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Monday, April 27, 2009

Menopause: friend or foe?

Menopause: friend or a foe? Should we look at menopause as formidable and difficult or insignificant with no great concerns? Some consider menopause to be a cruel joke of nature; others find comfort with the inauguration of the menopause. Which is it?

Attitude is all important – when we fear something it will likely be more worrisome than it needs to be. Research has shown that young girls who fear menarche (the first menstruation) are more likely to suffer from painful menses and other negative symptoms. It seems likely that women who dread or are unprepared for menopause may experience more negative menopause symptoms as well. One researcher points out that “women process information internally and in relation with others.” [1] I recall the words of my doctor as we discussed menopause. He wisely advised me to age gracefully whatever the circumstances. His advice struck a chord with me; it invited me to explore the concept of aging gracefully.

How does one age gracefully? The late Pope John Paul ll’s summoned us to not fear; his appeal resonates for those trying to age gracefully.

Aging gracefully means learning to set and balance realistic expectations and goals for one’s state in life using appropriate tools and knowledge. It means living healthily; keeping one’s eyes fixed on God; maintaining hope, faith and trust in God; and accepting our aging as part and parcel of living. When we are not aging, we are not living! Our energy needs to be focused on re-balancing our psychological, spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological and cognitive dimensions whenever we face a disrupting force or transition stage in life. To age gracefully means aligning our whole self in a positive fashion. The menopause experience must be examined in light of all the dimensions which wrap up and are part of our human person.

Research on menopause is both interesting and troubling. It is stunning just how much science does not know about the female body – young or old! Many studies cite common experiences or complaints that some women experience some of the time during their menopausal journey; however, no studies can pinpoint with any certainty the one experience or the one symptom that is common for all women who undergo menopause. Nevertheless, the medical community has come up with a "one shoe fits all" approach to treating menopausal symptoms or problems.

Couples must face the adventures of life together – including aging. Most studies fail to examine how spousal attitudes, experiences, questions, fears, or, hopes impact the menopausal woman. Readers discovered in my other book, the Art of Breastfeeding, that the husband is his wife’s most important support and ally to help her begin and continue breastfeeding with success. Similarly, women approaching menopause need supportive and informed husbands willing to help her investigate, problem solve, make sound decisions, and stay positive about life in general. Husbands are often the key to getting necessary support when wives are struggling with severe or complicated menopausal symptoms, problems, or, misconceptions. Husbands also need to understand the basics of menopause and it’s consequence to fertility as it relates to their mutual commitment to Natural Family Planning.

Similarly, wives need to understand what is happening to their husbands as they age. Women will be called on to help their husbands face male aging. The husband needs a supportive and informed wife just as she needs a supportive husband. Both must be willing to help the other investigate, problem solve, make sound decisions, and, stay positive about life in general.

Understanding the journey through fertility to pre-menopause, perimenopause and menopause is fairly complex . Menopause is not a one-day event; it is a journey, a process, a transition due to aging. It impacts fertility permanently. Most women live one third of their lives beyond menopause.

Menopause has become over-medicalized for a number of reasons; these will be explored in a later blog.

Menopause is part of God’s plan and design; it allows women and men to take a moment, to pause and think about their lives before plunging ahead into the next developmental stage called middle age. This pause gives people time to consider things like what they have accomplished thus far, what their values are, how influential they are with those they love, and other important matters Pondering these questions allows us to think about what we would change if we could. It allows us to question our entire life experiences.

Aging actually begins the instant we were created. While aging seems to speed up over time, it doesn’t. We age steadily and constantly. Use the menopause experience to examine your faith, your hope and your love for God. Use this menopause to examine how well you love your spouse. Consider where you have been and where you want to go in life.

Thoughts or comments? More next week.

[1] P. 47 Journey to Cessation p. 47

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