Isn’t it odd that, in an age when we’ve all (well, 31m of us) read Fifty Shades of Grey, and now know about safe words, Rooms of Pain and all kinds of other kinky stuff that thankfully I’ve already forgotten, that no one will talk about the plain old menopause. Even though it’s going to happen to half the population, if it hasn’t already.
I’ve spent a bit of time this summer catching up with old and beloved friends, and two in particular were thrilled to be able, finally, to mention the dreaded M word and, indeed, rant over several bottles of wine about how the whole thing completely sucks. For a start the actual menopause is, I think, one single day, 12 months after your last ever period.
Up till then, you have the perimenopause, which can manifest itself with about 37 different symptoms, none of them nice, and can last for years. And years. And blimmin years. I started having night sweats, a very common perimenopausal symptom, in my 30s. This involves waking up in the dead of night, either boiling hot and sweating, or freezing cold and damp because the sweat has cooled. Yuck.
Ok, so that’s one reason people don’t talk about it. Because it’s a pain in the arse. Mind you, most of Fifty Shades involved pains, some arse-wards, and that’s not stopping anyone.
Another reason is that women aren’t supposed to get older any more, and the menopause is a definite sign that one chapter of life is finished. If you’re having Botox, fillers, surgery and exercising constantly, then a hot flush really has no place in your life, telling everyone you’re nearer to 50 than the 30s you’re aspiring to, and no longer fertile either.
It’s very hard to accept the idea that you can no longer produce babies. Imagine if men’s balls dropped off when they reached middle age. Ha! I’m sorry to laugh, but it’s hard not to. We’d never hear the last of it. Newspapers, magazines, telly, films, would all be full of it. And there’d be operations, of course, to attach replacements ….. but women, who actually do the hard bit of reproduction, are expected to cope with all that delicate machinery inside us shutting down and not breathe a word. No fair!
I’ve sort of resolved to make it a bit less of a deathly secret for my girls. I do mention the process, from time to time, and over the past weeks they’ve heard me and friends shrieking over the funnier aspects of the whole deal. I don’t want to gross them out, but I also don’t think we should hide from age, whatever we decide to do about it.
I’ve also started saying, ‘oh, isn’t she beautiful?’ whenever an older actress comes on the TV screen, to try and reinforce the idea to the children (and to TL!) that beauty doesn’t cut out at 18, or even at the menopause. Of course, this is difficult, as there are so few older women out there – but Scandinavian shows like Wallander or Borgen do feature the odd woman over 40 who is not a loony or a crone. And, thank goodness, there is Mary Berry on the Great British Bake-off, with her fabulous scary blue eyes.
I’m not saying we should go all Germaine Greer-ish and shout about it all from rooftops, but the odd subdued mention now and then couldn’t hurt, could it?