I am in menopause. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m going through perimenopause, which leads into menopause which, unlike perimenopause, is less of a process than a marker.
Let me explain. Perimenopause is a period of time that usually begins in a woman’s 40s and lasts between a year and a decade. This is when a woman’s reproductive system begins to receive signals (or give signals) that it is time to turn everything off; in other words, that she is coming to the end of her fertile years. Perimenopause is often accompanied by mood swings and irregular periods. It can make life for some women, like me, an occasional confusing, distracting and irritable hell.
Menopause, on the other hand, is an end. There is no specific “time” when menopause occurs. A woman is said to be there when a year has passed without menstruation. In this sense, a 50-year-old woman who has not had a period is in menopause. The same goes for a 70-year-old woman who hasn’t had her period for 15 years.
Soon I will be that woman too.
A few years ago I started suffering from symptoms that I didn’t think much about at first. There was irritability, and my tendency to cry at the slightest provocation. My period came more often; usually every 3 weeks instead of every 4. Had night sweats so horrible that I woke up after soaking one side of the bed so completely I had to move around to find somewhere warm and dry. The sheets were easy to wash; the mattress less. I wondered what the woman who came to clean my apartment thought of me.
Earlier this month, journalist and writer Susan Dominus published a cover story in The New York Times Magazine about menopause and how the medical establishment fails women. It was an essential, deeply reported, and substantial feature, and it was shared by a sizable number of my female peers, all of us from Gen X to our late 40s and early 50s. In addition to describing the ways in which this phase of a woman’s life has been misunderstood and “misdiagnosed,” he touched on menopause marketing, i.e. companies capitalizing on current conversations. about menopause to sell products and services to an underserved audience. audience.
There are, in fact, plenty of companies jumping into the menopause space. Friends my age (I’m 50) are pointing out ads for supplements and exercise programs for postmenopausal women dominating their Instagram feeds. There is also to at least half a dozen newventure capital-backed companies being set up, usually by female entrepreneurs of menopausal age, that seek to help peri- and post-menopausal women navigate the confusing maze of medical advice around things like hormone replacement therapy, and to connect users with healthcare professionals who can help.
And then there are the lectures. Last weekend, I attended a $200 event in West Los Angeles called “The New Pause,” a kind of one-day symposium-slash-conference for women dealing with perimenopause or who cross it. and menopause. (I didn’t quite understand the “new” part – I still don’t – but hey.)
Sponsored by Swell, a “first-of-its-kind” member-focused midlife community, and Stripes, actress Naomi Watts’ middle-aged answer to Goop, the one-day event, the second of its kind (the first was in New York last October), was held at a posh hotel in Santa Monica and brought together a few hundred women of the kind you might find in the boardroom of a posh hotel in Santa Monica . In other words, a group of wealthy-looking white women, many of them blondes, wearing neutral colors in soft fabrics like cashmere and brushed cotton. There were also leather pants.
Before I go any further, I want to say hello to the elephant in the room. I’m not rich, rich-looking, white, or a woman who carries a Kate Spade bag. Meaning: This is the place in the story where it would be most natural and easiest for me to launch into an overly critical and sarcastic account of a gathering of middle-aged women with whom I have no nothing in common.
Except: I think I could.
In fact, to be honest, I’m not necessarily that different from the women I sat with for over six hours (with breaks!) on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, listening to a series of lectures and panels on everything , from “female sexual medicine” (a term I had never heard before) to “energetic joy” and raising one’s “vibration”, to good nutrition. I, too, am a middle-aged woman who worries about skin hydration, thinning hair, emotional ups and downs, and a number of other things that I’m frankly ashamed of. to admit that I care at all. (Vaginal dryness isn’t one of them. Yet.)
Yet I am also terribly suspicious of anything presented to me as a women; more so when marketed as some sort of fix or respite from living as a middle-aged postmenopausal woman. I saw much of this marketing in action at the event, where in an anteroom/space off to the side of the conference room, a dozen tables were stacked with products for inspection and sale. Among them was Nutrafol, a supplement believed to help thicken and strengthen thinning hair. There was also a kind of protein bar which is called “energy food for the break”. (It’s… a protein bar. With kale in it.)
So here’s what happened inside the room: A group of us, myself included, sat upright on a group of upholstered straight-backed chairs and listened to more than a dozen women – therapists, scientists, doctors, lawyers – sit and stand on a stage. and talk about navigating menopause both mentally and emotionally. Some of them were a little off. One woman simply stood on stage, asked us to close our eyes and put our hands on our hearts, then asked us, over and over (and over again), “What makes you happy? ” (Finally, I settled into his guest and came up with a few ideas: my friends, food, animals, travel, hiking, Maine.) Another speaker, writer Joel Stein, came up on stage to make jokes about his menopausal wife’s blowjobs and relationships. recurrent urinary tract infections. (“I knew there would be a room full of beautiful, dynamic women I don’t need to use a condom with,” was his opening line.) It was pretty mortifying, and not funny at all. .
But what else? Well, there were a lot of other things and it wasn’t all squeaky. One panel, which included an OB-GYN I know socially, discussed controversies around hormone therapy. (At one point, the only male on the panel explained something to one of the female speakers.) There were speakers who discussed heart health and happiness. And while I wasn’t on board with the fashion designer who took the stage to talk about “joy flares” and how to feel “juicy and amazing,” me and, it seems, most of the audience, I was thrilled during this examination by an aforementioned panel of a 2002 Women’s Health Initiative report that suggested a higher incidence of reproductive cancers with the use of hormone replacement therapy…and sent a generation of women tossing their pills in the trash. (The report has since been debunked.)
All that to say that there were both strengths and weaknesses in this piece, and I’m not just talking about expensive hair coloring jobs. But I would be lying if I said that the message of the symposium was to age with grace: it was more about aging with intention… and maybe some vaginal suppositories containing CBD. (And yes, it’s a real thing.) Which is another way of saying that, alongside the marketing and publicity opportunity that The New Pause presented to its promoters, the conference attempted to address some serious medical and health problems and risks associated with being an aging woman.
In this regard, The New Pause was a success. But I wondered, after spending those six-plus hours in that fancy conference room, what the women in that room, myself included, really needed. Are they cooling creams, gels and mists to fight hot flashes? (One of the panelists asserts that the correct word to use is “flush”, not “flash”.) Is it the community and the conversation? The latter existed at The New Pause, but there are certainly better, more equitable (and affordable) ways to start and sustain conversations than fancy talks in Santa Monica. Or members-only online groups.
I think a big part of why the New York Times cover story touched such a nerve is that not only did it shamelessly delve into an issue that was whispered and tiptoed for decades, but he also educated his readers on options for dealing with perimenopause. symptoms…and empowered them to defend themselves against medical professionals and researchers who ignored their problems for so long. Readers felt seen and heard. This, in some ways, felt like a “new break” in and of itself.
And they didn’t have to pay $200 for he.