Talking to kids about menopause could help break down one of the biggest taboos in women's health

Business Insider US
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Many women have never learned about menopause, so they feel unprepared for that stage of life.
  •  Symptoms of menopause can affect the whole family.
  • In 2020, menopause was added to the school curriculum in the UK.
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When Amanda Thebe entered perimenopause in her early 40s, she was rocked by symptoms ranging from mood swings to migraines. Her experience was "hellish," she said, not just for her but also for her husband and children. 

"My kids saw me, warts and all, through some terrible times in menopause," said Thebe, the author of "Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and You Can Too."

At the time, Thebe had no answers. Like many women, she was woefully undereducated about menopause. But she  began educating herself, which helped her control her symptoms and gave her tools to help her family understand what she was going through. 

"As soon as I started having answers, I shared all of this with them, so they understood that I was going through some seismic changes, and at times I was simply doing my best as a parent," she said. 

Opening that conversation was vulnerable and awkward at times, but it was important not only for Thebe but for her children. "Both of my teenage boys know about menopause and are therefore ready to support their wives, daughters, nieces when the time comes," she said. 

A major taboo

In recent decades, people have become more open about women's health issues. From talking about free bleeding to sharing abortion stories, society is a lot more open about discussing women's bodies. Despite that, the taboos around menopause have hung on. 

"Youth, beauty, and vitality are valued in American society and many other cultures. Many people may equate menopause as old, ugly, and undesirable," Dr Jenny Biller, an OB/GYN with Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, said. 

Menopause touches on two major taboos in our society: women's reproductive health and ageing. That can make it hard to open up a conversation. 

Despite that, the tide is starting to turn. Last year, the United Kingdom added education about menopause to the national curriculum. Awareness events like World Menopause Day, celebrated on October 18, are nudging open a wider social conversation about menopause. That's important not just for women, but for their children, Biller said. 

Women reach menopause — the end of menstruation at an average age of 51, but the average female life expectancy in the United States is nearly 80. With women living well for three decades postmenopause, there will be more people redefining what it means to be a menopausal or postmenopausal woman, Biller said. 

"I would like to see women embrace their postmenopausal years and the society focus on the wisdom that age brings," she said. 

More conversations bring better care

Aubrey Hubbell, 30, is preparing to launch the brand Hazel to address the health and hygiene needs of all women from menstruation to menopause. She hopes to open a broader conversation about menopause, including among younger women. 

"Even if it's something that a lot of women go through, they often feel alone," Hubbell said. 

Most of the popular conversations around menopause focus on the negative side effects, like hot flashes and trouble sleeping. The truth of the menopause experience is much more nuanced. Women in their 50s are often at the apex of their careers — they're thriving, and going through menopause is only one aspect of who they are. 

More women talking about menopause can open new options for supporting menopausal women. Consider how period care has changed in the past decade: Rather than just pads or tampons, menstruating people can now choose to use cups or period panties, and there are always new products popping up to address PMS and period pain. 

"Brands and products are borne out of conversations with women who have had to change their lifestyle because they're experiencing symptoms like bladder leaks," Hubbell said. 

Starting to show the real menopause

Like Hubbell, Thebe wants to see a dynamic depiction of menopausal women. 

"I know that I don't look like what I expected a menopausal woman to be like, and we most definitely are not dead in the water at 50 and beyond," she said. 

That doesn't mean women need more anti-ageing or diet products. Instead, Thebe would like to see women — and society — embrace menopause as a normal stage of life. 

"Menopausal women do not desire to stay young-looking and stick-thin to feel worthy," she said.

More realistic depictions can help younger people, including teens and tweens, recognise that their mothers, aunts, or grandmothers are going through an important life stage. Whether the next generation is ready or not, Thebe expects to see more women talking openly about menopause.

"Times are changing, because women of this generation are simply tired of being ignored," she said.

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