If you’ve been following my work for a while, you will know that I am passionate about writing about women in midlife. I am known mostly for eating disorders counselling, but I could just as easily call myself a perimenopause counsellor or menopause counsellor as I work with these issues so often. In the following three articles, I have combined these two subjects by exploring the connection between the issues we face in midlife and eating disorders.
Eating Disorders In Midlife
Body Acceptance in Midlife
My Personal Journey Through Perimenopause
Having recently turned 51 years old, I was hoping that I would start menopause before I turned 51. Why? Because my mother and her mother both went through menopause at the age of 50 and I assumed that I would follow their lead.
I mistakenly believed that menopause was seriously afoot when I didn’t have a period for five months this past year but then, just before my 51st birthday, I got my period again. I was royally pissed off. But as I am trying to be more Buddhist these days, I came to accept that Nature has Her own timing and that I need to be patient.
So while I await menopause, I have gotten busy learning more about it. I started off by listening to a number of podcasts on the subject but this one in particular changed my life and empowered me to let go of my fears and to instead, open my arms to embrace what lies ahead for me as I journey towards my own menopause experience:
Tami Simon‘s guest, renowned women’s health practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife Susan Willson, blew my mind with all of her wisdom and common-sense advice. I immediately ordered her book, Making Sense of Menopause: Harnessing the Power and Potency of Your Wisdom Years.
Why I Loved Reading Making Sense of Menopause
- It is an unashamed feminist manifesto on how we as women, and as a society, should be viewing menopause- as a natural, normal and spiritually transforming journey
- It is written by a true authority- a wise, educated and culturally-literate post-menopausal woman who has been working in the field of women’s health for the bulk of her adult life
- It is deeply therapeutic and introspective- each chapter ends with a long list of journalling questions which help you, the reader, explore what has shaped your identity and beliefs about women and aging
- It is funny, touching and deep
- It offers a wonderful alternative to the deeply negative, misogynistic and harmful narrative within our culture around the menopausal transition and becoming a female elder
From the time I was a small child, I have been interested in other cultures. Growing up, I had a set of story books with tales of children in other lands. I used to pore through these endlessly, trying to imagine myself in the lives of these other children, working out what was the same and what was different between us. That fascination carried through to adulthood, and has woven through my work from the beginning. I lived and worked with the Navajo, in Africa for the CDC, and with Alaska Natives, Mexican, and Pacific Rim cultures. I have always looked across a broad spectrum for what connects us as human beings, as well as the differences in each culture that add spice to the basic recipe.
My first degrees were in Psychology and English, from Emory University, and as I began to understand how much of our life trajectory is influenced in the womb and at birth, I began my study of midwifery, returning to Emory for a nursing degree, and then on to Yale University for a master’s degree and licensure as a Certified Nurse Midwife.
I have always been in awe of our bodies…how they are made and how intelligent and capable they are. I have spent my career helping to support and empower women to trust their bodies and work with its natural intelligence. I have found if women understand why something is happening, and how their body is trying to help them toward health by doing what it is doing, that this gives back a measure of control. It becomes clear that something is not just happening to us, but that we can work with our bodies to help it achieve its goal, which is always optimal health.
I have spent my last two decades working with women in the menopausal transition. Working deeply with women during this time of life strongly reinforced my view that, just as with the other hormonal transitions we make in our lives as women, menopause is both positive and purposeful, and is forcefully shaped by our early experiences, our histories and how we experience ourselves as women.
Susan also has a wonderful blog called Menopausal Moments where you can find some great articles where she explores multiple aspects of the menopausal experience. I will leave you with a wonderful piece she wrote which sums up her book beautifully:
Why is our menopause so hard?
There is a cultural belief in the West that menopause is an unavoidable horror. Prepare yourself, dig in, because this is going to be a wild ride.
We see the symptoms we have heard about heading for us…hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, hair loss, weight gain, sleep deprivation, painful sex…and we dread it. We feel helpless. But why should this be so? Why would Nature create our bodies to suddenly unravel and leave us feeling lost and diminished, just when we are in the prime of our lives?
I believe that we fear menopause, and experience many of the symptoms we do, because we are taught to expect it. These are the stories we hear. True, the times of hormonal change in our lives are often a bit challenging to navigate. Things are shifting on a deeper level than just our bodies, and we know this intuitively. But we have done this before, more than once, and navigated it successfully.
As women, we tend to think of ourselves as one person that things happen ‘to’ along the way. The truth is, our hormones powerfully change us at different times of our lives into different beings…from child to young woman, capable of reproducing, from young woman to mother, capable of growing a new human being in our bodies and nurturing it to adulthood, from reproductive age woman to a woman in her Wisdom years, the powerful Grandmother capable of evolving our species.
Just as a caterpillar and butterfly have exactly the same DNA, but are very different creatures, we also go through a metamorphosis at times of hormonal change. All of these times of change in our lives fit together and build, one upon the other. So, in order to navigate our menopause with more ease and grace, we must also understand the earlier phases of our lives and how they connect to what is happening now, because they impact strongly what kind of menopause we will experience.
Our biological lives as women are a continuum and begin in the womb. In fact they begin three months prior to our conception. Understanding the path of our individual journey and untangling ourselves from the various roles and identities we have inhabited along the way, goes a long way toward bringing us to a place of authenticity and thriving during menopause and beyond. This in turn, lessens symptoms and anxiety and provides us with a strong place to stand in the world.
The Continuum Process, contained in Making Sense of Menopause will help you to look at how your own experiences through girlhood, puberty, womanhood and motherhood have powerfully shaped you and will shape your menopause. There are also chapters on self-care and how to lessen and navigate any symptoms you might be having. Looking at the continuum of your own life will help you to catch up to present time, be more authentic, and move into the next phase of your life clear about who you are now and how you want to be in the world during your Wisdom years.