MPowder founder Rebekah Brown is a menopause educator who champions open and honest conversation around the menopause. She invites FRANK readers to embrace this phase of our life.
The wisdom of whales
Did you know that there are just five mammals that are known to experience menopause? Four of them live in the sea; Beluga Whales, Narwhals, Killer Whales, and short-finned Pilot Whales. And then there is us.
In research that is ongoing, scientists have made a link between the presence of post-reproductive female whales and the survival rate of their ‘grandchildren’.
When I first started MPowder, and approached businesses to offer menopause education, it inevitability started with a strange kind of confessional: ‘Hello, my name is Rebekah, and I’m perimenopausal’.
The first 15 minutes of any meeting involved me providing a medical snapshot of the biochemical stages of menopause; the symptoms, the timeframes and the opportunity that lies at the heart of my work – what we can do to nourish our bodies and minds to aid our transition.
Because there is a big knowledge gap in midlife.
Our generation wasn’t taught much about the biology of being female at school. We didn’t get the memo about the significance of our hormones. We learned about puberty. We learned how to get pregnant. We learned how not to get pregnant. But nobody told us about menopause.
And to be frank, most of us don’t relish the thought of finding out about it now. Why would we? The media depiction is largely negative. It feels like a death knell, an end-of-life stage rather than a midway point. It is also very narrow. If you’re not in your 50’s and suffering from hot flashes and extreme rage you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s not happening to you.
Menopause is a journey, not a date.
Statistics tell us that from the age of around 43 (and for 10% of us, earlier) 80% of us will feel a shift. For some it is subtle. For others, it feels insurmountable. Perimenopause to post-menopause can last eight to ten years. It’s not a single date that marks 12 months since your last period. It’s not a single experience either. Symptoms change as our hormones fluctuate.
It is also an experience that connects us to each other. Unlike pregnancy, every one of us will go through menopause at some point. It needs attention. It needs investment. In a world where the default remains male, we need greater research into our biology.
We also need the information to choose how we support ourselves. And that begins by looking at what we want Part Two of our lives to hold.
Perhaps that is why I find the story of the whales beautiful. Although the data needs further analysis, it points to the significant value females bring to communities. These whales act as the wise guides. Their role post-fertility is critical. They pass down their knowledge. They show the way.
The wisdom of women
We miss the value of female wisdom in a society that worships only female youth. And we miss it in how we value ourselves. Research shows that 61% of us feel society wants us to disappear. Around one in five of us will leave work during menopause. 74% of us feel the brands we love no longer love us back. Yet research also highlights that, if we can rethink our own perceptions and embrace midlife and beyond, our ‘second spring’ can be a stepping-up point just as fulfilling as Part One.
- We are more likely to look for a life filled with purpose. This is good for our health and good for those around us. Residents of Okinawa, a Blue Zone off the eastern coast of Japan, have become famous for their adherence to ‘ikigai’ – a Japanese concept that translates roughly as ‘a reason to get up in the morning’. By nurturing purpose, they extend both the quality and length of their lives and their value to society.
- Our empathy increases. We’re better able to put ourselves in others’ shoes which means we’re better at conflict resolution. This has untold benefits for corporations and communities.
- In the UK, we are starting companies more than any other age group. And, contrary to popular opinion, midlife entrepreneurs are much more likely to succeed than their younger counterparts. What gives them the edge? Experience – plus the ability to spot untapped niches.
If we’re lucky, we could live 40-50% of our lives ‘post-menopausal’. What we bring as individuals goes beyond the traditional view of women as the nurturer, or of happiness tangled up in being young. This is about the value we bring to culture, community and work. To politics and media. It is about all the areas that we inhabit. We are vital.
There is beauty at every stage in life.
Sometimes there is a perception that embracing midlife and beyond means ‘giving up’. But this isn’t true. This is about respecting our bodies and minds – and how we can take agency for our own health. It is about recognising that what served us until now may not serve us so well going forward. It is about gathering the knowledge we need to be strong, well and beautiful, inside and out, at any age.