So, I'm 45 years old and have been in perimenoupause for about two years, if not longer. Every month or two, a new symptom drives to me to the Google machine with a different word search combination, only to find myself sorting through a sea of random information. A lot of it is medical gobbledygook flanked by stock images of white-haired women (or the obligatory multi-racial threesome) looking happy, sad or frustrated -- which, honestly, pretty much sums up the emotional roller coaster that is menopause. But based on the most prevalent images and perspectives that are served up by our favorite search engines -- okay, ENGINE -- you'd be left to believe that only the oldest of white, Anglo women experience a biological phenomenon that affects 51% of the global population.
The (underrepresented) reality is, women can experience menopausal symptoms as early as their late thirties -- if not earlier. And for most who experience life affecting symptoms, from nuisance to completely disruptive, it will be a MULTI-YEAR journey. If that's not enough, there are upwards of 30 symptoms you can experience at any given time over a 10-to-12 year period...I mean, WTF??? Why are we not better prepared for this? Where am I supposed to learn this shit? Apart from our OB-GYN’s, (which, interesting fact, only 38% of women in the U.S. even see a gynecologist each year) where do women like me go to learn about these things -- to talk about these things?
Well, like any other well-conditioned Gen X-er, I go online! Looking, yearning and searching earnestly, for the solutions to MY menopause problems. And while I might find what I’m looking for at the time (after a long and meandering search), I seem to find myself completely unprepared for what the next month brings and I’m back online typing a new word combination into the Google search bar. No doubt, there are NUMEROUS online social communities…but of the more than 100 communities that pop up in Facebook -- from Menopause Mamas to The Menopause Room – how do I know which are the most useful and relevant for me to join? Do women of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds talk about or experience menopause differently? Does it matter? If so, as a working Black mother with a demanding job and limited time (and energy), how do I tap into those communities in ways that work for my lifestyle? But most important, how do I connect with those women whose experience is MOST LIKE MINE?
It shouldn’t be this frustrating and mysterious. With longer lifespans, American women have been documented as going through the “life change” since the late 1800s -- well over a century.According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, women in the U.S. live on average to the age of 80.1 years, which means the majority of us will live through the end of our reproductive cycles and beyond. In the 21st century, we need ready access to current and relevant, streamlined information that results in a less frustrating, less lonely user experience.
While we absolutely need factual medical information (thanks WebMD!), we also need a better understanding of the most useful products and treatments available to us and we need to connect with other women and share our stories to know that we’re not alone. Personally, I have experienced a particular void in the imagery and support communities for women of color, which also signals a lack of inclusion among existing platforms.
How do we foster more inclusion, so that EVERY WOMAN sees herself represented not only in the discussion, but the solutions? How do we push back against the patronizing and judgy tones from the medical community and worse, each other, for making the decisions we make as individuals when faced with the unfamiliar? And, for f*cks sake, how do I get other women (often older women) to stop telling me I'm "too young" for hot flashes, because let me tell you, they look and feel pretty damn real. Aren't we all part of the same tribe? Shouldn't our eldresses (yeah, I made that up, I think...) be waiting, arms outstretched to welcome us across the threshold, stroke our hair and embrace us with the warm and assuring hug we so desperately need? Guiding us through the peaks and valleys of this LONG and arduous journey? I mean, where's MY Red Tentfor menopause?
I want better – for me, for you, and for the women coming behind us. We deserve better…so I decided to shout about it, and maybe even see if I can help fix it.