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The secrecy of . . . menopause

Women of today are seen, heard, and empowered by positive conversations about menopause

Women in perimenopause (the time around menopause when your ovaries gradually stop working), menopause, or post-menopause are still experiencing silence surrounding this significant change in their lives.

Questions are secretly asked. What is happening? Why do I feel this way? What help do I need and where will I be heard and understood?

Women are left trying to understand their bodies with a significant portion remaining uninformed of the possible long-term health impacts of menopause.

“For decades, menopause has been shrouded in taboo, stigma, shame, and silence,” says Breeda Bermingham, founder of the free monthly Midlife Women Rock Cafés and author of the similarly titled, Midlife Women Rock. “Gail Sheedy’s body of work in the 1990s referenced it as The Silent Passage, a transition of womanhood given little significance across society.”


Thankfully, this belief and attitude is no longer the norm as the past few years have been testament to the transformation in the conversation. “Over the last three to four years something remarkable is occurring,” says Bermingham. “Menopause is becoming mainstream. There is a huge cultural and societal shift that is presently happening. Previous generations of women and advocates were unable to achieve this bringing forth of menopause in society. We are the generation taking it out of the shadows, spotlighting its importance, its impact and not only for women, but relationships, families, and the work environment.”

While the conversation is not necessarily quiet anymore as advocates split open the dialogue, the individual lived experience can still nestle in a bed of confusion and silence. “For the woman who sits alone at home experiencing debilitating menopause symptoms, this silence is of little assistance,” says Catherine O’Keeffe, author of the recently published All You Need to Know About Menopause. The discussion is about more than menopause symptoms. It encompasses the entire female body, what it means to age well, and how to live passionately and authentically.

O’Keeffe believes menopause is still a misunderstood phenomenon. “We have made great progress,” she says, “but we have a long road to go. Yes, some women feel empowered to speak openly about their own experiences but that is not every woman in Ireland.”

Women still feel unprepared for this stage of their life with many not aware that urinary tract infections and heart palpitations are just some of the many symptoms of menopause. Along with the possibility of sudden and severe deterioration of mental health, menopause simply cannot remain hidden and silent. This time of life should not be kept a personal secret, especially if the symptoms are severe and help is needed.

“We know many are marginalised and left on the fringes without the support they need in these years,” says O’Keeffe. “This is further compounded by the lack of education across society. Menopause is more than hot flushes. It is a deeply psychological chapter in a woman’s life and that needs to be embraced and understood by all. Only by speaking openly about menopause, like we do pregnancy, will we start to lift the veil of secrecy and shame that has shrouded menopause and finally ensure we shatter the taboo. And as we do this it is crucial that the conversation is a balanced one and respect is given to each individual experience as we all differ through this chapter. Being empowered with information to make informed choice is key.”

It is a complex subject and one that must be taken seriously

—  Catherine O'Keeffe

Menopause was never discussed in O’Keeffe’s childhood, and the only explanation she had for puberty came from a book tucked under her pillow. “Thankfully, we are now embracing period power and schools cover puberty,” she says. “If we can transform it such that family, friends, and partners are aware of menopause and feel at ease discussing it, then we will actually effect change. It needs to be a subject at the kitchen table that we all feel safe discussing. It is a complex subject and one that must be taken seriously. Everyone who touches off a woman going through menopause needs to understand what it entails. It doesn’t just impact the person going through it but all the touchpoints in your life, both at work and at home.”

“History shows us how taboos are shattered,” says Bermingham, who began opening the conversation of menopause by creating a safe space for women with the Midlife Women Rock Cafés in Waterford in 2019. “Many of the women whom I met at the cafes are amazing advocates today by sharing their knowledge with extended family, work colleagues, and friends. Courageous women and men are inviting menopause educators into the workplace.”

Bermingham is an associate consultant with Henpicked Menopause in the Workplace in the UK and Ireland. She says that the number attending webinars and face-to-face presentations is increasing monthly with more men turning up in rooms wanting to understand what menopause is all about.

For Bermingham, menopause education and understanding were transformative. “I took on my menopause,” she says. “What I discovered was that without agency or any control over what is happening, women are powerless and too often are in crisis. We have to normalise menopause to ensure all are supported and eventually have access to the many positives this life stage brings.”

Menopause is everywhere. There is no escaping the fact that it is a part of all our lives

Becoming increasingly comfortable with broaching the subject and making the conscious choice to talk openly about it at home, with friends, and colleagues, will ensure people will feel they can talk about the complex experience of menopause without judgment. “Women have a huge role to play in the present story,” says Bermingham. “We must keep talking about menopause. Education and signposting for supports must become as visible as pregnancy information and support. This is the direction we are heading in.”

Menopause is everywhere. There is no escaping the fact that it is a part of all our lives. As with most things, the more we know and understand about menopause, the better prepared we are to deal with it. For women, menopause is no longer the devasting diatribe from the 1950s and 1960s.

Today’s woman is seen, heard, and empowered by positive conversations about menopause.

For women to no longer suffer silently, and to access the necessary help and support, the conversation must continue to be loud.

The secrecy of . . .

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh

Geraldine Walsh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family