Growing up in the early sixties, I learned about womanly things by eves dropping from the stairwell of our old farmhouse. When my mother and her sisters talked, whether it was over coffee at the red Formica table in the kitchen or sipping Rob Roys under the locus trees the backyard, the topic was rarely proper for a young girl’s ears.
One particular evening, I remember feeling very spooked when my aunts stood in the kitchen speaking in hushed tones. My Aunt Helen and Uncle Paul were mysteriously missing from the family gathering.
Aunt Helen, someone had said, had to go away for a while. Comments were exchanged. “Oh dear.” “Oh my.” “Poor thing is going through the change.” I could hear worry in their voices, but I was completely confused. As a naïve adolescent, I was certain ‘The Change’ was another word for Black Death.
It’s hard to believe that only 50 years ago, doctors who were held in very high-esteem, didn’t know very much about menopause, especially if a woman displayed any signs of depression or anxiety.
Aunt Helen had, apparently, exhibited some depression and odd behavior. Little was known yet about Hormone Replacement Therapy in the early 60s and antidepressants were unheard of. How unfortunate for Aunt Helen. She was institutionalized and given shock treatments, a method used back then for menopausal women who needed to settle down or ‘snap out of it’.
For years after that, any mention of Aunt Helen had a phrase attached: “She was never right after “The Change”. It was true. The Aunt Helen I knew went from a vibrant, sweet woman who tapped her feet to the music to a person who sat quietly, unsmiling, and wary of anybody who attempted a conversation with her.
Luckily, today’s boomer women have access to enlightened physicians and plenty of information about menopause. The period of change that our bodies go through can range from depression, anxiety, mood swings, and memory loss. And let’s not forget hot flashes, weight gain, bone density loss and the list goes on and on.
The great part of being a menopausal woman today (other than worry-free sex and no more maxi-pads/tampons in the bathroom closet) is that we don’t have to go it alone. We have knowledge and options everywhere, and we better darn well use them to ensure a vibrant quality of life.
Sometimes, I get tired hearing the dangers of HRT, meno-pudge, and the hype of new research that the media continues to drill in to our brains. But then I think of Aunt Helen and realize that I don’t have to listen from the stairwell anymore.
I have options. I’m a lucky boomer woman.