An abridged history of the Menopause:
1800s – Publications, professionals and academics consider that hysteria and female insanity are linked to our reproductive organs.
1824 – Ovariotomy (removal of the ovaries) treatment introduced in the UK for menopause. You will be pleased to hear that women’s mortality rate improved from 50% to 11% after the introduction of anaesthetic.
1830-1900 – Women are admitted to lunatic asylums (usually by their husbands) for hysteria and menopause (stated as “cessation of periods” or “the change” on admissions records). Women had no rights at the time so you had to wait until you appeared “cured” or were busted out by family. By this time you had lost your sanity, land and children.
1849 – The physician William Tyler Smith recommended the following treatment for menopause: injecting ice water into the rectum, ice in the vagina and the application of leeches to the labia and cervix. He added a note that his colleagues to count the leeches in, and out to ensure none were lost there. That’s good advice.
1861- The physician Isaac Baker Brown conducted his usual operation on a 57 year old lady to cure her menopause ills. Her husband approved the operation, a clitoridectomy (yes, removal of the clitoris). Baker Brown conducted these operations for 7 years, and applied to technique as a cure for menopause, nymphomania and to curb other excessive female desires.
1936 – Marie Stopes writes in her book “Change of Life in Men and Women” that at menopause: ” the major factor in this period which has been made artificially miserable for myriads of women, is the mind. The women’s own mental attitude towards herself and others at this time really is the controlling factor, and more women have suffered troubles at this time as a result of anticipating them than would ever have suffered them had they gone unaware into the perfectly natural phase which menopause represents”. Marie does also recommend that oestrogen may also help.
1938- British scientists patented the first non-steriodal oestrogen tablet.
1941 – Approved by the Food and Drug Administration authority.
1966 – Robert A.Wilson wrote “Feminine Forever”, a bestseller at the time- prescribing oestrogen therapy as the CURE for menopausal “castration” of the female. He toured the US (interestingly funded by Pharmaceutical firms) telling the nation that he could stop time, make women sexually desirable forever. Simply by taking a little pill.
Since then, apart from a blip 10 years ago with the risk of a cancer scare link to oestrogen (this has apparently been disproved), HRT is the global solution for
keeping it feminine, I mean coping with the menopause.
Is it any wonder with such a history, that the word menopause can strike such fear into us? Even the support books in circulation talk about “survival” of the menopause, like its a tsunami or biochemical warfare you need to stock the shelves for.
If you also consider that GPs, the gatekeepers of consultant referrals, have very little training in the menopause and there are over 50 HRT products on the market they can prescribe, you can see what a lottery getting support for symptoms can be.
I am convinced, as an early menopauser with a 15 year recommendation for taking Hormone Replacement Treatment (please don’t call it Therapy, its not a Reiki session) that there are other ways to navigate the menopause.
Some counselling, massage, yoga, diet advice and herbal supplements (Sage, Calcium and Vitamin D for instance) may be a solution. It would be good to have choices. I would prefer the doctors and medical profession to ask me what support I need and to have some knowledge, some empathy and a toolkit with different options to choose from.
Maybe Marie Stopes was right, it is all in the mind. Well our minds are made up by our influences and personal paradigms- so, if we shift the influences and create a society where women are supported – not cut, drugged or locked up for going through something natural then we can change our personal paradigm. Our experience of the menopause may even become something to look forward to, rather than fear.
So, back to my original question, is HRT the modern lunatic asylum? Is it the blanket societal response to supporting women through one of the biggest physical and psychological changes we are likely to face? Well, yes I think it is.
We deserve better support during the menopause, and I am riled to such a level that I may even start a campaign to change this.
Who is with me?