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Alexandra Amor's lovely podcast "Stop Suffering About..." explores our innate wisdom and wellbeing, and poses a central question: is there one way to stop suffering from everything?
Could it be that understanding how experiences are created could end our suffering no matter where we think our suffering is coming from? Could be be that no matter what you replace the dot-dot-dot with in the title (e.g. your past, your job, perimenopause symptoms), there is a single understanding that can lead us to freedom from suffering?
These are the questions that Alexandra and I explore in her latest podcast episode, in the context of perimenopause and menopause.
I share how my range of crazy-making emotional and physical perimenopause symptoms simply disappeared when I saw life differently, and understood what my body had been trying to tell me all along.
When we are deep in our suffering (and I've been there with the night sweats, two weeks of PMS every month, skin problems, migraines, and more), reaching relief from our suffering can feel so complicated. And yet the truth is, moving beyond our suffering is much easier than we think!
I hope you'll enjoy and maybe even get inspired when you listen to the podcast here.
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thewiserwoman by Tania Elfersy - 2M ago
When Robert A Wilson, MD, a Brooklyn-based OB-GYN, argued that estrogen therapy allowed menopausal women to remain feminine forever, he had a certain idea of feminine in mind!
Feminine Forever was the title of Wilson’s influential book, published in 1966, which convinced women and their doctors that menopause was a curable “hormone deficiency disease.” In the book, Wilson made grandiose promises of the multiple benefits of supplemental estrogen – promises that we now know are false. He also outlined how menopause had impacted his patients, including one particular woman whose husband first came to Wilson begging for a cure for his wife because, in the husband’s words:
“She is driving me nuts. She won’t fix meals. She lets me get no sleep. She picks on me all the time. She makes up lies about me. She hits the bottle all day. And we used to be happily married.” (p. 81)
For Wilson, it was the woman’s hormone deficiencies that made her unfeminine and fail at being a good wife, not perhaps the emergence of a midlife awakening, the type of which may occur when you are married to a macho man of the 1960s (or 21st century). Did I mention that her husband placed a gun on Wilson's desk and threatened to kill his wife if the doctor didn't cure her?
Wilson claimed that estrogen therapy saved the day! The change – a collapse in her femininity – was halted; the woman returned to take care of her husband and avoided a violent death.
Today, your doctor probably won’t list avoidance of murder as a benefit of HRT, as Wilson did – although there are certainly doctors who still share other disproven ideas that he promoted, such as the idea that estrogen therapy will offer you long-term protection from heart attacks and cancer.
In addition, your doctor can no longer prescribe HRT for life, as if menopause is a life-threatening chronic illness, as Wilson and the rest of the medical community used to do for decades. And yet modern medicine still relates to menopause as if it were a hormone deficiency disease, even if doctors no longer label it as such.
By my mid-40s, I was already aware that many of my perimenopause symptoms, including extended PMS, migraines and night sweats, intensified each month between ovulation and menstruation – which is what classically happens in perimenopause. I shared what I was experiencing with my doctor but she promptly dismissed the possibility that my symptoms could be connected to midlife change because at 45, I was “too young!”
My experience of being confronted with a doctor who clearly lacked knowledge of women’s life cycles is incredibly common. Other women have shared that even in their 50s, when they’ve gone to their doctor seeking symptom relief, they’ve been told that they are not yet in menopause because based on the tests done on their hormones, the lab computer said so!
Women’s knowledge of their own bodies is being ignored, because menopause has been reduced to a diagnosis based on whether a woman can be a candidate for the medical “fix” for menopause, namely HRT. If a woman doesn’t meet the medical criteria to receive HRT because of her age, or because on the day and time when a woman’s hormones were tested, they didn’t match the required menopausal levels as defined by medicine, a woman may be told that she is not menopausal even when she’s certain she is!
Menopause should not be defined by what the lab computer churns out and not by the warped theories of women’s health that have lingered on from the last century. Yet menopause has been drawn into the system of disease management that focuses on what’s going on downstream in the patient – the lab results and a collection of symptoms – and then offers long term medication as a fix.
For women who are experiencing multiple symptoms at midlife, whether they are a candidate for HRT or not, they are often offered a cocktail of medications – one for anxiety, one for insomnia, one for eczema, one for migraines, and so on. This is the logical equivalent of discovering that a number of streams that all flow from the same river are polluted, and attempting to clean each one of the streams daily, rather than taking a trip upstream to the river that feeds into the streams, to discover what the source of the pollution is, in order to deal with it there.
Happily in the medical world, there are doctors who are challenging this practice. I was not surprised to read in Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s fascinating book, How To Make Disease Disappear, that when Dr Chatterjee takes an upstream view of his patients’ health and addresses issues of stress, diet and gut health, sleep, sunlight, toxins and physical activity, he’s not only able to cure what in the West we usually regard as life-long chronic conditions, such as Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and dementia, but he’s also able to offer women relief for menopause symptoms.
Dr Chatterjee realized that by offering medication to suppress symptoms, he wasn’t tackling what causes the symptoms to begin with, but by looking at what was out of balance in patients’ lives, he could guide them back to good health and reverse diagnoses of disease.
In the case of menopause, we don’t need a diagnosis based on hormone levels because firstly such a diagnosis is inaccurate – our hormones are fluctuating! – and secondly, as I have argued before in this blog, our fluctuating hormone levels do not create our symptoms, they create the sensitive time for symptoms to arise when our lives are out of balance.
I have encountered numerous accounts of women reaching a meaningful reduction in their perimenopause and menopause symptoms by cleaning up their diet, exercising, taking better care of themselves and offering themselves more compassion during these sensitive years. And in my work, I have seen the most significant reduction of symptoms through understanding how our experiences in life are created, and in particular by addressing how and why stress, anxiety and low moods can spike during perimenopause and menopause, and why, even when our hormones are in flux, they don't have to.
As Chatterjee also explains in this TEDx talk, in order to cure his patients who had been diagnosed with chronic conditions, he had to look beyond what he was taught at medical school, and instead shine light on patterns of modern living that so many of us have fallen into. Chatterjee helps his patients avoid long-term medication by, for example, reducing stress at work, limiting the consumption of processed foods, increasing sunlight and movement in their day, and encouraging other life-style behaviours that challenge what has become the norm in Western societies.
To understand how to help women in menopause, doctors also need to look beyond what they learned in medical school, which was invariably impacted by the false science of Wilson’s time. The structures of our societies have not evolved with women’s life-cycles in mind, and certainly do not support women through the sensitive years of midlife change. Our multiple perimenopause and menopause symptoms, which are very particular to a modern Western woman’s experience of midlife change, offer testament not to how women are destined to malfunction at midlife, but to how far we have fallen out of line with ways of living that can support our health.
Menopause is not a disease and yet when we treat it as if it is, we don’t serve women. This is becoming more obvious in this day and age when menopausal women are only allowed to take HRT for a limited number of years (due to the proven health risks of prolonged use). Women who had hoped that HRT would cure their symptoms are faced with a new reality once they have to come off HRT – all their menopause symptoms return. HRT does not cure symptoms, it suppresses them and it allows us to forget what is actually out of balance in our lives.
The purpose of perimenopause and menopause is not to allow us to feel like we are falling apart and losing the woman we once were. It is a transition period to prepare us for our wiser woman role. We are supposed to awaken, learn and discover that which will keep us and those around us healthy for decades to come. Treat this transition period as one of disease, and treat symptoms as evidence of malfunction rather than a wake-up call, and you will miss one of life’s greatest lessons.
Now, why would you want to do that, when your wiser woman role awaits you?
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Meet the lovely Jessie-Lynn MacDonald, certified Clarity coach, 3P Practitioner and Facilitator, and host of The CPR of Life Podcast.
Jessie interviewed me for her podcast and we created an episode called, "Can Perimenopause And Menopause Be Part Of A Beautiful Journey?"
I know that some women may read this title while burdened by symptoms and immediately want to answer a definitive "No! How could midlife change have anything to do with a beautiful journey?!"
Deep in night sweats, hot flashes, migraines, emotional instability, anxiety and more, it may well seem impossible that there could be any positive side to perimenopause and menopause. I know, because I remember what it's like when all you want is for your symptoms to go away so you can feel like yourself again.
But there is another side to midlife change. To experience it, we need to see that the ideas that our bodies are malfunctioning, that our hormones are getting it wrong, and that women were never supposed to live beyond menopause are all MYTHS – myths that we need to let go.
Even if you've heard one of my other podcasts interviews, I hope that you might find some new inspiration by listening to this episode.
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When I cured my perimenopause symptoms, simply and naturally, I had no idea that what I'd learned about women's health at midlife, would end up impacting the way I show up in business and ALL areas of my life!
Audrey Groeschel, from the podcast Women Are The Journey, interviewed me to explore the shift in my life that allowed me to embrace THE CHANGE in a bigger and more exciting way than I could have ever imagined.
Audrey is also the founder of Goddess at the Grindstone, where she helps women thrive in business by tapping into their feminine intuition. While the podcast is geared to women with an entrepreneurial spirit, this episode has a LOT to offer any woman who is interested in finding out more about how to cure perimenopause and menopause symptoms naturally, and how to journey through life with less stress and more joy, no matter where you find yourself today.
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When I cured my perimenopause symptoms, simply and naturally, I had no idea that what I'd learned about women's health at midlife, would end up impacting the way I show up in business and ALL areas of my life!
Audrey Groeschel, from the podcast Women Are The Journey, interviewed me to explore the shift in my life that allowed me to embrace THE CHANGE in a bigger and more exciting way than I could have ever imagined.
Audrey is also the founder of Goddess at the Grindstone, where she helps women thrive in business by tapping into their feminine intuition. While the podcast is geared to women with an entrepreneurial spirit, this episode has a LOT to offer any woman who is interested in finding out more about how to cure perimenopause and menopause symptoms naturally, and how to journey through life with less stress and more joy, no matter where you find yourself today.
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If you haven't heard of the podcast, The Primal Happiness Show, it's my pleasure to introduce you! Lian Brook-Tyler and Jonathan Wilkinson created the podcast to help us thrive in this crazy, modern world by returning to our primal state of happiness. The podcast is filled with fascinating episodes on how we create our experience in life, the polarity of masculine and feminine, and the fundamentals of play, movement, and connection.
Recently, Lian interviewed me about the changes we experience during perimenopause and menopause and how we can access the powerful gifts that life offers us at this time, even if we are experiencing symptoms. You can listen to the podcast here:https://primalhappiness.co/podcast/episode219/ I've already heard from a number of women how much they loved this podcast! Once you've listened to it, be sure to check out the dozens of additional inspiring podcasts on their site.
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Actually, they don’t!
No woman has ever reported discomfort, at least to me.
But here’s what happens instead.
I’m called “mad!’
My work is labelled “bunk!”
Women show up and share their opinions after reading a blog post:
“Well I wish I could have the time back I spent reading it.”
“That was pointless!”
I used to leave comments like this on The Wiser Woman Facebook page, until I realized that they weren’t public service announcements and I could hide them!
Beyond social media, when I’ve given live talks, women have also said.
“Wait till you get to 52! Then you’ll understand menopause!”
“You can’t say that! You’re not a doctor!”
And “tech speak,” which is what a member of the medical profession who finds herself in the audience will sometimes throw at me – medical jargon and technical terms, as opposed to constructive dialogue – as if women haven’t experienced menopause throughout history and as if menopause is a complicated disease that requires “wonder pills” (as doctors have been convincing us since mid-last century).
And yet, after every blog post or talk that attracts criticism, there are women who respond with love. Proof, of course, that there are a variety of thoughts and feelings that can arise when a woman encounters my work…and that these are always up for change.
So what is going on with the uncomfortable feelings? Why might a woman who reads my blog feel the need to lash out? What am I challenging in her life?
Is what I’m sharing scary?
But that’s because in the West, so many of us have grown up cultivating a peculiar and particularly unhelpful relationship with our bodies and our health.
We flip between believing “my body is me” to “I have no agency over my body – fix me quick,” when neither are true.
When we operate from “my body is me” we think we control the body, or during times of crisis, need to get better at controlling it. In this space, we forget that the divine energy behind all life, the same energy that keeps the heart beating, operates our lungs, digests our food and carries out the millions of other processes that keep us alive, is not within our control; it just is.
We are not the body – its parts and its processes; we are each the divine consciousness that has found a home there; and we are our body’s primary carer.
We get to experience the magnificence of life through our bodies, while our bodies are in our custody, and while our bodies are also our personal protectors and guides.
When we flip to “I have no agency over my body – fix me quick,” we forget that our bodies are ours to care for, and that our bodies are brilliantly designed to help us fulfil this role, so that we can experience joy and wonder in this life.
When we encounter unpleasant feelings, discomfort and even symptoms, these arise to guide us back to our innate health. Sometimes, we may seek help from certain people, foods, herbs or medicines, but as we journey through our lifecycle, we cannot outsource the role of primary carer of our body to anyone – not even the most experienced doctors.
So, come midlife, when women experience perimenopause and menopause symptoms, and if they are caught in this Western dichotomy of, “I am my body / I have no agency over my body – fix me quick,” it can get messy.
A woman can easily interpret her symptoms as a sign that she is falling apart and then spend years trying to find the thing that will fix her from the outside.
When I encourage a woman to look within to return to good health, as opposed to looking outside or focusing on her hormones (as if our hormones run wild detached from the divine energy that manages every other part of our body), on the one hand it may appear that I’m reinforcing an idea that she is the problem (because if it’s not her hormones, then what is it?). And on the other hand, it may appear that I’m taking away her only hope for a cure to her symptoms, if she believed that something outside of her was the lifeline that would save her.
What’s more, approaching our health from the inside out can appear annoyingly abstract if we’ve convinced ourselves that retuning to good health must involve something practical, like taking a pill or using a patch or cream to just fix our hormones.
And yes, all of this can feel uncomfortable at first!
However, rather than strengthening an idea that that something is wrong with us and a cure is unreachable, looking within helps us realize the opposite: lasting good health is closer than we imagined because we were never broken to begin with!
An inside out approach to health is the simplest path to cure our symptoms because it’s what our bodies have wanted us to embrace all along. And it’s what our bodies will keep pushing us towards as our hormones fluctuate and beyond.
It is not my intention to make women feel uncomfortable when they encounter my work. But as I disrupt the narrative on midlife women’s health (because it is founded on myths and doesn’t serve women), sparks may fly!
A woman may want to lash out, call me mad or run away, but if there’s a quieter voice in her that says “maybe stick around and explore some more,” she might want to do just that, since there is an alternative and more empowering experience to be had around what I share.
I’m sharing principles of innate health and how they relate to midlife change. These same principles have allowed people to cure conditions and chronic diseases that many believed would be with them for a life-time (see the resources at the end of this post to learn more). However, even if we are prepared to accept that such an understanding has helped others (as the resources below reveal), we can still convince ourselves that when it comes to us and our hormones, surely things work differently.
But what if they don’t?
So many women are prepared to spend small fortunes on supplements, treatments, and anything else that promises to fix them.
But what if all that was needed was to put aside some old beliefs that we thought were true (no matter how uncomfortable that can feel at first)?
Perhaps opening up to new ideas from a fresh state of mind might be at the heart of transforming “bunk” into life-changing insight!
As Sarah, a woman I connected with, explained:"At first, I was resistant to some of what [Tania] was sharing. It was not how I saw my own experience. Over time though, my understanding changed and I now see and share the truth of what she is pointing to. I am so grateful."
Sending love to you, wherever you are on your journey.
Resources on the Three Principles of Innate Health
1) A great introduction to the power of the Principles of Innate Health from A Little Peace of Mind.
In this podcast, Nicola Bird interviews Claire Shutes, who describes her journey from being admitted to a mental health institution with extreme anxiety and depression, to a life lived free of anxiety and depression for over 25 years. Listen to the podcast here:https://alittlepeaceofmind.co.uk/podcast/episode-69-a-personal-journey-through-anxiety-to-freedom-with-claire-shutes/
2) Two webinars on curing physical disorders and mental illness from the Real Change Portal.
Elizabeth Lovius interviews the psychiatrist and mental health pioneer Dr Bill Pettit to explore what creates and what cures mental illness, physical symptoms and life-threatening conditions. With over 35 years experience in the field of psychiatry, Dr Pettit shares case-studies that reveal how an understanding of the Principles of Innate Health have led to radical transformations in people’s lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-6Wa8b6_vMhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMLOvCgVfzs&t=37s
3) Two podcasts from Primal Happiness on curing Chronic Fatigue and how this can relate to curing other conditions too.
Lian Brook-Tyler interviews John El-Mokadem and Karen Fritz DiMarco who share their inspiring journeys on curing Chronic Fatigue and returning to good health. In the podcasts, they explain more about the research they conducted to document how the Principles of Innate Health can have a dramatic effect on such conditions.
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To take HRT, or bioidentical HRT, or another medication or supplement, is not the question!
If you’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms, you’ll no doubt seek out advice, do your own research and in the end, take what feels right for you.
Or you’ll take nothing.
If you start taking hormones or a supplement that isn’t right for your body, your body will probably let you know through a side-effect. If you then take something else to alleviate the side-effect, you might get another side-effect, and so on, until you stop taking the original thing that apparently wasn’t right for your body.
It’s the way our bodies are designed.
They communicate with us, with love, always.
When we experieince perimenopause and menopause symptoms, there are many ways that we can reduce our symptoms but there is only one question that we should ask:
What does my body want me to know?
THAT is the question.
Despite what our culture tells us, women are not designed to suffer through midlife.
A drop in estrogen does not equal symptoms.
Our hormones are doing the best they can with the conditions we create for them – they don’t need to be fixed!
Sometimes, when stress has snowballed, when years of a broken diet and a out-of-balance lifestyle take their toll, and when we're convinced that caring for our health should be outsourced, it may feel like our hormones are running wild. It may seem right to blame them.
Through the sweat, anxiety, dryness, rashes, frequent migraines, mood swings and a burning desire to feel like ourselves again, it’s not easy to remember the question: what does my body want me to know?
And it’s certainly not easy to hear the answer.
But there is an answer.
I spent years turning down the volume of my symptoms through treatments, creams, potions and herbs. I was searching for an answer, but I was asking the wrong question. I desperately wanted to know what to do or take to fix me, when I wasn’t broken.
Women do not break at midlife; we experience change.
And in that change, our bodies’ wisdom bubbles to the surface, starting softly, becoming louder, pushing us back to our default: joy!
What does joy look like for you? Only you can know.
Perhaps because I’d already spent years turning down the volume of my symptoms, one day it occurred to me to turn the volume back up and step into change. I stopped searching for a way to fix me. I stopped taking everything that I had hoped could help me feel like myself again and instead decided to sit in the orchestra of my symptoms. It was there I heard something new and discovered what my body wanted me to know.
That was my journey.
Every woman’s journey will look different, but in the end, we can’t escape a simple truth: it doesn’t matter what we search for outside of ourselves, transformation will appear when we look within.
Women often ask me about medicine and supplements.
I’m not a doctor and supplements are not my beat. But I know that medicine, supplements and treatments can sometimes offer such welcome relief; they can be just what a woman needs, at a certain time. And when relief arrives, it’s possible to see something new – a fresh thought, an insight.
And even one insight can change everything.
I am not anti-HRT or anti-BHRT or anti anything else that can offer women relief, safely.
I am anti the assumptions modern medicine and the promoters of hormone therapies have made about women’s bodies.
I am passionate about deconstructing the estrogen theory, which arose out of millennia-old misogynistic beliefs about women’s bodies. The estrogen theory brings women no closer to understanding what creates and what cures their perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
I believe that after decades of women’s bodies being used for an extended pharmaceutical experiment (often with disastrous results), it’s time we took a very different approach to midlife women’s health.
I see brilliance in our bodies at every stage of our life-cycle.
And I recognize what society fears: the power of menopausal women, waking up to their wisdom and living in their joy.
LIKE this post? Feel free to share and check out other posts on my blog!
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Some attacked my work with an argument I’ve heard too many times before:
“You’re wrong! The reason our bodies malfunction during perimenopause and menopause is because we were never supposed to live this long!”
The idea that women, by design, aren’t supposed to live beyond the age of 40, is the second biggest myth surrounding perimenopause and menopause!
And now it’s time to debunk this myth, too!
As long as we hold on to myths surrounding perimenopause and menopause, we're preventing ourselves from truly understanding what creates and what cures the symptoms that so many women experience at midlife.
Luckily, it’s even easier to debunk the “women were never supposed to live this long” myth, because the evidence against it is so straight forward, which is why when I hear some doctors using this argument before they go on to promote HRT, I can’t help but wonder: if they can’t even get this right, what else aren’t they getting right about our health?
At the heart of this myth lies the concept that it’s only thanks to modern medicine that women even get to menopause.
Charts such as the one below, which depict average life expectancy from birth in England over several centuries, supposedly support this claim.
Before we debunk this myth, it’s important to note that while men (and more recently women) have spent decades spreading the idea that women weren’t supposed to live beyond midlife, men never use this argument to explain some things about themselves, even though these charts represent the average life expectancy of men AND women, and even though in every country in every year for which reliable birth and death records exist, women outlive men!
DEBUNKING THE MYTH STEP 1: Understanding life-expectancy charts
From a quick glance at the above chart, we could easily conclude that left to our natural state (before the impact of modern medicine) we would all be dropping off under the age of 40.
But this chart depicts the AVERAGE life expectancy from birth, which was historically low because infant and child mortality rates used to be horrifically high.
In 16th century England, 36% of children died before the age of six; while an additional 24% of children died between the ages of seven and sixteen. As a result, therefore, of 100 live births, 60 children could be expected to die before the age of 16.
However, even back in the 16th century, if a woman lived until adulthood, she was expected to live until her 60s or even 70s – beyond menopause!
Given these figures, it’s entirely possible that a 16th century women could have given birth to two children, one who died at the age of one, while the other lived until the age of 70. In this case, the average life-span of the woman’s children would be 35.5.
The potential to live beyond menopause is not a modern phenomenon. It’s just that once infant and child mortality rates could be lowered (through the impact of modern medicine combined with improved sanitation and nutrition, more educated female populations, fewer teenage pregnancies, increased awareness of child safety and the outlawing of child labor), the potential to live beyond our reproductive years became more apparent on charts such as the one above.
The pattern of high infant and child mortality rates bringing down the average life expectancy from birth can be seen among contemporary hunter gatherer societies that do not have access to modern sanitation and medicine. However, even among people who survive childhood in these societies “the effective end of human life course under traditional conditions seems to be just after age 70 years.”
DEBUNKING THE MYTH STEP 2: Remembering notable women from history
In this average life expectancy chart, each colored dot represents the life-span of a woman who outlived (by far!) the average life expectancy for the year of her birth. It’s important to note that all of the women who I’ve included, achieved a level of fame to allow them to be mentioned in history books, and yet none of the women was written about in history as a freak of nature for living so long!!!
Since the chart details life expectancy in England, all the women written about here lived in England, yet examples of women living decades beyond menopause can be found in the histories of other cultures, too.
Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)
Queen of England.
Lived till 69.
Average life expectancy at time of her birth: approximately 38.
During the life-time of Elizabeth I, the average life expectancy of aristocracy (represented by the grey line on the chart) did not necessarily exceed that of the general population.
Queen Elizabeth I reigned for 44 years, which provided stability and a strengthened sense of national identity in England. The Queen didn’t have any children, which increased her chances of long life since at the time, pregnant women had a 2% chance of dying in childbirth.
Lady Anne Clifford (1590–1676)
Noblewoman, patron of literature and restorer of castles.
Lived till 86.
Average life expectancy at time of her birth: approximately 37.5.
Mother of five children, three of them died before adulthood.
Lady Anne’s two brothers died before the age of five, meaning that the average life-span of her and her siblings was 31, (a reminder of how average life expectancy from birth was so low through the ages).
As the only surviving child of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland and Lady Margaret Russell, she was expected to inherit her father’s estates when he died in 1605. Instead her father left his estates to his brother, Francis, and to Francis’s heirs. This act breached an entail dating back to the 14th century, under which his property should have automatically passed to the eldest heir, whether male or female – which was Anne.
Anne engaged in a 40-year battle for her right to inherit her father’s estates (how lucky for her that she didn’t drop off before the age of 40!). Once Anne succeeded to secure her inheritance, she devoted her life to restoring and enhancing the castles and churches on her lands.
Members of the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society
Members included two of the founders Elizabeth Montagu (1718–1800) and Elizabeth Vesey (1715–91), in addition to Hester Chapone (1727–1801) Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806), Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741–1821), Hannah More (1745–1833) and Frances Burney (1752–1840).
Average life span of the above members: 82
Average life expectancy from birth in the first half of the 18th century: approximately 39
The Blue Stockings Society was a London-based women's literary circle that promoted education and mutual co-operation, in contrast to the non-intellectual pastimes deemed suitable for women of the time. Many of the society’s members would go on to become published authors in their own right. The women involved in this group generally had more education and fewer children than most English women of the time. Coupled with their unrelenting passion for literature, this appeared to be exceptionally good for their health!
Clementia Taylor (1810 –1908)
Women's rights activist and leader in the English anti-slavery movement.
Lived till 97.
Average life expectancy at time of her birth: approximately 50 (for a woman of her social class).
Clementia founded the Aubrey Institute in West London with her husband Peter Alfred Taylor (who would go on to become a Liberal Member of Parliament). The institute served to provide a high standard of education to underprivileged children. Clementia also established the Pen and Pencil Club to promote the work of young writers, and hosted the Committee of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage.
A common theme running through the life of each woman mentioned above was her passion and purpose, which as research concurs has a remarkably positive impact on our health and long life!
DEBUNKING THE MYTH STEP 3: Finding menopausal and post-menopausal women in historical and ancient texts
If women didn’t used to survive beyond menopause, menopausal women wouldn’t be mentioned in historical and ancient texts. And yet, even given the fact that women have so often been written out of history, we can find references to menopausal and post-menopausal women from texts from the last two millennia and beyond.
I’ve written about Hildegard of Bingen before in this blog and she’s certainly worthy of another mention. Hildegard was a 12th century German Benedictine abbess, mystic and healer, who lived till the age of 81.
Hildegard wrote about natural history and herbal medicine, giving particular attention to the stages of a woman's life cycle. On menopause she wrote: "The menses cease in women from the fiftieth year and sometimes in certain ones from the sixtieth when the uterus begins to be enfolded and to contract, so that they are no longer able to conceive.”
How would Hildegard have acquired this knowledge if 12th century women didn't live beyond menopause?
Why would Galen write about menopausal women if they didn't exist in the 2nd century?
And now for my favorite historical reference:
Meet Sarah, a matriarch in the Hebrew Bible and wife of Abraham. Sarah appears in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, a text believed to be written over 2,500 years ago!
Whether you happen to believe Sarah existed or not is irrelevant in this case since the text itself is written in and describes ancient times. In Genesis, Chapter 18, when Sarah is told that she will give birth to a baby, it is written:
“Now Abraham and Sarah were old, coming on in years; Sarah had ceased to have the way of the women.” i.e she was post-menopausal.
And then it is written:
“And Sarah laughed to herself,” [at the thought of having a child at her age – post menopause].
Not only does the text reveal a post-menopausal woman in ancient times (and again nothing in the text points to Sarah being unusual in terms of her age among women of the time), but the text reveals a post-menopausal woman with an intimate understanding of what one could expect from a woman at her stage in life – that she couldn’t give birth!
The writers of Genesis have an understanding of menopause, and so it is that the reader is also expected to understand what happens to women post-menopause.
If post-menopausal women didn't walk the earth over two millennia ago, Sarah’s story wouldn't be in Genesis!
With such a broad range of evidence freely available to debunk the “women were never supposed to live this long” myth, one may ask, why does this myth remain popular?
The answer can be found in the "need" to sell women pills, patches and potions for their perimenopause and menopause symptoms – it helps to have a simple (albeit faulty) argument to convince women why they are broken and need fixing.
Once, not too long ago, all of women’s ills could be linked back to the idea that women malfunction because they are the inferior sex. Doctors would feel comfortable expressing this idea freely as it shaped medical practice and all areas of life. Today, at least in nations where women’s rights are more protected, doctors and experts can’t speak like that anymore. And so a myth, that women were never supposed to live beyond midlife, has stepped in to help make understanding women’s symptoms simple.
By blaming female biology for perimenopause and menopause symptoms, we discount the possibility that perhaps societies and our personal lives are created and managed in ways that do not support women’s lifecycles. Changing life-styles through examining stress, food, the environment and societal structures, are not “things” that can be packaged and sold to millions of women as a “quick-fix.”
But holding on to myths to explain why women experience perimenopause and menopause symptoms does not best serve women.
So please, the next time someone uses the “women were never supposed to live this long” myth to explain anything about menopause, remember you have a response!
Share this post and LAUGH OUT LOUD!
Laugh for all the women who lived as post-menopausal wiser women!
Don’t let anyone take that history away from us!
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You don’t need to boost your estrogen as you move through perimenopause and menopause.
You really don’t.
If your body needed more estrogen as it concluded your reproductive years, it wouldn’t spend all that time diligently depleting it to the levels found in prepubescent girls.
Side note: have you ever noticed that prepubescent girls don’t experience the symptoms that we attribute to a lack of estrogen?
For decades, doctors, researchers, and the media have been convincing women that come midlife, their bodies start getting it wrong – miscalculating the hormones needed for good health. An influential collection of estrogen pushers has emerged, keeping the dominant estrogen theory alive.
There are doctors who will tell a perimenopausal patient that despite her inner knowing that the time has come for her to quit hormone-based birth control, she should not quit (and perhaps instead, come 50-something, “upgrade” to HRT). These doctors argue that the estrogen (in birth control and then in HRT) will protect her against cancer. This is a myth and a disservice to women. Women should be encouraged to trust their instincts!
Then there are the researchers who following the disastrous results of the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002, which revealed that post-menopausal women taking estrogen and progestin hormone therapy had an increased risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and urinary incontinence, have been scrambling ever since to declare “safe estrogen windows” for certain age groups and patient profiles. The researchers argue that in these “safe windows” estrogen should be freely prescribed.
There are the health correspondents and media personalities who source their information from medical organizations and associations without questioning what those “objective” bodies with their big-pharma backers might be interested in them reporting.
There is the more “alternative-leaning” world who talk about bioidentical hormones, which in many cases are under-researched and still work on the premise that a woman needs to up her estrogen – going against the grain of what hundreds of thousands of years of evolution worked out for us instead.
And then there are women, who in a desperation to find a quick exit from their sweaty and exhausting midlife rollercoaster ride, have swallowed this whole “women naturally malfunction during perimenopause and menopause” narrative and encourage each other to try HRT or bioidentitcal HRT because “honey, you just need estrogen!”
If the estrogen theory was reliable (low estrogen always equals symptoms; an estrogen boost always equals the end of symptoms, with no undesirable side-effects) there would be no need for this blog post. But the estrogen theory, just as so many theories throughout history, is unreliable because it is grounded in a confusion between correlation and causation.
A drop in estrogen does not cause perimenopause and menopause symptoms to arise. A drop in estrogen creates the conditions that allow symptoms to arise IF a woman is pushing her life away from her innate well-being, through elevated levels of stress (first and foremost), and other unhealthy life-style choices.
So why not change the conditions that allow the symptoms to arise? Well firstly, because as we have seen with over half a century of experimenting with hormone therapies, when you change the body’s brilliantly balanced ecosystem, results are unpredictable and women remain burdened by symptoms and even dangerous side-effects. And secondly, because doesn’t it make sense that if we happen to move away from our innate well-being, we keep in place the naturally occurring warning systems that let us know we need to move back into balance?
Women will only start feeling better at midlife when there is a paradigm shift in the understanding of perimenopause and menopause. This will happen when society as a whole starts understanding the confusion that it created in the relationship between estrogen and perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
What is needed is a change in thinking about midlife women’s health to clear up the confusion between correlation and causation.
As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his fascinating book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, imagining new realities and convincing populations to believe them, lies at the heart of our success as a species. Sometimes the realities we create do not best serve populations but the potential to change that reality remains, always.
Confusions between correlation and causation played out with other theories that were held true for centuries, only to be debunked by a change in thinking about what had, until a certain time, appeared to be true.
Dominant narratives can and do change, and to get inspired as to how this might happen, we need look no further than my garden…and we need to talk a little bit about moths.
Moths? Yes, moths! Stay with me!
In my garden, when a long dry weather spell is followed by one day of rain and then another dry day, as if by magic, small brown moths fill the air.
With some basic knowledge of biology, I can assume that a dry spell followed by short burst of rain creates the perfect conditions for moths to take flight from their cocoon. A little bit of internet research confirms this to be true. However, if I had lived in the 4th century BCE and was at that time a student of Aristotle (which of course is impossible, since I am a woman and Aristotle said of women that we are inferior and incomplete), I would argue that the moths in my garden were created out of rain and earth. I would point to their sudden appearance as further evidence to back up the theory of spontaneous generation.
Spontaneous generation was a theory that lasted thousands of years based on the belief that certain species, such as moths, flies, and other insects would spontaneously come into being from inanimate matter. Aristotle would be comfortable arguing that dust creates fleas, maggots arise from rotting meat, and caterpillars are born from cabbages.
It’s remarkable that today I would not be able to convince my 10-year old daughter that any creature in our garden arose from the elements rather than from an identical parent organism. All the more remarkable when one considers that Aristotle is still believed to be one of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Indeed, while Aristotle held on to the misunderstanding of spontaneous generation, he was disproving another misunderstanding: that the earth is flat.
Through observations such as travelers going south see southern constellations rise higher above the horizon; and the shadow of earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse is round, Aristotle was building the case for a spherical earth long before humans successfully navigated the first journey around the earth in the 16th century.
The theory of spontaneous generation only began to crumble in 1668, when Francesco Redi published a set of experiments which demonstrated that maggots arise from the eggs of flies rather than directly from rotting meat. Redi’s experiment involved placing meat in several jars, half of which were left open to the environment, while the other half were covered with gauze.
Around the same time, 17th century naturalist, Maria Sibylla Merian (hey, Aristotle, a woman!) studied, painted and published her observations of creatures such as the silkworm moth, depicting (with exquisite detail) its metamorphosis from eggs, hatching larvae, molts, cocoons, all the way to the adult moth.
Neither Redi’s experiments nor Merian’s observations were too complicated a task for Aristotle had he been inclined to spend time looking under leaves or playing around in his kitchen. But he wasn’t inclined and neither were a multitude of great thinkers who followed him, and thus spontaneous generation stuck until it became unstuck.
Today not an inkling of spontaneous generation lies in our understanding of the natural world because a paradigm shift occurred. No-one would be taken seriously if they were to argue that rain falling to earth actually created moths, rather than the conditions for moths to take flight.
I predict that with time a paradigm shift will occur with the estrogen theory. Doctors, researchers, the media and the majority of society currently have a blind spot when it comes to midlife women’s health because they are not inclined to look in new directions, just as Aristotle had a blind spot when considering the origins of certain species (and the nature of women!).
One day, it will be common knowledge that a drop in estrogen creates the sensitive conditions for symptoms to arise rather than the symptoms themselves.
And happily a shift in understanding has already begun – we didn’t have to wait two millennia for that!
As I pointed out in thisblog post about recent research, medical organizations that focus on perimenopause and menopause currently only feel comfortable recommending estrogen-based therapies for three categories of symptoms/conditions – vasomotor symptoms (night sweats and hot flashes); genitourinary syndromes of menopause (changes to the labia, vagina, urethra, and bladder); and preventing bone loss and fractures. This is down from the approximately 20 categories of symptoms/conditions that estrogen was once thought to cure, mid last century.
There are still women who swear by HRT or bioidentical HRT and sometimes desensitizing midlife (by changing the hormonal conditions) can be a lifeline when a woman’s symptoms appear so devastating. But desensitizing women should not be considered a long-term strategy for wellbeing, when one considers an individual or the species!
Sometimes, we just need to accept that by journeying through our most sensitive times, we will learn something new. It appears part of the design; at midlife we are supposed to wise-up and change.
Slowly but surely and despite the backing of a multi-billion dollar hormone industry, the estrogen theory is crumbling. Every woman who wakes up to her innate wisdom and discovers the true purpose of midlife change helps it crumble some more.
Women must be at the center of reimagining the narrative that lies at the heart of what society believes about midlife women’s health. In the past, this narrative has been left to a world of doctors and pharmaceutical companies who still held on to misogynistic theories of the inferior, malfunctioning woman.
Sister, it’s time we break free! For our own health and for the health of generations of women who will journey through midlife after us. A new reality is being imagined and you can play your part.
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