Not Your Mother's Menopause

Two experts talk about menopause symptoms — and what you can do about them now.

By Cary Barbor
Hilda Hutcherson, MD (Photo: Domenica Comfort)

Menopause Today

Many of our mothers didn’t dare speak about "the change," even to their doctors. Today, information about hot flashes and night sweats flows freely from the press, and it’s a relief — it’s fun, actually — to share our experiences of menopots, insomnia, and other hormonal annoyances. MORE asked two experts to have a talk about menopause and let us listen in.

Hilda Hutcherson, MD, 52, is an ob-gyn and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York.

Donnica Moore, MD, 46, is a women’s health expert and advocate, and president of Sapphire Women’sHealth Group, a multimedia women’s health education and communications firm.

MORE: What was your mother’s menopause like?

HUTCHERSON: My mother’s generation did not say menopause.

MOORE: The few times my mother broached the subject, she called it the change of life. She wouldn’t utter the word to me — and I was already a full-fledged doctor when she was going through menopause. She would ask me for help with her symptoms without ever saying it. Today, women are quite open and well-informed. The word is on the covers of magazines; it’s on TV and in ads; it’s everywhere.

HUTCHERSON: This openness is emblematic of how women in midlife handle other life events now too. We educate ourselves and are empowered by knowledge, we share experiences with our peers, and we make our choices.

MORE: Some women even talk about menopause as a rebirth. Do you agree?

HUTCHERSON: Oh, I agree. It is a rebirth. You finally wake up and say, I’ve spent my entire life taking care of everybody else. Now it’s time to focus on me. Also, we are more confident. We know what we want and don’t mind asking for it. My patients who are in their 50s have said that even though going through this transition can be difficult at times, it’s still better than being in their 40s.

MOORE: Many women I talk to get what Margaret Mead called the postmenopausal zest. I once heard a woman say, "The blood is no longer going down, so it’s going up to your brain," which is not biologically correct but is metaphorically pretty accurate.

MORE: But do you find there can be a sadness about the finality of it, particularly for women who never had children?

HUTCHERSON: I do find that with patients, and with friends, who did not have children. Often their reason for not having children was not finding the right partner.

MORE: The perfect guy never came along.

HUTCHERSON: So take Mr. Almost Perfect! My best friend fits this picture — she’s single and really regrets it and has gone though menopause. After she met my husband, she said, "How in the world could you fall in love with a man who wears polyester pants?" I said, "Honey, I can buy him different pants." She’s looking for perfection and, of course, not finding it. But once your period stops coming, reality sets in. And it can be very depressing for women, except for the ones who decided years ago that they didn’t want a baby. Women can do technological stuff now and get somebody else’s eggs and have a baby. But eventually, the realization that motherhood is not going to happen comes along. I have four children, and when my menopausal symptoms started, even I felt a sense of sadness. It’s the finality of it.

Hot Flashes and Mood Swings

MORE: Do women have realistic expectations about menopause?

HUTCHERSON: My patients say they’ve read scary stuff about it, and then it’s not as bad as they thought it would be.

MOORE: About one in three women has no symptoms that interrupt her quality of life. So a significant number of us sail through.

MORE: But for those who do have pesky symptoms?

MOORE: Well, each hot flash usually lasts a few seconds — up to about a minute. But a minute can be a long time when you’re acutely uncomfortable. Labor pains last less than a minute too. Most women find that their hot flashes resolve in a few years.

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