Change of Life: Menopause
In ancient times, pubescent boys were hunters and warriors. Adolescent girls were mothers -- mothers who knew the phases of their bodies their bodies and birthed and cared for children in the context of extended family. Fertility cycles were known to be of the moon, and the signs of the moon’s reflection in the body were understood. “From before I had the body of a woman” a kahuna once told me, “the knowledge of my body’s fertility cycles was mine.” Life was lived in rhythm with nature. Foods were of the earth and of the sea. Movement was essential to life, running and swimming, dancing in celebration. The air was pure, and so were the waters. We lived to younger ages then, and as we did grow older, our youngers took on our work. We slowed and accepted inner responsibilities. In menopause, we were grandmothers, even great grandmothers. We were elders; we were keepers of wisdom. There was an innate intelligence to the flow, and a place for us to be in every stage of life.
As we have advanced through time, we’ve gained a certain freedom, but lost the context. Birth control pills allow us to choose when and with whom we bear children, yet they disrupt the delicate communications between brain and ovaries. Free to follow our career choices, some of us may face infertility for the first time as we enter menopause. Suddenly alone, or new parents in mid-life, we rebirth ourselves in order to survive. Who is it we are supposed to be? Where are the role models? What is the cycle in which we find ourselves? We wish to prevail over our physiology that we might remain in a cycle of youthful energy long past our time. But our bodies betray us. For a number of years, conventional medicine claimed to triumph over nature. Irregular cycles? Hot flashes? Mood swings? Insomnia? Swallow a few pills and stay young, beautiful and content, heart healthy and bone strong. How much easier could it be to ignore the biological rhythms of aging and the ensuing life changes?
The chilling conclusions of the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative Study on the realities of hormone replacement therapy dispelled the notions of ease and rightness. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 million American women have taken the most common conventional hormone replacement therapy, a combination of Premarin (0.625 mg of conjugated equine estrogens) and Provera (2.5 mg of medroxyprogesterone acetate). These drugs did not protect them as was promised, but rather increased the risk for breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots in the lungs and legs. This risk outweighed the benefits of fewer hip fractures and reduced risk of colon cancer. The widely promoted benefit of heart disease prevention was not substantiated.
Physicians all over the country, having previously insisted that their patients pop those palliative pills, now urgently recommended stopping them -- cold turkey. Thus, a cadre of flashing, sweating, panicking women revisited old questions and sought new solutions.