Men, lemme get right to the point. I believe we need to get fluent. If something affects or will affect 49.6% of the population, we should understand it, right? If something affects every woman at some point in her life, then as humans who have professional, personal, and family relationships with women, we should understand this thing, right?
Before I go any further, let me get my disclaimer out of the way. I’m male, I’ll never experience menopause myself, and I’m not an expert on menopause. So, why is a guy who knows so little about menopause writing about it? Because that’s exactly the point. I know only a little, yet I have several roles where I believe I’m compelled to know more and to talk about menopause. I’m married to a woman; I’m a father; I’m a business leader with over 1,200 employees; I advocate regularly about mental health in the workplace. I’d be negligent if I wasn’t talking about menopause.
Here’s my quick mea culpa. I was essentially clueless about menopause. I understood it to simply be a phase that concluded the pregnancy years and included hot flashes. That’s it, that’s what I knew. Absolutely fair and accurate to describe myself as ignorant.
My ignorance was more than just failing to understand the biological change, symptoms, causes, and effects; my ignorance meant that I had no idea what my mother, my sisters, my wife, and every other woman I knew around my age was going through.
Here's another way to look at my cluelessness: imagine if I said to someone I love, “You’re going through this phase that affects your mind, body, and overall wellness, and it may become the dominant thing affecting you, and I’m going to just ignore it, not know anything about it, and not be supportive in anyway.” What sort of person would I be to say that to someone I care about?
WHY I AM WRITING ABOUT MENOPAUSE
At the most basic personal level, it seems like a good idea to understand what Suzi, my wife, will be and is experiencing. Seems like a good idea to educate my three sons on what their mom AND every other woman in their lives will at some point experience. Seems sensible to understand what has happened, is happening, and will happen for my mum and sisters. I also want to ensure my female employees know we care to understand and support what is or will happen to their mind and body. Seems sensible to educate my male employees on what is or will happen to 100% of their female colleagues. And it seems sensible if I want to effectively talk about mental health that I talk about menopause and hormones, since they can be so deeply intertwined. Hormonal changes, that is, changes in hormone levels, can wreak havoc on the brain and body. I learned this early on about menstrual cycles with my sisters and my mum; I learned more with my wife in our lives together, including during and after several pregnancies. (If you don’t know what I am talking about regarding menstruation, pregnancy, and postnatal hormone shifts, and you are in any personal or professional relationships with women, this is another area to do some learning.) And here’s the thing, hormonal changes aren’t just happening or going to happen to all women; they are happening and are going to continue to happen to all of us. Every day, we are learning more. With this knowledge, we have the ability to be more understanding of ourselves and others; and we are better positioned to deal with our symptoms and potentially treat the root cause.
My intent with this blog is four-fold:
normalize talking about menopause (and hormones);
provide a catalyst for business leaders to learn more about menopause and add it to the list of topics where they can provide education and support to their employees;
encourage other men to learn more; and
be a conversation starter that people can share digitally with their families, friends, partners, and colleagues.
SUBJECTIVITY, QUICKIE DEFINITIONS & MY IGNORANT ASSUMPTIONS
Definitions and vocabulary are helpful, so let’s do a few quickies.
When discussing menopause, it’s important to also know about perimenopause, the phase leading up to the final menstrual period. To paraphrase definitions from the Mayo Clinic, perimenopause means ‘around menopause’ and refers to the natural transition marking the end of the reproductive years. During perimenopause, the body's production of estrogen and progesterone, key female hormones, rises and falls. Many of the changes experienced during perimenopause are a result of decreasing estrogen. After 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, menopause officially begins, and the perimenopause phase is over.
The word “menopause” is derived from “mēn” and “pausa.” The Greek “mēn” meaning month, and the Latin, “pausa” meaning cessation or break. Conveniently and cluelessly, I had always presumed the word menopause legitimately was conveying, Men, ohhhh, you should pause (your intention), because I’m probably not interested. Seriously, I really thought that — and now I understand I was just falling into my own ignorant pitfall of thinking this phase experienced by a woman had a definition that would be about a man. Man-centric thinking, I know, I know. Also, during perimenopause or menopause, many may want their partner (man or otherwise) to keep their paws to themselves; however, that is not an accurate or appropriate blanket statement, and if anything, it just feeds into the ignorance (primarily of men) surrounding the topic of how to engage with a woman experiencing these pivotal phases.
Also, I want to note that when I use a phrase such as “women experiencing menopause,” I am not intending to exclude or offend a person who may go through menopause but who no longer identifies as a woman. My perspective is this a human topic, so I hope my approach with terminology conveys my sentiment.
WHAT I AM DOING IN ADDITION TO BLOGGING
As a business leader, I’m bringing menopause up at work and reminding supervisors and colleagues that this is another topic on which we must be empathetic. The convergence of mental health, physical health, relationship health, and workplace performance means that we all have compelling reasons to explore, understand, and address the phases and symptoms of menopause. I hope you can share this blog with your executive team and your HR team to see if there are ways you can elevate and support the topic of menopause in your company. I believe it fits right in with initiatives around profit, productivity, and business goals. After all, we need our teams, individually and collectively, to perform at their best for the business to perform at its best.
As a husband, I’m learning more and asking Suzi how she feels while being supportive of her journey with Hormone Replacement Therapy, HRT. (She wants me to say it has been an up/down/up journey but for her it is well worth doing now that she and her doctor have found the right recipe.) Maybe you can share this blog with a woman in your life to express that you’re on the journey with her, learning, and interested in knowing how to be supportive.
I’m taking responsibility for learning more. I am also working to normalize this conversation amongst my family, friends, colleagues, and anyone who happens to read my blogs. I encourage you to do the same; together, I hope we can help propel the conversation forward to be more informed and stop the hush hush stigma and ignorance.
Will you join me?
TABOO OR TOO PRIVATE?
Before I sign off, let’s do a quick review of any reason to not talk about menopause at home or in the workplace.
… Pause. Pause. Pause.
Well, that’s quick enough review — there’s no good reason. Wait, you think it’s too private? You aren’t comfortable talking about it? Let me try to convey this, albeit with some slight sarcasm: maybe human reproduction is somehow private, icky, or taboo? That’s odd. If you’re reading this, somehow a sperm met an egg and formed a relationship, and you arrived in this world through the vaginal canal, or maybe you bypassed the canal via Caesarian birth. That vagina and uterus, month after month, are part of this amazing biological cycle and function. Hormones are heavily involved, of course. It doesn’t have to be private, and it isn’t icky. This is just science and human biology. So, let’s push through the taboo if you’re stuck there, and I promise, I’ll abandon any judgment or sarcasm. I really do respect that for each person, this conversation has a range of comfort, discomfort, or unfamiliarity. I’m trying to draw you into this conversation, not push you away. I hope you’ll consider moving through any unease. I am certain the people you care about will be glad if you do.