Life

Menopause Cafe aims to break the silence surrounding 'the change'

As Northern Ireland's first pop-up Menopause Cafe opens in Bangor, Jenny Lee finds out more about breaking the silence on a normal part of life that's all too often treated as taboo

Ladies enjoying the first ever Menopause Cafe event, held in Bangor's Aurora Leisure Centre

A MENOPAUSE Cafe, aimed at increasing awareness of the impact of the menopause on those experiencing it, and reflecting on the third stage of life, has opened in Bangor.

The monthly pop-up cafe, at Bangor Aurora Leisure Centre, launched this month, with those attending enjoying many laughs and forming friendships as they discussing how they have cope with sweats during our hot summer.

Despite the fact it's such a common part of life, menopause remains a bit of a mystery and is something many women don't totally understand, as Elaine Hutton, a fitness instructor at Aurora, one of three women involved in hosting the first event of its kind in Northern Ireland, admits.

"It’s a rather confusing area of life. It's called 'the change' – but what exactly does that mean? Those approaching the menopause often worry about how they are going to change or if they are going to change.

"I have been having mood swings and find myself asking 'Why was I crying?' but I don’t honestly know if I’m menopausal or not at the moment," says the 51 year-old Bangor woman, who first heard about the Menopause Cafe idea in the early hours of the morning on Radio 5 Live as she struggled to get to sleep.

"When I heard the founder Rachel Weiss interviewed on another programme, I decided to contact her about hosting a cafe and bringing it to Northern Ireland.

"It's a place to share stories, ask questions, laugh and cry. I was delighted the way the women at the first meeting were so open with each other and hopefully I too will be able to learn from other people’s experiences."

Menopause symptoms

The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. However, around one in 100 women experience the menopause before 40 years of age.

Most women will experience menopausal symptom such as hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, headaches, joint stiffness, problems with concentration and vaginal dryness.

Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around four years after your last period, although some women experience them for much longer. And while hormone replacement therapy, complementary therapies and lifestyle changes can help some, for some the symptoms can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities and can lead to people feeling depressed and isolated.

Launched in June 2017 by Rachel Weiss, from Perth, in Scotland, the Menopause Cafe was modelled upon the Death Café concept, where people gather to chat about subjects surrounding death and dying.

Menopause Cafe is now a registered charity, with Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark as its patron. Rachel has given up a part-time job so she can devote more time to organising the charity, which has seen cafes set up throughout the UK, as well as in Canada.

The simple guidelines for the events are respecting one another’s confidentiality, not pushing any particular product or service, and encouraging participants to move regularly to speak to as many people as possible.

"The Menopause Cafe is aimed at women and men of all ages who would like to come along and talk about the menopause, to share their stories, experiences and questions, all made that little bit easier with tea and cake.

"Unfortunately, many women feel that they should just ‘get on with’ the menopause, some never talking to their friends of family about it. But the reality is that it affects all women eventually, not forgetting those who live and work with them.

“We pathologise menopause and treat it as a medical issue rather than another transition, like puberty. We’re not negative about puberty but we generally are about menopause. It’s taboo. Yet you could have at least a third of your life left afterwards and there are lots of women who sail through it," says Rachel, who encourages women to feel optimistic about coping with the menopause

"It’s great when women in their seventies turn up and share positive experiences. Women all go through it, but we don’t get together and talk about it, so we come to it unprepared.

The PSNI is considering introducing a health policy on the menopause, something welcomed by Elaine, who would love to see other Menopause Cafe events happen throughout Ireland.

"Women are working so much longer now and if employers can understand women in the workplace going through the menopause, they can put measures in place. The more women who come along and share their experiences of difficulties in the workplace, the more solutions can be put in place."

:: The next Menopause Cafe will be on Wednesday September 5 from 2-4 pm at Bangor Aurora Leisure Centre, continuing on the first Wednesday of every subsequent month. For more information see Menopausecafe.net or visit them on Facebook.

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