Ladies, are you sitting comfortably? By an open window, with a black cohosh smoothie, and a handkerchief to mop the treacherous beads of sweat welling up on your brow? If so, then this is for you.
Or if you are full of vim and vigour, setting up your own business at the kitchen table, gleefully refusing to cook dinner or do the washing and not giving a monkey’s what your bemused husband thinks, this is also for you.
And finally, if you are cougarly hot, kneading (and needing) fresh young meat with your vampish fingernails and radiating an almost unseemly sexuality, you can join as well.
Welcome to the multi-faceted world of the modern menopause, an experience so extraordinarily diverse and individual as to make childbirth look a bit, you know, samey.
But unlike the drama, jeopardy and elation of labour, nobody wants to talk about the unlovely ins and outs of night sweats and adult acne, aches and leaks and seesawing emotions. It’s unpleasant, unpredictable and, let’s not pretend otherwise, deeply embarrassing, as attested by any woman who has ever endured a hot flush during an important presentation or social gathering.
Or, at least, that used to be the case. But there’s been a seismic shift of late that has brought this taboo subject out into the open. Depending on which celebrity you ask, it’s either a giddy moment of glory (Ulrika Johnsson) or the beginning of the end (Tracy Emin).
Yasmin le Bon, 53, the model wife of Duran Duran singer Simon, was moved to joke that she could have wild congress with strangers and it wouldn’t matter — not only was pregnancy not an issue, but her memory was so bad she wouldn’t have any recollection of it.
If we’re not listening to television presenter Trinny Woodall oversharing about her enlarged nipples, it will be Nadia Sawalha confessing her weight gain woes and going on such a strict diet that one night she dreamed of eating her duvet.
That’s all very funny and comforting, and belongs to the rich seam of self-effacing humour that women have always mined in private to bond and share and demystify life’s more insurmountable hurdles. Hearing famous, glamorous women tell the unvarnished truth about a natural life stage that our mothers were ashamed of is refreshing and reassuring.
But away from the gags about thinning hair and thickening waists, there’s a darker side for women who struggle with anxiety and seriously debilitating memory loss, low mood and sometimes morbid depression.
Carol Vorderman, who notoriously kept bellowing “I’m a menopausal mama!” during her pneumatic stint on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, has just revealed that before she signed up to the programme, there were several months when she felt so bleak and alienated she could barely get out of bed. It was being a mother that stopped her from doing anything drastic to put an end to her pain; unbeknownst to her two children, they had become her sole reason for living.
She was fortunate enough to summon the energy to seek help and received plant-based hormonal treatment which, she claims, transformed her mood.
It certainly did, judging from her bravura performance in the jungle, but her story is far from unique. I know of women brought to the brink of madness by the sort of hormonal changes that can make it difficult to keep control. With a bitter twist of timing, their daughters are going through their rollercoaster teenage years.
“It’s a constant battle between good and evil, empathy and antipathy,” one girlfriend says. “One moment, we’ll be curled up on the sofa together eating ice cream, and half an hour later there will be screaming and doors slamming. I used to be quite even-tempered; now I go off like a firework — then, afterwards, I struggle to pinpoint why.”
Professional femme fatale Kim Cattrall, 59, a vocal supporter of greater menopause awareness, said she was left reeling by hot flushes: “Literally one moment you’re fine, and then another, you feel like you’re in a vat of boiling water, and like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you — especially the first experience. But change is part of being human. We evolve and should not fear that change. You’re not alone.”
There is a risk that normalising extreme symptoms does the sisterhood a disservice. For a woman who has fought institutionalised sexism to go up the promotional ladder, the last thing she wants to do is lay herself open to unfair intimations that muddled thinking or forgetfulness are an automatic corollary of her age and stage.
Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark, 62, who went through a medically induced menopause at 47, questioned why the word was so loaded.
“Going through ’the change’ is a fact of life for all women, often in midlife, when they are at the top of their game. But the connotations still conjure up images of madwomen in attics.”
After all, some women feel dynamic and energised once their child-bearing and child-rearing years are over.
As Whoopi Goldberg put it: “It’s wonderful and liberating. All of a sudden, I don’t mind saying to people: ’You know what? Get out of my life. You’re not right for me’.”
Yes, the menopause can come in like a wrecking ball — but forewarned is forearmed. The more we talk and laugh about dryness and dampness and tears for no reason, the better prepared women will be to see “the change” not as the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. – The Daily Telegraph