Anne Hailes: Learning about the menopause doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg
THERE are positives and negatives and a lot between. We featured the menopause in this paper a couple of weeks ago and the opening of a new dedicated clinic in Holywood emphasising the interest in the subject and the need for more education.
This ‘change of life’ is just that, a time for women, usually in their mid-50s but sometimes younger, when periods cease and childbearing is no longer an option. That much we know and for many this is the positive. The negative is what the change can bring to everyday life.
Of course it’s important to consult your doctor when you find the symptoms are overwhelming or just to put a name on how you are feeling and then take a decision on how best to proceed. Interesting that a GP I talked to told me that he doesn’t see many women seeking help with this situation but on the occasions he does, the symptoms are severe and medical help is needed, perhaps with hormone replacement therapy.
We only hear of the horror stories; around 75 per cent of us manage to cope with the discomfort of night sweats, difficulty sleeping, mood changes.
“There was no fuss in my day,” I was told by a woman now in her 70s. “We just got on with it.”
My mother had it sussed. She arrived at my door some 50 years ago saying she wasn’t on top form, a bit down: “I’d think it was the change of life but it can’t be – I don’t have any hormones.” That’s one way of looking at it.
It’s a point which I discussed with Anne McGale who’s been a practice nurse in Belfast for 36 years and is involved with freelance work for The Woman’s Resource and Development Agency, Addiction NI, Adoption UK and Fostering and Asthma UK.
“I deliver a lot of education and I’m passionate about giving women the knowledge and information to empower them and make educated choices in their health. A positive attitude is important and, if you can, then accepting and getting on with your life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and sharing with friends can be useful.”
Big Pause seminar
She recently held a ‘Big Pause’ seminar for women interested in researching their own individual menopause, where they were able to talk with a doctor, a lawyer, a psychologist and a member of the Equality Commission, as well as hearing Anne’s own presentation based on experience and research.
“We are prepared for puberty and for pregnancy,” she explains, “but who prepares us for the menopause?” We agree that this is where your mother is so important. Usually she’s the one to explain but often she’s not around when you reach your 50s – perhaps she has passed on or is working or tied up with her own interests. Always willing but not always with the time to sit down and talk in depth and be around to keep an eye on her wee girl.
We talk about ‘oxytocin’ levels, sometimes called the ‘love hormone’ involved in childbirth and breastfeeding but also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity and relationship-building. It’s also thought to have benefits in treating depression and anxiety so, if its levels are affected, so are you.
“It goes back to the days of the cavemen. When a woman reaches this time they’ll often get big round the middle, no longer be fertile and problems can build, with men looking further afield for company. But if they understand what is a predictable happening, and realise they too can have symptoms in their own bodies, hopefully they will be supportive of each other and wait until times get better.”
With her company Positive Wellbeing, Anne discusses with employers details about this natural process – important for them as there have been legal cases, won by the women involved, where menopause has been cited as a mitigating circumstance of events during working hours.
She also welcomes men to her informal meetings: “They too need to know the facts in a friendly, non-stressful day talking with others, sharing questions and this certainly works, so much so that I’m organising more such events in September and then taking our seminars out to other towns and cities.”
Where I was quoted £212 for a 30-minute meeting with a consultant at the private clinic, a day with this experienced nurse will cost under £40 and that will include talks by doctors and therapists, also a time of relaxation, a yoga class and advice on positive thinking, today called mindfulness.
More than that, it not only gives those attending a chance to exchange experiences and concerns, but also to establish friendships and an ongoing connection with Anne McGale and her team. The choice is there.
One women in three
“I personally had a bad start to my menopause and decided that if I could help it no other woman would get to that point without information," Anne says.
"This is important because by 2020 one woman in every three who are over 50 will still be in the workplace with no protection as there is no policy or legislation available to support them through the transition. With no local government at present, this is serious; these are the same women who have been supported through pregnancy and maternity leave as there is policy in place in these areas.”
And she is mindful of the men who experience mid-life symptoms, known as andropause and she will continue to develop this line of support. Many of the symptoms reflect what women experience – stress, depression, sleeplessness, loss of libido, fat redistribution (for men it could be developing a belly or ‘man boobs’) and the devastation of erectile dysfunction.
The good news is that there is help available, both medical and through support groups like Anne’s. Contact her at positivewellbeingni.com