By: K. B. Napier
Perhaps the reader thought there was a mistake - surely there would not be a paper on the menopause in a Christian publications’ list? And if the list contains such a title, why is it there? What's it got to do with the faith, etc.? Hopefully, the reader will come to see the relevance very quickly...
Every woman since Eve has had to go through the menopause. That is, until today. Now, women can choose not to have a menopause, by taking medication known as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). This paper is not particularly about HRT. However, some Christians go so far as to call HRT 'sin'. If not sin, then it is brought into question because "It is a normal life-event, so why meddle with it? I never had HRT in my day, so why have it now?"
The latter objection to HRT can be answered thus: Until fairly recently, a huge number of women died in childbirth. Now, medical knowledge and technology provide the means to save their lives. Because these means were not available yesterday, does it mean we should not use them today? The answer is obvious. Yes, certain medical developments can be brought into question, but an argument based on lack of provision in earlier years is not a valid one.
HRT has made the lot of many women bearable, even though they are never rid of their monthly periods, even into old age. But, there are others who take HRT merely because they dislike a bit of discomfort. This is rather like cutting off your legs because you don't like them being tired after walking! It is unnecessary and definitely meddles with the natural female cycle of life events. The women who are genuinely relieved by HRT have, generally, reached the end of their tether, emotionally and physically, and have taken to HRT as a last resort. They know that taking HRT has certain health risks, but are willing to take those risks because their lives would otherwise be miserable beyond measure.
In a large number of medical cases people have the option to have treatments which have an acknowledged possible health risk. They choose to have treatment because their present symptoms are so bad as to reduce their lives to continuous severe pain or some other form of disablement.
The taking of HRT is not really what matters here. What is important is why women take HRT. Like many things, HRT is fashionable, even amongst doctors. Thus some doctors will prescribe it as though it were a miracle cure-all. Others will not prescribe it even when requested to do so. Women who hear about the marvels of HRT and who wish merely to stay young (an impossibility!), or who do not want the normal effects experienced in the menopause, will opt out of real life and have HRT. As in many life events, though, experiences can vary enormously. It is probably true to say (from medical reports) that most women go through the menopause with fairly mild symptoms. Therefore, they put up with it, just as if they were putting up with, say, a prolonged cold.
The menopause is natural and it marks the end of the child-bearing phase of life. The body adjusts itself by reorganising its hormones. It is this process that gives women their menopausal symptoms. A fortunate few have reported a menopause they did not know they had! An example is the lady who simply stopped having a monthly period. Because of her age, she thought that she might be pregnant - but tests showed that she was not pregnant and had just experienced a symptomless menopause. It was (to her) over with in a moment… to the envy of the majority of her friends!
Most women, though, experience (or suffer, depending on the severity) various well-known symptoms, anytime from the age of about 35, although 40+ is more usual. For example, the most common is known as the 'hot flush', when there is a feeling of getting hotter, the skin goes red and there are palpitations - very uncomfortable if it lasts for more than a few minutes or of there are multiple incidents during the waking day. Monthly periods become irregular and more frequent - something that can scare women into thinking they may be pregnant. Because of hormonal changes moods may alter. Some have dizziness and headaches, but there is no proof that these are linked with the menopause itself.
When the periods have finished, there is a phase called the 'Post Menopause', when hormonal changes continue, producing a variety of symptoms to a greater or a lesser degree, maybe for life. They include hot flushes, sweating and palpitations, high blood pressure, weight gain and distension, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis. Women who experience these symptoms may sometimes become depressed. Some are so distressed they think life is not worth living. Thus, moods can alter dramatically, especially for women who may previously have been slim and free of illness... they feel that they are no longer attractive to their husbands.
I hope that readers (especially males) will now see why we have published a paper on the menopause! Husbands can be the most unthinking of creatures. Many take the menopause to be a personal insult against themselves! They become intolerant of their poor wives, who then feel even worse and more depressed. And so the cycle continues. On the other hand, women can sometimes allow symptoms to rule their lives and so the symptoms are magnified and made worse as the lady enters a time of general malaise, much to the concern of the husband.
The Christian issue is quite plain - the menopause is a natural life event and should not be glorified by fashion, taken as an insult, played upon, or ignored. Men must understand what is going on and be tolerant, whilst women must take it in their stride and not allow their moods to swing wildly. That is, both the wife and the husband must work together, as in all things, to maintain an harmonious and loving relationship, as commanded by God.
If symptoms genuinely are bad for a prolonged time, then the lady should not suffer in silence - like any other condition, the menopause can sometimes be intolerable and produce extreme problems. In these cases, the doctor should be contacted. And if HRT is the only answer, then take it - so long as the possible side-effects are made known. Throughout it all, there is a need for Christian understanding and compassion for the wife.
This Outline is based on an unpublished report/survey by Jane Davies, RGN: 'Is the Menopause a Problem in the 90's?'
(NOTE: BTM has published this Outline on the subject of the menopause because many women are still confused about it, due to old wives' tales, lack of sympathy from partners and doctors, and the present new trend toward the use of HRT. The menopause is not discussed in Christian circles and this is sad, for marriages can be torn apart by ignorance surrounding the whole topic... symptoms that accompany this time of life are often misconstrued as loss of love for, and lack of interest in, one's partner! There have even been divorces. Therefore, the Outline, though short, is a relevant contribution to an important subject. The author is a qualified nurse and psychologist).
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