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How a HerCanberra article landed me on SBS Insight discussing menopause

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A recent invite to join SBS Insight on the topic of Menopause (screening Tuesday 8 September at 8:30 pm) challenged Jo Pybus to revisit her thoughts on perimenopause and come to some conclusions.

A year has passed since my first article as a columnist with HerCanberra was published. ‘Perimenopause: Buckle Up Girls!’ was the title of my debut, and you’d be right to deduce it wasn’t without humour—working title; ‘When My MoJo Became a JoMo’.

All a front I assure you, masking the sea of discombobulation in which I found myself floating.

It was written initially for my own catharsis with no intention of sharing beyond friends, until a writing course impressed upon me the need to have some published works.

A year on and I reflect upon the hypocrisy of my reluctance to submit the very article in which I complain about women not talking about menopause. At the time I felt the dread of exposing myself ingrained from the generations of silence that isolates women during this stage of life. A recent invite to join SBS Insight on the topic of menopause (screening Tues 8 Sept 2020, 8:30 pm) challenged me to revisit my thoughts and come to some conclusions.

My vague understanding of menopause was hot flushes and periods slowing until they ceased, after which you can wear white pants with confidence. When I presented to my GP five years ago with more frequent and heavier periods, a sore jaw from clenching my teeth, and disrupted sleep, I felt blindsided.

At 48 I knew menopause was on my horizon, but I had no idea of the plethora of things I’d have to deal with in perimenopause (being the years of hormonal depletion before you no longer menstruate).

I’d been a confident and fit woman but was now iron deficient, at risk of damaging my teeth, felt perpetually jet-lagged and mildly unhinged. My GP, determining there were no underlying medical conditions, went straight to discussing HRT.  Should this have been the first conversation?

I baulked at HRT but was eager for the further gynaecological referral where I agreed to an endometrial ablation; stat. I had things I wanted to do, and my frequent heavy periods were very inconvenient. I was like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—I want it now!

Cue screeching brakes as the cooling-off period of waiting for a booking enabled me to engage my foggy brain and ask myself a few questions. These were my conclusions…

Why didn’t I know about this?

I’ve had three notable hormonal stages in my life: Puberty, Pregnancy, Perimenopause. At school I had biology and sex-ed classes, so I was a font of pubescent knowledge.

When pregnant my GP had a community health system of ante and post-natal classes and clinics to channel me through, so I felt informed and nurtured.

Our education and health systems have nothing equivalent for this third ‘P’.

Do I have a disease or any complicating medical conditions?

Perimenopause/menopause is not a disease. I ruled out any other physical/mental clinical complications and was not on any medications. What I needed first and foremost was information, not a prescription.

Many women’s stories are very different to mine, but if there is one overarching theme it is that lack of information.

Am I prepared to have a medical procedure to facilitate a lifestyle choice?

Hell yeah! I wanted to continue my pursuit of endurance running and cycling that I had been doing for a decade and was prepared to have an ablation for this reason alone.

Luckily, I had time to re-evaluate, reframing perimenopause as my new endurance race and modifying my lifestyle to accommodate it. I cancelled the procedure.

~

In her new Podcast, Michelle Obama points out 50% of the population are going to go through menopause yet it is given no ‘space’ in society. Women, their families and friends, their communities and workplaces, their governments, all need to make space for menopause.

Arguably perimenopause is the most misunderstood, misrepresented and befuddling time in a woman’s life. The length and breadth of our individual needs cannot be met in a 15-minute appointment. To hear over and over that women must do their own research to thesis-writing extents, spotlights a gaping hole in our physical and mental health systems.

Online groups and Podcasts such as The Hot Flush hosted by Kayte Murphy and Kim Berry are lifting the lid on the taboo and providing a safe haven for women to be candid.

Physicians like Dr Ginni Mansberg, Dr Talat Uppal, and Dr Nicola Gates acknowledge the gap in our health systems and bring their experience as women and doctors to the table to drive change.

These women and others who were guests on SBS Insight all echoed this need for ‘space’, something our education and public health systems need to address.

Time to start a revolution—right after my nap.

RESOURCES

The Hot Flush Podcast

The M Word by Dr Ginni Mansberg | murdochbooks.com.au/browse/books/health-fitness/health-fitness-1/The-M-Word-Dr-Ginni-Mansberg

SBS Insight—Episode about Menopause airs Tuesday 8 September at 8:30 pm and will be available on-demand thereafter | sbs.com.au/news/insight

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