Surprisingly, it's a revelation for many of us when peri-menopause rears its inevitable head. Menopause Keynote Speaker & Coach, Sharon James discusses why chatting with your mum pre 'the change' will give key insights to what could potentially be in store for your future
By Sharon James
Chances are your mum loves giving you advice on all kinds of topics, whether you ask for it or not. But, I bet something which rarely, if ever, came up in conversation with her when you were younger was menopause. And you’re not alone. A UK research poll launched by GP and Menopause Specialist Dr Louise Newson found that 75% of British women didn’t discuss menopause at home. 38% said they had occasionally discussed menopause with their mother, and 13% had done it once. It baffles me that we’re still not speaking openly about this, especially with the closest women in our lives. You can’t change the past; however, as you move through adulthood, don’t miss the opportunity to ask the crucial questions now.
Sadly, not everyone still has their mother by their side as they age. If not, speak to other female relatives, like an older sister or aunts. The key is to keep talking, so that we can learn from each other’s experiences and help break the silence surrounding this completely natural stage of life.
Will my menopause age be the same as mum?
Perimenopause and menopause usually occur between 45 and 55, with the average menopause age being 51. It’s natural to wonder when it might be your turn, and while nothing can predict exactly when or how you’ll be affected, genetics is one of the strongest factors in terms of the timing. Generally speaking, you’ll likely reach menopause a few years either side of your mum. That said, there may have been specific health or lifestyle reasons why your mum reached menopause earlier. For example, smoking is a major factor. It causes damage to the ovaries and increases your likelihood of early menopause, potentially by a couple of years. Chemotherapy and ovarian surgery can also have an impact. That’s why it’s worth looking at the bigger family picture, as well.
As well as asking your mum when her menopause happened (officially twelve months after a woman’s last period), it’s worth talking about when she started to notice signs of perimenopause, such as irregular periods. She probably didn’t even recognise it as perimenopause at the time. Thankfully, we know far more about what this phase can mean for our physical and mental health now, making it less of a shock.
Can you expect the same symptoms?
While your timelines might be similar your symptoms don’t have to be. One of the main reasons many of us worry about reaching menopause is because we saw our mums struggle in their 40s and 50s without really knowing why. If there was talk of ‘the change,’ it was probably associated with negative emotions, lingering illness and reluctant aging. In fact, I work with plenty of women who find a lot of positives in the transition and we need to share these stories, not only the difficult ones. I strongly believe that menopause is about mindset. Once you understand it, you are better positioned to take control of it.
We are also fortunate that more advice and treatment options are available now to guide us through the journey. Nutrition, relaxation, exercise, and sleep all have a big part to play in managing the mental and physical symptoms. Plus, the earlier you start practicing good habits, the more resilient you’re likely to be.
Keeping the conversation going
If women today find perimenopause and menopause isolating, it was considerably more so for our mothers’ generation. You may find that when you start asking questions, your mum is really grateful for the chance to connect and create a supportive environment for you. On the flip side, if your mum feels embarrassed opening up, give her time. Let her know how important it is for you to understand her reality in a world where we are getting much better at sharing these things for everyone’s benefit.
The same approach also goes if you have children yourself - make menopause a natural part of the family conversation as much as possible, rather than shrouding it in secrecy. Just as you would explain periods and puberty, acknowledge that menopause is a later stage of life when these hormones start to decline. Talking about it beforehand will make it easier to explain some of the physical and emotional effects you’re dealing with when the time comes. By keeping quiet, it can be confusing and worrying for children to feel like something is wrong with you when they don’t know why. Obviously, you need to keep information age-appropriate and the main thing is to make sure they know you’re ok. And, that it’s completely normal. Don’t forget to include the boys either – sons and husbands need to understand too!
Communication is a must all round. We will never increase awareness unless we talk about what’s going on, why it’s happening, and how we can improve our wellbeing for a healthy future.