Culturally Supported Menopause
Last night I woke up 10 times.
Despite wanting more sleep I started my day at 5.30am.
Based on recent months this was a good night’s sleep.
You may ask what’s going on?
No I don’t have a newborn baby to look after.
No I’m not ill.
No I’m not surrounded by noisy neighbours.
Most nights, for the last 2.5 years, I’ve been woken by night sweats – surges of heat rising through my body – only to be replaced moments later by icy chills.
In the daytime they come out of nowhere – disabling me mid task – temporarily paralysing aspects of my cognitive function.
And no – contrary to popular reaction its not funny – I’m not laughing.
And sometimes it’s enough to make me curl up in a ball and cry.
Welcome to menopause.
The third and final act in the trifecta of hormonal initiations women meet after menstruation and motherhood.
Wrapped in layers of social taboo, associations of witches with pointed hats and spells and ample doses of fear and shame – we do our best to avoid talking about it.
To acknowledge menopause requires us to meet the fragility of our human existence. By stepping through it’s doorway we’re one step closer to death – and god forbid we talk about anything to do with death.
In a Peter Pan culture obsessed with preserving youth we’re told its far better to just pretend everything is all right and we are just doing fine – thank you very much.
Yet right now there are millions of women facing the ordeal of a culturally unsupported menopause on a daily basis.
These are women who are mothers, sisters, wives, lovers, employees, employers and entrepreneurs.
These are women who are, more likely than their male counterparts, working in the caring professions as teachers, doctors, therapists, practitioners and body-workers.
These are women who’ve been told to get back to work and be ‘productive’ members of society after they bore children.
These are women who in their bleeding years were told period pain is normal and should just be accepted even if it reduces you to a vomiting wreck each month.
These are women who’ve lost their voices as their cyclic bodies are forced to live in a linear world.
These are women who may be far removed from knowing what they need, have challenges with receiving because they’ve been taught to put everyone else’s needs first, so they behave in ways that may look like they are just fine as they solider on through each day.
Don’t believe it.
Its an act women have been taught to perform.
It’s adaptive behaviour stemming from nervous system dsyregulation. Its behaviour which ensures safety and belonging to a culture where female bodies are sexually commodified, where the pay gap between male and female bodied people invites financial dependence, where women’s health receives considerably less financial support than male health and where women can be still be raped and told its their own fault for wearing a skirt that was too short – or for not running away.
So when women reach menopause they’re probably exhausted, stressed, overworked from living in this exploitive culture and now they don’t have their hormones supporting them to carry on with business as usual. Once that oestrogen starts dropping the veil of accommodation slips away and the truth of living in a culture of extraction meets women head on.
At this point dear sisters –
No longer can we wear the superwoman cape.
No longer can we say yes when every part of our body is screaming no.
No longer can we overwork – even when our culture dictates that’s the norm.
No longer can we put up with anything that smells like b*llshit.
No longer can we tolerate living in a culture of inequality, injustice and blind ignorance to the environmental disaster that is happening.
And its scary as hell to realise this. If we change, our belonging is threatened – for will we still be loved if we say no? Will it be safe to speak up when our voices have been historically silenced? Will we still be loved in our ageing bodies when we’ve been sold the lie of needing eternal youth?
It takes a warrior of a woman to journey through the initiatory fires of menopause. It takes an even stronger community to hold her and to collectively unpack the culture of oppression and supremacy that maintains inequality and to co-create the new world where we are in right relation with all of life. I choose to celebrate each and every woman on this journey for her courage and stamina as she navigates this path in whatever way she has chosen for herself.
So if you know a woman who’s in the menopausal age range – including perimenopause – which could be anything from age 35ish – 65ish (although it can happen earlier than this) what are the small and doable steps you can take to offer support and let her know you care?
Maybe you could:
– Let her know that she will still be loved for having and expressing her needs even when historically she’s never expressed them before.
– Let her know you respect her need for space by honouring her boundaries
– Let her know you respect her need for more understanding and compassion when her hormones are fluctuating so much she doesn’t know who she is anymore.
– Let her know you respect her need for letting the old version of herself die and the new one be reborn in its place.
– Let her know you’ll support her need to change all her routines even if it means you’ll see less of her.
– Let her know you’ll support her need for more body work/therapy and emotional support.
– Let her know you’ll support her need to probably radically change her diet.
– Let her know you’ll support her need to let go of what doesn’t work for her – even if it ends your relationship.
– Let her know you’ll support her need to express the truth she see’s so clearly that other’s aren’t able to see.
A conscious and supported menopause grows wise heart-centered women who’ve worked through their trauma. They become our natural leaders, guided by truth and a commitment to protect the sacred.
Where you offered her love you watered the seeds of her worthiness to grow. Where you gave her space to rest she created natural rhythms of care that honour her body. Where you offered her choice – she knew she was accepted. Where you honoured her boundaries she knew she mattered.
Let us become the society that holds, honours and respects these sacred transitions in women so may we all benefit from the labours of their initiation and may this reverence create the beautiful world we all know in our hearts is possible.
Image: Mario Sanchez Nevado