I have always wondered how different it could have been being a woman in 1940s and 1950s.
One of my grandmothers died when I was too young even to ask myself these kinds of questions. The other one lived in another region very close to the mountains, so it was not too easy to reach. I didn’t have many occasions to do “important talks” with her. I have lately had the luck of being very close to my partner’s grandmother. She is a little woman born in 1930 with a powerful smile and one of the most positive attitudes I have ever encountered. I started wondering if there was any difference in facing menopause in the past compared to now. I decided to ask for her opinion. I thought it would have been interesting to understand how facing the menopause has changed over the years. So I asked her daughter and her granddaughter who, while still too young for menopause, has an interesting point of view.
Grazia, my grandmother in law, remembers those years with a smile. Yes, because even if menopausal transition has been unpleasant, she was younger and full of energy (I still think she is more energetic than me sometimes, but this is another story). She remembers menopause as a hard time. She started to have irregular periods at about 48 years old and she knew what was coming.
In the past, at that time of your life you were already a grandmother, therefore she already had grandchildren to look after.
It was more like you were already “aged” compared to nowadays and moreover she wasn’t working. One very different thing was that, it was not something acceptable to talk about. Maybe with your mother or your sister, but it wouldn’t have been an open conversation in public. It seemed there was something to be ashamed of, Grazia says. Medically she remembers her doctor suggesting some herbal tea and some food to avoid in order to help the hot flushes, but there were not any therapies available. So, she just faced it as it was: she was feeling different, but she went through it very naturally.
She remembers her periods stopped completely after more or less 4 years. She recalls that moment with relief as it meant that at least the hot flushes would have been over soon. Of course, as she lives in the south of Italy where summer can be extremely hot, everything was a bit worst here. Besides that, she considered menopause as a new chapter of her life and accepted her changed physical appearance not easily but with dignity.
Grazia, her daughter (yes, in Italy is a tradition to name your sons/daughters after of the paternal grandfather/grandmother, and it happened that the paternal grandmother had the same name) is 67 now, and she has a fresher memory of her menopausal transition. She says it hasn’t been so complicated talking about it now, and she has been offered many times alternative therapies by her gynecologist. She never took anything as the therapies seemed very “heavy” and she was a bit scared of side effects.
She had, as with her mother, a hard time with hot flushes.
Again, not helped by the geographical location in which they both live. She also confirms that is a bit depressing seeing yourself and your body changing so dramatically and not being able to do anything about it. She was working, but even though it was not a problem to talk about it, there was still a lot of ignorance on the topic. She also recalls pretty strong mood swings.
Marialisa, Grazia’s daughter, is still fertile and happy. She is looking at menopause as something far away as she is confident she will be able to buy some more years with HRT. She did have her daughters (yes, all women in the family, a matriarchy) after 34, her last one she was nearly 40, so she is not really thinking about it. She in the peak of her career, very active and she is still going out a lot. Very different from her grandmother that at her age, thinking about herself as an “old” women approaching menopause.
I guess most of the difference between now and before lies in the shifting of the milestones in life. The age of menopause fits with the normal biological development of women, and in fact indicates the biological fertility peak at about 25 years old.
It is harder and harder to be ready and settle for children at that age. Workwise as well is difficult to be at your career peak at that age when you are barely out of university. Moreover, women and their consciousness of themselves, changed during the last century. Menopause used to be something embarrassing and not to be told. Now menopause has become an occasion of renewal and acceptance for most of women. A new chapter to be written. Women feel more confident to speak out about it, and they have started to understand that life doesn’t end when menopause starts. Moreover, therapies are much safer and work much better than in the past. There are not just herbal remedies, but real medication that can help you coping with symptoms. It’s easier and easier to have network of friends around you and to find help by doctors. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is at least less “scary” than before.
I think the reality is just as Coco Chanel said: you can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.
Guest post by Dr Ornella Cappellari