The women are alright: Life after menopause

Sophie Beria, Sopo Mdivnishvili,

Text by Sophie Beria
Photo: Sopho Mdivnishvili

Sophie Beria is a young human rights activist. She focuses on the issues of gender equality, meaningful youth engagement, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and comprehensive sexuality education. Her work includes organizing trainings, meetings, and consulting sessions. Sophie is a co-founder of the www.allaboutyou.ge -the first Georgian website providing young people with information about their own bodies and reproductive health. Sophie has served as chairperson of YouAct - the European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights since February 2019.


Many of us know that menopause is limited to jokes and that any woman can become a victim of it. "What a menopausal thing to do" is a phrase we yell out without even thinking about the consequences. “Of course, there are myths and misinformation about any topic in our society and menopause is no exception," – says 54-year-old Anna*, a teacher. "I’ve often heard abusive, sexist phrases towards an elderly woman, comments that she is not useful as a woman and she’s out of her mind because she has menopause." Asked if she ever felt uneasy, she replies that there have been some cases.
 
From a medical point of view, menopause is a natural process that usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. It consists of three parts: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. Estrogen levels decrease. The ovaries stop the development of follicles. Menstruation stops. We no longer spend money on tampons and pads, nor do we take painkillers to stop unbearable abdominal pain. We no longer need contraception or worry that we may accidentally get pregnant, as we can no longer bare children.
 
We never think about menopause until we face it. No one explains to a 20- or 30-year-old woman what to expect: what low estrogen levels can cause, or how to handle hot flashes in public transport. If we all agree that we should provide information about menstruation to girls at a young age, then why don’t we do the same with menopause? Both experiences are so closely linked to each other! The lack of information also frustrates us: we do not know what to expect or when to expect it and, most importantly, whom we can turn to for support. “Of course, a woman must 'listen' to the sound of her own body. She has to understand and ‘decode’ the signals her body is sending before menopause,” says Anna. "However, this does not exclude surprises, among which I’d name the weight gain."

"I’ve often heard abusive, sexist phrases towards an elderly woman, comments that she is not useful as a woman and she’s out of her mind because she has menopause.”

“From a medical point of view, menopause is a natural process that usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. We no longer spend money on tampons and pads, nor do we take painkillers to stop unbearable abdominal pain.”

“Of course, a woman must 'listen' to the sound of her own body. She has to understand and ‘decode’ the signals her body is sending before menopause.”

Many of us can no longer recognize ourselves. We suffer from discomfort and pain. It seems as if the body we once had is gone, and that loss feels horrible. “The body changes shape and you think: Is this me? The diet, which you can't maintain because of a crazy work routine, doesn’t work; you have to change your wardrobe and the style of your clothes. Your favorite pants don’t fit anymore but you still keep them. Humor is the only thing that helps me deal with these situations. Laughter is the best way to get to know the new, overweight me and establish a harmonious relationship with myself,” Anna says.
 
Does this sound familiar? We felt the same during puberty: menstruation, body hair, hormones and our own alienation from our changing bodies; fear that we can never get back to the way we looked before. But unlike menopause, society (and families) considers menstruation as a cause for celebration. We’ve just entered womanhood ”; our worth has gone up. Our body is ready to perform its most sacred and sacramental role –reproduction.
 
Menopause is the opposite of all of that. All the cells that somehow make us fit into the feminine category are still in place, but their functions are missing. We are scared. 
 
Menopause is automatically associated with aging, which has become a taboo. "Aging is not an illness and we cannot fight it," says Anna. However, we have many examples of age-control: we should dye grey hair, peel our wrinkled skin and rejuvenate our vagina. Our stress escalates when we see 25-year-old Cara Delevingne in a wrinkle-proof cream commercial.
 
Society’s message is clear: an old woman is not sexy. And we start asking ourselves: Do sex and orgasm still exist after menopause? What does it mean to be a woman who can no longer have children? Is there any meaning to life after menopause? And if so, what is it? Regardless of how we define ourselves, society still judges us by our reproductive organs and the ability to leave descendants. No matter what we think about our sex, gender, identity or destiny, it is a fact that we are physically changing and if menstruation “gives us femininity” in the eyes of society, menopause “takes it away.''

And in that case, what's left? Or what are we more afraid to lose – femininity or womanhood? Perhaps it’s more interesting to ask how these two differ from each other. And if femininity is defined only by the ability to have children, then does menopause mean us returning to our premenstrual selves? What about a woman who has been freed from the sexual and reproductive destiny defined by society? Maybe at this point in our lives, we gain more than we lose? Surely, femininity is not measured only by the ability to have a child or to be an object of desire. Of course not.

Many of us can no longer recognize ourselves. We suffer from discomfort and pain.

“The body changes shape and you think: Is this me?”

Menopause is automatically associated with aging, which has become a taboo.

Menopause is a symbol of transition. It raises a lot of questions and requires us to give serious thought to all of them. Metaphorically it means death and the renewal at the same time; it means that a woman is finally free from  male gazes, from being sexualized and considered as an object. Women became accustomed to that struggle long ago. Becoming womanly and feminine, by birth or by time, is a fluid process. It's normal to fear it. It may even give us the chance to find our true selves.
 
“A woman of any age can be desirable and have a happy sex life,” says Anna and she is right. Sexual longing does not automatically disappear with aging. We may have to change or improve our pleasure seeking techniques, but it simply requires good communication and a bit of imagination.  Nowadays, there are many ways to treat or reduce menopausal symptoms, and the primary duty of a gynecologist is to discuss each of the possible options to make the best choice for your body. “The important thing is to not be embarrassed and not try self-treatment. Seeing a doctor is a must,” she adds.
 
"If a woman can't talk about menopause, especially when she is personally concerned or worried about it, it is an indication that there is something wrong in the society and the environment she lives in. But the reality is that talking helps us cope with these problems,” says Anna. “Any topic can be discussed when people get used to it. Parents, teachers, relatives, as well as neighbors, the environment, the media, etc., are directly or indirectly involved in the process of raising a girl who must be taught that she has the right to express herself. However, our society, unfortunately, inspires girls to refrain from speaking and endure in silence even when something is bothering them. This ‘tradition’ is often handed down from mother to daughter, especially in rural areas, where people happily deceive themselves into thinking everything is fine. The main challenge for sexual and reproductive health is women’s access to the right information. Awareness will help us overcome the illusion or the myth that menopause is the end of an active life. We can love and be loved, and we can be proud of our abilities at any age!”

"Menopause is a symbol of transition. Metaphorically it means death and the renewal at the same time."

Society’s message is clear: an old woman is not sexy. We ask ourselves: Do sex and orgasm still exist after menopause? What does it mean to be a woman who can no longer have children? Is there any meaning to life after menopause?

No matter what we think about our sex, gender, identity or destiny, it is a fact that we are physically changing and if menstruation “gives us femininity” in the eyes of society, menopause “takes it away.''

Becoming womanly and feminine, by birth or by time, is a fluid process. It's normal to fear it. It may even give us the chance to find our true selves.

Since Anna was the only one who agreed to share her experience in this article, I asked her if she has had trouble talking about menopause. She replied that she always talks openly about it, especially when she sees women worried about the approaching “climax”. “I try to calm them down and convince them that menopause does not mean they are unwanted or they are unable to have sex.”
 
Menopause should not be taboo. It should not be something we go through alone. We need to change this narrative. Society sets a lot of standards and a lot of responsibilities, and even if we sometimes think we are losing our minds, the only way out is to be honest with ourselves. We should listen to our bodies and be our own advocates. It’s natural that the body changes with age, and to regain control of our lives, we should invest in our long-term sexual and reproductive health and well-being, regardless of our age and hormone levels.
 
*Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.

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