Anne Hailes: Menopause Cafes offer perfect environment for sharing and increased understanding
IMAGINE the scene: The Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve in front of God, who is admonishing them for disobeying. To Eve he says: "I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing, with pain you will give birth to children, your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."
Poor Eve, not a very positive outlook. Although, in certain parts of the world there are menstruating huts where woman are put to stay until their period is over and some cultures disallow women to touch food during this time for fear of contamination.
In fact, still today in our so called 'enlightened' world, there is a negative reaction towards menstruation and the complex area of life we call reproduction. Here, I think of the women of Afghanistan and the awful, cruel limitations on their lives, both physical and emotional.
After all, menstruation is a preparation for pregnancy, which most couples welcome. However, once that has been achieved and time goes on, the mechanism changes. Menopause creeps up and, in many cases, so does the weight.
One woman said: "I see it as the stage of your life when you are old, stop working, lose your memory and your sex drive".
Another said: "I think it's when you are trying to work, manage children or teenage moods while caring for elderly parents and holding down a job with no support from your manager."
What is it with the menopause that gets people going? Some men think it's a state of mind', you'll get over it, it's just one of those things a woman has to put up with, it won't last for ever. But it's not Just One Of Those Things – it is a major and often frightening life-changing event.
There have been acres of articles in newspapers and magazines, programmes on radio and television, celebrity women pontificating and employers often spouting nonsense and there are expensive clinics beyond the reach of most women – this is where Anne McGale comes into the picture.
She and her colleague Liz Wenden-Kerr are practice nurses at the Holywood Arches Health Centre. They believe in the 'personal touch', so they established local Menopause Cafes – and the beauty of their latest idea is mobile cafes that 'pop-up' where they are needed and are a wonderful way to find some comfort.
"We don't necessarily talk menopause all the time, we offer free support, companionship, contact and conversation over tea and cake. It's a great way to raise spirits and to realise you aren't the only one experiencing these symptoms."
World Menopause Day is on October 18 this year and the first cafe will open two days beforehand, on Thursday 16 at First Avenue Coffee Company on Belfast's Ormeau Road between 7pm and 9pm.
Then, celebrating the day itself on October 18, Menopause Wellbeing NI will provide a free awareness session from 10am to 11am. Anne asks that, due to Covid, please register online.
The second cafe event is happening at Maitri Yoga Studio, 4 The Mount in Belfast on Saturday October 23 between 10am and 11 am.
The idea of a Menopause Cafe was the brainchild of Rachel Wiess in 2017. Living in Scotland, she recognised that a lot can be discussed in confidence over a cup of coffee and in an area where women and men can come to discuss how life is for them during the menopause.
"If you think, about it, all women will experience the menopause to some degree," she says, "and most men will live or work with women who are experiencing the menopause, so it's really important that men know about it."
By talking about the subject in a cafe atmosphere, information permeates to others, especially employers: indeed, such is their success that her idea has gone worldwide, with their first mobile cafe now here in Northern Ireland.
Anne McGale explained: "Liz and I are passionate about being there to offer support to women and men on all aspects of the menopause.
"We're here to provide a service at a time when women are usually reaching their peak, grown children are living independent lives, there's a chance of promotion at work or time for yourself at home, so much going on and then menopause hits and life gets very difficult.
"One of the few positives to come out of Covid is working from home, suddenly women have had the opportunity of a private space where they can have a fan on to cool the hot flushes, plenty of water to drink and a toilet facility close by."
On average, this 'change of life' hits between 45 and 55. Usually there's a reluctance to admit to night sweats, headaches and irritability, but questions too – aching wrists, thinning hair and feeling depressed and alone.
It's important to remember this is a medical condition and thankfully a women's committee in the House of Commons are hoping to secure legislation in line with that for pregnancy: rest areas, welfare rights, risk assessments for every woman, not just those in a work environment.
Some women are ultra-positive
"I see it as a time when you stop having periods. There's no more risk of pregnancy. You are at the top of your profession and get great support from your manager in the work place with respect for your experience.
"Your children are away from home and you are finding new romance with your husband. You are taking up many activities that you always wanted to do such as art and hillwalking."
That's a really rosy picture: romance, art and hillwalking? Unlikely, but positivity comes in all shapes and forms.
My own mother had a unique approach the day she called with me in tears and confessed in all seriousness that she was feeling low and out of sorts.
"I'd think it was the change of life," she said, "but it can't be – I don't have hormones."