by Katie White
I’ll admit, when I first sat down to write this article, I was nothing short of being stumped. Everyone’s heard of the menopause, and everyone knows what it is. So, what’s there to talk about? What’s it got to do with me? Or at least that’s what I initially thought, until I realised I had about as much comprehension on the topic as men think they do about periods. On the outside, she might still look like regular ol’ mum, doing regular ol’ mum things- working, cleaning, nit-picking. But inside she’s combating one of womanhood’s ugliest tribulations.
It’s no wonder it’s called that; her personality and (not to sound dramatic) her identity is changing… All whilst we, the family members, are continuing with life as normal, wondering why we’re getting snapped at by the pissed-off-woman frantically scrubbing the sink.
Truth is, if you’re around my age (early twenties) and still at home, you’re probably living with a menopausal person and you’re not doing an awful lot to understand them. Big mistake. Believe me. Your mum’s menopause, even though it’s not your own, is bound to impact your relationship to one another and therefore you, speaking from experience.
Before my mum became perimenopausal, which was about three or four years ago (it’s hard to tell since it was so gradual), we had a pretty tight relationship. All throughout school, she’d show up to my celebration assemblies whooping and cheering me on; she’d clear my bed for me before I’d get home from a night out so that I could crawl straight into it; she’d make copious cups of tea to counter any “I’m ugly and nobody’s ever going to fancy me” tears streaming from cheek to chin. But there came a time when this parent-child type of relationship ground to a halt, and we didn’t have the easiest of times getting along with one another. It can’t all be blamed on mum’s menopause of course; I’d gone off to university and came back an independent woman who was used to living by herself. The adjustment phase was a long one, made trickier by the menopause I’d say; when I was off partying and studying for three years, she began to ride the harsh peaks and troughs of the rickety hormone rollercoaster by herself, leaving her feeling very anxious, low and lonely.
Thinking about it, she never phoned me up to complain about the menopause or tell me how down she was feeling whilst I was away. I can only imagine that there would have been a feeling of guilt on her behalf about burdening me with her torment or worrying me to a point of distraction. We rarely spoke, actually. So needless to say, when I returned home after graduating, she wasn’t the same person I’d eagerly ushered away on my first day of uni. Now that I’m back though, I’ve had to learn about this new whole new version of her that’d been transforming whilst I was gone. And after finally witnessing what she’s enduring, (the rage, the low self-esteem, the nervousness) I’m realising more and more that she’s her own person, who’s sole purpose isn’t just to be maternal and dote on me.
She is human. She is experiencing mental and physical turbulence.
Until I grasped that, I was hurt by the stark difference in her overall character. One thing that changed drastically when the perimenopausal period emerged was the affection between her and us (my sister and I). We’ve always been a family of hugs, cheek kisses, saying “I love you” and general mushy stuff. So, when all of that dried up, dynamics changed. Even now, I can’t remember the last time mum came over to hug me. And for the last couple of years, I took that very personally, thinking she was turning cold and unloving towards us as adults. Sometimes I still feel insecure about the lack of affection between us and I wonder whether that’ll come back. However, I never once thought that it could have anything to do with the menopause, and that she might actually want me to be the one dishing out the hugs now, or alternatively she might not want another human being going within a metre of her, full stop. It’s due to this lack of understanding that I looked at my mum in a different light, like she was being more selfish or shut-off.
I can’t help but blame this lack of understanding around the menopause on our school curriculum. Frankly, we just didn’t learn about it, so it didn’t strike me as a big deal. Sure, there’d be some sweating and mood swings but then voila, your ovaries are closed for business, right? I definitely didn’t think the menopause would take this long. Why has it only just become something that the education system is incorporating? Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that it’s included now, but it goes to show that women’s bodies as a whole are still lacking the proper comprehension that’s needed from the ground up. It’s not just schools either, it’s a whole cluster of systems that lack enough genuine concern and time for these women- GP practices, workplaces, and shamefully, their very own homes.
So here’s a couple of things to bear in mind if you, too, are living with a menopausal mum so that we can at least make it a more supportive environment within our own households:
- Listen. Properly. I know she’s probably moaning about her legs aching for the fifth time today (which can be annoying, granted) but imagine how much more annoying it is to be the one with the aching legs. Ironically, as someone who suffers badly from PMS every month, I am definitely guilty of overlooking her discomforts (especially mentally) and diagnosing her a certified drama queen. Try to remember all the times your mum nursed you back to health as a child and ask yourself whether there’s anything you can do to ease their pain. Even if it’s just making them a hot water bottle or grabbing them a glass of wine.
- Communicate. Ask questions. Show her that you’re interested in her wellbeing because her doctor sure as hell isn’t, and neither is her boss. If there’s something bothering you about her, like a temper or lack of affection, raise it with her. Chances are, she’s not mad at you at all, and she probably doesn’t even realise she’s not pulled you in for a hug in over a month. Remember that you’re old enough to initiate these adult conversations now- the parent-child dynamic is balancing out and your mum possibly needs a friend in you.
- Empathise as best you can by researching. Unless you’re going through it, there’s no way to know exactly how she’s feeling, especially since it affects different women in different ways. Imagine how hard it must be for women to go through the change in this particular day and age where society has become unhealthily youth-obsessed. It’s detrimental enough for a twenty-something-girl to see magazine ads with flawless skin, or face-tuned Instagram influencers, let alone whilst having to battle with ageing, potentially drying skin or a few extra menopause pounds. Be there to compliment your mum just like she was to you through your awkward puberty years.
- Lastly, quit joking about it. Menopause jokes are no funnier than menstruation jokes. Picture a man saying, “Christ, you’re moody, must be your time of the month, aye?” Are you angry yet? Yeah. Best to avoid it. Invalidating menopausal women’s experiences by downplaying with humour needs to stop. It’s something even I’ve done before, and it’ll only add fuel to the menopausal fire.
As a woman myself, I know that I’ll be facing the same challenges one day- and when I do, I would want someone to support me through it too. After all, we all know that men aren’t the most empathetic creatures when it comes to female anatomical struggles, so it’s important to make sure we’re doing our part to be supportive as women and as daughters.