people we love.
- A time to reinvent ourselves - do you know that Mother Teresa didn't start her work until her 40s, Vera Wang only became a fashion designer in her 40s, Julia Child the celebrity chef didn't write her first cook book until she was 50 and Louise Hay didn't set up Hay House until she was in her 50s? Now is your time to find your passion, your meaning, your calling and to take it forward with all the skills and wisdom you have accrued in your life and with the support of friends who know you well.
Our World Needs You
The world needs older women to continue to step forward rather than to retreat into the shadows to wait for old age. We have skills, passions, experience and wisdom and now is the time to share it with all the power those lives have given us to make the world a better place. Let's celebrate the menopause and all the changes and opportunities it can bring