BBC Breakfast: wake up to the menopause

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Today marked a historic event – menopause was on national prime-time TV and there wasn’t a fan in sight.

BBC Breakfast is running a week of menopause segments, looking at everything from symptoms to menopause in the workplace through to your pelvic floor. It’s a fantastic project and I was chuffed to be asked to take part.

Last Thursday, I joined four other women at the butterfly garden at Horniman Museum in London to film a segment about being positive during menopause.

It was so much fun. Not only were my fellow TV stars great company and full of energy and life, but the butterflies took a fancy to us and would dance around – or land on us – with glee. It actually did feel symbolic, to be honest.

The first piece – with us – went live today and if you’re in the UK, you can catch it for the next 24 hours here (starts around 7.13am with a second segment at 8.45am).

I loved that they began with such a positive piece because menopause is not the end of the world. In Japan, they call it the “Second Spring”, which is such a life-affirming idea. As I said in my piece about discussing the menopause at work, we should embrace the change – and I’m going to wear white every day once I’m done.

But the conversations on Twitter have had me thinking. For a while, I was evangelical about HRT. It felt as if it were the answer to all a woman’s menopausal problems. Now, though, I’ve realised the answer is much simpler.

It’s leaflets.

Let me explain…

On BBC Breakfast, the amazing Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (and I had major hair envy), talked about the work being done with MP Jackie Doyle-Price to make the NHS website a go-to for menopause. All the links and info a woman needs will go on there.

So straight away, I went on the site and searched for “menopause”. I found pages and pages. Slightly less than the near 48 million pages you find if you google menopause, but still a confusing mix that leads you down a rabbit warren of clicking links.

I had a meno headache in a few minutes.

Then I wondered just how many women have time to trail through pages. I am obsessive (working on it) and I won’t stop until I’ve gone through every link. But I’m lucky, I have a lifestyle that allows me to do that.

My friend, however, who is also peri-menopausal, is juggling travelling across the country to support her children at university with caring for ageing parents who have dementia problems. Oh, and she works, too. How long can she spend trawling through a website to find the answer she needs?

Wouldn’t it be easier to have a basic guide in simple-to-understand words on something that you can carry around with you easily and have ready whenever you have time to study it? Something that doesn’t rely on dodgy internet access or searching through page after page? Something like…

… a leaflet?

If you go into my GPs’ surgery, you’ll see posters and leaflets giving info on breastfeeding, childcare clinics, child tax credits, strokes, heart attacks, dementia, care homes, washing your hands, colds and flu.

Not a single mention of a natural condition that hits every woman in the country to some extent.

How difficult would it be to have a leaflet or a poster explaining what the menopause is, listing the symptoms and giving options for treatment?

Just by giving women the basics of what menopause is, we would be going a long way to empowering them to getting the treatment they need.

From this, my thoughts turned to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his Newcastle Can campaign.

If you didn’t see this, it was part of a TV series aimed at tackling health and obesity, mainly in my home city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It wasn’t the movement that had me thinking, but one wonderful woman on the first episode.

Hugh was in the centre of Newcastle signing people up for his campaign when a woman, Julie Greener, told him he was wasting his time.

To paraphrase, she said “posh” Hugh was signing up his natural audience: the middle-classes. “You’re not meeting the right people,” she said. Julie took him to Walker – to the same shopping centre I used to go to, in fact – to meet the working-class women who truly needed him.

My fabulous Menotivists (from left) Harriet, Grace, Sylvia, Me and Joyce

My fabulous Menotivists (from left) Harriet, Grace, Sylvia, Me and Joyce

I worry that menopause campaigns are the same. There is a scene in Denise Robertson’s wonderful A Land of Lost Content when the very middle-class friend of the leading character Fran helps out peeling potatoes for striking miners. The miners’ wives and relatives are scathing as she tries to organise them, saying she has a case of “committee-woman’s arse”.

These two scenes keep coming back to me. There are amazing menopause campaigns and festivals out there, but a lot of them need the people going to pay and if you’re on minimum wage or just getting by each month, that’s money you can’t afford to spend.

Also, I lived and worked among the women of Walker and I know many of them will see MPs, professors, doctors, lawyers, yes, even journalists as “posh” and not one of them, no matter what their background. I know they will see no point in petitions or committees – they’ve seen them before and been let down.

I don’t see their voices on Twitter or in the papers or speaking out. And that worries me because this is a huge demographic who are being left out of the conversation.

(At this point, I really, really hope someone is now swearing at their computer and telling me I’m wrong and they’re doing just that. I have never wanted to be proven wrong so strongly before. If you are doing this, please tell me because I’d love to join you.)

This is why it’s important to get the word out in GPs’ surgeries. But also to take the fight to all the women who need it.

We need Menopause Champions around the country. Women from that society, who live among and know the women they are talking to and can pass on their knowledge and expertise. With Newcastle Can, they started community cooking lessons where one woman would teach the others a recipe to try each week. We need something like this – women supporting and empowering the women they live among.

Pregnant women have ante-natal classes where they’re taught about what is happening to their bodies and can meet other women and share their thoughts and worries and fears and advice. Menopausal women, who are going through similar hormonal changes, deserve the same.

When a butterfly lands on you in the middle of something important…

When a butterfly lands on you in the middle of something important…

So please, if you’re a woman suffering and not getting the help you need, don’t stay silent. Dr Tracey Sims gave a wonderful expert’s guide to menopause, while the best menopause sites on the web will help you find the people talking more in clear, understandable ways. 

Read them, do your research – and then lobby your local MP. You can find out how to contact them on the Parliament website.

Go to their surgeries and demand action. If not for you, for your daughter, niece, granddaughter, the young girl next door, so they don’t have to suffer when they’re menopausal.

Write to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary. Jackie Doyle-Price, the minister for health, and Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

Let’s make them all know that we’re demanding action. Let’s get a voice so loud they can’t ignore it.

In the meantime, make sure you know how to talk to your doctor about menopause. And if you think they are’t helping, demand a second opinion. Stage a sit-in, if you must, and if you have a hot flush while doing so, take your top off!!!!! (Only joking.)

The good news is, there is a buzz starting and growing. There has been some fantastic work done and more and more of us are building on this. We are truly standing on the shoulders of goddesses.

Now let’s help everyone up there.

How did you find out all you needed to know about the menopause. Let me know in the comments below.

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