The Gift of Menopause
Did you know World Menopause Day is the 18th of October? The purpose of the day is to raise awareness of the menopause and the support options available for improving health and wellbeing.
Over the course of 2021/2022 there has been a lot of positive change bringing awareness to what is basically a natural transition that all women go through, but we have not been allowed to honour it, to embrace it, because society has suppressed that need in favour of the image of the ever youthful young woman – women have not been allowed to age, therefore we have not been able to work through and embrace this transition in healthy and positive ways.
Up until very recently even talking about the menopause and how it affects us has been a bit of a taboo subject – especially in the workplace. So many of my friends and clients have been literally suffering in silence, dealing with issues that have been perceived as “embarrassing”, such as hot flashes, sweating profusely, hormonal surges of rage, sadness, bloating, digestive issues – the list goes on. All these symptoms are perfectly normal, yet so many women feel unable to talk about them openly, or take time off of work or other commitments to allow the time needed to process these huge shifts and changes that are taking place within the body.
We now feel more able to talk about the menopause and the changes we are experiencing. As a holistic healer who owns the title of a herbalist from the wise woman tradition I am passionate about helping women navigate health and healing naturally. Helping transitions of all phases of a woman’s life with herbal and natural remedies is my passion, especially through puberty and the menopause. There are many many different ways to support ones body through this transition using natural remedies, therapies, exercise and diet, but this route is no “quick fix” and that is what I have found society has come to expect now. We can just pop a pill and all our symptoms will vanish – that’s not how it works, there will always be a payback that way. Herbal and natural remedies do work, but they require commitment, consistency and discipline. Taking the more natural route will require you to get in touch with your body, listen to your inner voice, more now than you have ever done before. Transitioning through the menopause does not blend in well with our Western modern 21st century lifestyle! But it can – there can be harmony and balance to be found.
With this new found openness, high profile Gen X women are now experiencing menopause! which means there have been programmes on television that are bringing awareness – us Gen X’s will not be silenced! – we are finding our voices!
Davina MCall broadcast a TV programme called Sex, Myths and the Menopause, and released a book called Menopausing – The Positive Roadmap To Your Second Spring (I love that title!) which got everyone talking about it! It was amazing and empowering. However what made me disappointed was that it opened the floodgates for HRT again. I have seen many women feeling that they have new “permission” to go on it. (since when did we need “permission” to put things into our own bodies!!?? but that is a debate for another time!)
There are two things I wanted to say about that;
1. Please read this article by WDDTY
2. No one needs to give you permission… its your life, your health, take whatever you need to make yourselves feel better and well, but please go into things fully informed, not heavily weighted in one direction.
I am now age 54, almost 55 and am fully into, I guess the word may be through, my menopause, not having a bleed for over three years – and it feels good. Reading a blog I wrote 2 years ago it was a different story. It was the weight gain that I struggled with, turning 52 hit me hard! Up until then I had been transitioning through my menopause fairly well. There were the hot flushes through one summer that were pretty awful, quite a few sleepless nights (in fact learning to live with a different way of sleeping has been one of the things that I’ve needed to adjust to), weight gain and horrific monthly bleeding and flooding (although it lasted 3 weeks at a time), with constant pressure from the medical profession and family to have a hysterectomy – modern medicines “answer” to that issue. For me I just knew in my heart it was not what I wanted, although I came very close! You can read more about that journey in another blog I wrote “healing through perimenopause and beyond”… But I made it through! – with the help of my trusted herbal allies, teas, infusions, tinctures, daily meditation, walking and yoga – my menopause bible, Susun Weed’s “New Menopausal Years” book. A little stiffer, a little grumpier, less patient of things, not so comfortable in my own skin and it almost happened overnight! There were times I thought I had all of this under my control, then there were times I realised I didn’t!! And I guess this is now the lesson! Moving through the menopause isn’t all about “fixing” the symptoms, or trying to stay the same. We can no more stop it or suppress the menopause than we can, or would even try, to stop a young girl going through puberty – it’s the same! The menopause is a vital transition for a woman to go through – we can become comfortable with our bodies, our lives – we can be free of the burden of monthly bleeds – as many of the indigenous cultures acknowledge “we keep our wise blood inside”. I can confirm this for myself too! Now the uproar of perimenopause has passed, I feel stronger, wiser and more in control than before, the pains and aches, the emotional and physical surges I had in my late forties and early fifties have passed, leaving a stillness and power that I did not have previously, I am looking forward to my crone years to come!
Society puts so much pressure on women to look a certain way, we expect to hang on to the shape we had in our 30’s, even our 40’s (I know I did!)… but as we move through our 50’s things change radically and they are meant to! When thin and young are the standard of beauty, any menopausal woman might find it difficult to maintain a positive self-image as she sees herself becoming a thick waisted, silver haired Crone!*
The weight gain has been the hardest for me to reconcile! Despite knowing that we are supposed to gain weight through the menopause, according to studies most healthy women gain 10 to 15 pounds during their menopausal years, seeing and feeling my body morph into something that I feel isn’t me is hard, I didn’t think it would happen to me! I exercise, I eat healthily, yet still it creeps on… actually it feels not so much of a creep as a torrent!
Every time I look in the mirror, I hear the voice of my culture in my head telling me I am fat, I need to lose weight! Fortunately I have my “menopause arsenal” of books, and I know that dieting will not help me, will not improve my health… in fact dieting at this age could even harm me! We need to lay down that 10 to 15 lbs of healthy fat, supported by healthy muscle and bone slowly, at a pound or two a year during menopause*. This is part of the next transition, of preparing your body for the next few years, and it is important that we love ourselves as our shape changes.
Why Do We Gain Weight During The Menopause?
Fat cells convert androstenedione, a substance produced by the adrenals and the ovaries, into estrone, the primary postmenopausal estrogen. Also, the aging process, as muscle mass diminishes, and is replaced with fat – genetic factors, as well as the lifestyle changes associated with this phase of life, extra demands of work, family, possibly aging parents to look after, the myriad of things that we call life that begin to pile up, added to the lack of sleep, and the emotional fluctuations that roar in as they did when we entered puberty, but somehow seem harder to deal with now we are supposed to be “grown up”!
Not every woman will gain weight, and I think this is what makes the transition harder, as we compare ourselves to others. Social media bombards us with glamorous images of those women who always look incredible and seem to have sailed through looking gorgeous! (Thank goodness for Celeste Barber for giving us a bit of reality!)
However, its not all doom and gloom! According to research, women who gain a little weight during menopause can have less severe hot flashes, an easier transition, and denser bones! Despite being told that extra fat is a health risk, weight gain during the menopausal years is not associated with any increase in mortality risk (ref;1), and losing it will not improve your health* (ref; 2 & 3)
In fact, yoyo dieting and weight loss during the menopausal years can lead to thyroid malfunction, gall bladder problems, increased insulin resistance and weakening of the cardiovascular and immune systems. I remember hearing that possibly one of the contributing factors of the actress Carrie Fisher’s heart attack was the diet that she had been following due to the pressure of trying to get slim for her last Star Wars film.
Not that I am advocating weight gain!! As with all things, balance is the key!
What Can You Do To Keep Healthy During The Menopause?
Here is a great article by WDDTY, entitled “the gift of menopause”. I believe educating ourselves is the key – empowering ourselves and knowing we have choices – taking ownership of our bodies.
Give Up Dieting!
Eat the widest variety of wholefoods possible. Stop putting guilt trips onto yourself and beating yourself up about what you’ve eaten, don’t make any foods “bad”, or you will just crave them, and then feel guilty when you eat them. I love cake!… and wine! But I try to have days where I don’t have them, and I make my own wherever possible. Cook with as many fresh vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, herbs and spices as you can, have meat free days, try not to buy or make the bulk of your diet processed food. Eat lots of greens!
To ensure you add hormonally helpful, bone strengthening empowering fat include one serving of a high calorie phytoestrogen rich food and three servings of mineral rich foods in your daily diet;
High calorie hormone rich foods; include olives, olive oil, organic butter, freshly ground flax seeds, nuts and fresh nut butters.
Super mineral rich foods; nourishing herbal infusions of nettle, oatstraw, red clover, cooked greens such as kale, spinach, spring greens, seaweeds, whole grains including oats, millet, wheat, brown rice and dark chocolate*!
You don’t need to bust a blood vessel at the gym, but moving, and stretching your body to keep it supple and free flowing is the key. Walk in nature. Do gardening. Do weight baring strength exercises, (yoga, squats and lunges keep the joints moving and the muscles strong), lift weights (it can be tins of beans or bottles of water in your kitchen!)
Take time to go within, listen to your inner voice, learn to make friends with this emerging “baby crone”, listen to what she has to say, make time for her.
Learn To Love Yourself
Practice lots of self-care, whether that is just taking some time out for yourself with a bath, walks alone in nature, getting a massage, reading a book, taking that yoga class, learning a new skill or hobby, just do something and make time for YOU! Make sure you take time for solitude, start a journal and record how you are feeling.
Not just fiction, but books about the menopause, Susun Weed’s New Menopausal Years was my saviour, but also anything by Dr Christiane Northrup is amazing! (“Goddesses Never Age” and “The Wisdom of the Menopause”), Wise Power by Alexandra Pope andSjanie Hugo Wurlitzer. And my new favourite Hagitude – Reimagining the Second Half of Life by the wonderful Sharon Blackie (if you haven’t already read If Women Rose Rooted I highly recommend it). Books that encourage positive self image and development. Know that there is no one way, be fluid, open to the change. If you take HRT, that’s fine, if you take natural remedies, that’s fine too, if you do both, great – all is right for you!
Relax With A Treatment
Take lots of time out, hang out with friends, go to spas, get regular holistic therapy treatments – reflexology is amazing at supporting a woman’s body and hormones through all stages of life, from puberty, through pregnancy and into menopause – it helps to balance hormones by allowing the body to heal itself.
Using Herbal Tinctures & Infusions
Being a hedgerow herbalist, I am biased in favour of the wonder of plants and the power they have to support us, which means I work with nourishing the body, healing herbal tinctures and infusions, so I can offer much guidance and advice on finding the right things that will support you gently through the menopausal transition, and that will work for you to fit into your lifestyle. However herbal infusions and tinctures are not for everyone, but there are so many other natural ways to support ourselves through this transition
However you choose to do it, know there is no “right” way, just your way! Know you are not alone, get support from wherever you need to, other women, professionals, family, friends, online groups – one of the amazing things about our modern world is the access we have to information and support!
Happy World Menopause day every day! May we continue to empower ourselves! And remember Baby Crone, this too shall pass.
Much love and Green Blessings
Sam AuroraStar Green Witch XXX
*taken from Susun Weed “The New Menopausal Years”
Ref;1 – Wing, R.R., et al. “Weight gain at menopause” Arch Int Med. 151:97-102, 1991
Ref;2 – McCabe, Randi et al. “The Myth of Dieting: Confronting Weight Gain in Menopausal Years.” A Friend Indeed Volume XVI/2, May, 1999
Ref;3 – Ernsberger,P. “Exploding the myth: Weight loss makes you healthier” Healthy Wt J.13:4-6, 1999
Featured image courtesy of Dawn of the Shed artist