At my 20-year homecoming reunion with classmates from business school, the conversations revolved around nostalgia, catching up, and tentatively drawn plans of traveling. The foreigners were puzzled at how rarely their Filipino counterparts met up despite living close by. Some based in Dubai said they meet at least twice a month.
I can’t speak for my male classmates, but for the moms, raising our families had taken priority. Since we graduated, my girlfriends and I had one overnight trip to Batangas this year. Even then, it was quite a production to leave the house. We had to ensure things would still run smoothly in our absence. Now that our children are a bit older, we have become braver about making plans.
In “The Michelle Obama Podcast” on Spotify, the former US first lady spoke with her friend, Dr. Sharon Malone, OB-GYN, about women’s health, menopause and aging in the episode “What Your Mother Never Told You About Health.”
“We’re taught to be ashamed of it, our periods, our menopause. And after we’ve given birth, our children become our priority. After accommodating your husband, society and children, you finally are released from presenting yourself other than your true self,” said Dr. Malone. She encouraged women to welcome this time of their lives as their third trimester instead of something to dread.
She said that during sex, a woman shares her body with someone inside her. The same goes for pregnancy. For a long time, women accommodated others and came in second until they hit menopause and no longer had to. So menopause shouldn’t be seen as the end of things but as the beginning.
Now I understand why my mom travels with her friends every chance she gets.
Dr. Malone revealed how she talked to her patients 30 years ago has evolved. Before, she would just be concerned about bringing her patients through a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Now, she asks about her patients’ sex lives because it’s usually not discussed anymore after childbearing age, and she sees relief in women’s faces when she broaches the topic.
She confirmed that there’s little information people know to access about menopause or perimenopause, which are the years leading up to it.
Perimenopause usually starts in a woman’s mid-40s, sometimes early 40s. Menopause is when you’ve had your last period. You’re postmenopausal when it’s been a year since your last period.
It’s shocking because it happens to you before you even think about it. From having your period come like clockwork, you’re suddenly late for a long stretch, and you know you’re not pregnant. No one talks about it, so there’s a feeling of being laid off abruptly.
With the screwy periods sometimes come hot flashes or insomnia; other women are symptom-free.
“Menopause is puberty in reverse. Some have emotional shifts. It’s hard to distinguish between real irritating stuff happening in your life and that little hormonal shift that robs you of that buffer or coping mechanism or ability to modulate that you used to have,” explained Dr. Malone.
Perimenopausal women with a history of depression or anxiety tend to have it worse. Those who’ve never had it can get confused.
Natural ways of handling symptoms include exercising, mitigating stress and eating soy, flaxseed, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Although, just when you think your symptoms are over or have become manageable, Dr. Malone said that sometimes, phase two kicks in with vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and urinary issues.
She recommended to those disturbed by hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes to take hormone replacement therapy if their quality of life is suffering and they can no longer function properly.
“Half of us are going through this, but we’re living life like it’s not happening. It needs to take up space if we are to function,” said Dr. Malone.
Obama stressed the importance of setting the stage for conversations about women’s health within our families. She’d put her “mommy poker face” on when a question was uncomfortable. She confessed to sometimes buying herself a night by saying, “Let’s sleep on that” so she can figure out what to say.
She added, “How many men can go through cramps like a knife is being stuck in you and turned, then stabbed again, then they’re expected to perform in school or play sports like it didn’t happen?”
Obama explained that she wanted her daughters to be comfortable with their bodies and comfortable asking questions. To do that, you can’t have anything off-limits. She said that when kids see you clenching up about something, they notice and will never ask you about it again. Instead, they’ll go and talk among themselves.
Information is power. Girls who don’t have open conversations in their homes won’t likely do a breast check, or go for a pap smear or mammogram because they’ll inadvertently be trained not to ask questions when new things happen in their bodies.
The responsibility for establishing this culture of openness will most likely be handled by mothers, yet another thing to tack onto our to-do lists. Hopefully, it edges out time spent being unhappy with our bodies.
Dr. Malone challenged, “No longer do heads turn. But what can your body still do?”
God willing, perhaps visit friends in Dubai. —CONTRIBUTED