The confection-coloured front cover and swirly title font of this book lull the prospective reader into feeling this will be pleasant way to pass a lazy afternoon on the couch. Let me tell you, after finishing Menopause Makes Mummy Mental, Rita Wagner’s debut into adult non-fiction, this writer was left terrified and rather agitated!
As someone with mere months to go until her mid-life milestone birthday, I didn’t need anything else to remind me time is marching on. Hell, I recently ran a veterans’ athletics running event – yes, I qualify for Vets – quelle horreur!
As I turned each page trying to comprehend the vast, random and sometimes downright cruel range of afflictions menopause can bring to a woman, I couldn’t help feel a bit hard done by. I mean, I’d survived puberty (glasses, braces and pimples – the dreaded trifecta), survived having two kids under the age of two and now felt the best (and most like the ‘real’ me) I had in years. And then there’s menopause.
BOOM! Menopause can start as early as forty. What the!? Some of us are still having babies at that age!
In Menopause Makes Mummy Mental, Rita frankly and generously shares her own encounter with menopause – sometimes funny, sometimes quite emotional – and those of her girlfriends (names removed to protect their identity, and in some cases, from criminal prosecution), acquaintances and even complete strangers who shared experiences with her at the slightest mention of the topic.
In the first half of the book, Rita touches on a range of themes from diagnosis, symptoms, the oft-joked about (but embarrassingly awful) hot flushes, treatment options, the importance of having a good GP and how to deal with your bewildered other half. The second part is a collection of stories and observations of women, all ages and walks of life, dealing with menopause and how they cope through this physically and mental perplexing stage. Throughout, Rita’s sage advice and sweetly-drawn illustrations provide comic relief to what can be a living nightmare for many women.
Perhaps Rita is able to deal with menopause with such grace and good humour for a reason – for menopause is far from the most challenging thing that has happened in her life.
In 1990 a serious car accident left Rita fighting for life. After being cut out of her car and rushed to Canberra Hospital, Rita was pronounced dead on arrival, with many broken bones and a leg so severely crushed it was feared she would never walk again.
Rita’s corporate career was cut short. Confronted with the likelihood of never being able to walk properly or to work a full time again, she made the decision to tackle her long journey of recovery head on. As she coped with the mental, physical and psychological challenges of recovering from grave trauma, Rita began painting and writing, and let her imagination rediscover the wonders of the world.
Rita’s motivation for putting her experiences down on paper was twofold.
“I wrote it because I wanted younger people to understand what was happening to them before it happened and to validate women who had ‘been there, done that’!” explains Rita.
“I also wanted to dispel the myth that menopause makes a woman mental…I felt it was important for women to understand that what was or is happening to them is ‘normal’ and they were not alone. I wanted to write an easy read that would make women smile in the remembering. And perhaps prepare others to understand that menopause is doable!”
For me, the most enjoyable aspect of the book is the enduring theme that sharing the ups and downs of menopause provides comfort and relief to women going through ‘the change’. By revealing her own journey to sympathetic ears, Rita found relief, and solace in stories of others – this is what she offers readers of her book. Her humorous account softens the somewhat brutal blow of what I and many other women will face soon enough – and those that are living through it right now.