February 4, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

How to support women through menopause

Sometimes it’s as simple as bringing her a cup of tea or giving her a back rub — or it can be more complicated, like taking on chores around the house with the kids or reading articles about menopause.

Whatever it is, Sandy is there to support his wife Vanessa, 42, who has been in perimenopause (the period before menopause) for about a year. “Your body is changing,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is to understand her and her feelings and to help her and support her. It’s also about managing expectations and realizing that it affects their mood.”

In addition to mood swings, Vanessa struggles with hot flashes, irregular periods and fatigue.

“Research and more knowledge helped me prepare for it [helping her during this time of life]’ said Sandy.

His efforts to support his wife and understand what she’s going through during perimenopause don’t go unnoticed by Vanessa.

“He was always thoughtful, helpful, a good listener and quick to ask, ‘How can I help? What do you need?” Vanessa said. “He’s taken on a number of managerial responsibilities for our family because my brain is occasionally unreliable — like managing the gym schedules and getting the boys ready for school in the mornings… That’s helpful on the days when I did not get much sleep.”

Sandy may be doing what’s right, mature, and loving by prioritizing Vanessa’s needs during perimenopause, but it’s not always the most obvious thing for many men — at least not when Sandy considers some of the men around her.

“I don’t see a lot of other husbands doing that,” he said.

Why men don’t always understand menopause

Why aren’t more male partners of perimenopausal and menopausal women stepping up to the plate and offering basic care and compassion?

This is partly due to a lack of education. And this deficiency extends over a much broader area than just the issue of menopause.

“We need to recognize that this is not limited to menopause and that it also reflects barriers to learning about pre- and post-menopausal health problems,” said Sharon Parish, MD, professor of medicine in clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-author of the study The MATE survey: men’s perceptions and attitudes towards menopause and their role in partners’ transition to menopause.

“It’s all a bit of a taboo subject that’s felt to be embarrassing,” Parish said. “We need to demystify it and destigmatize it and take the awkwardness out of it.”

Here’s how to fix it

To destigmatize and demystify menopause, we must first reach out to the medical community and encourage doctors to not only talk about it with women, but to include their male partners in the conversation as well.

“When treating a woman going through menopause, doctors should ask her to bring her partner,” Parish said. “You need to do this more routinely and consistently. They are starting to do this for men with erectile dysfunction, but not for menopausal women.”

With more education about menopause, men can better understand the transition and how it affects their loved ones.

What men — and others — can do to show support

To support women with menopausal symptoms, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a practicing OB/GYN at Yale School of Medicine with a special interest in menopause, recommends that male partners encourage women to be open with their healthcare providers about what they’re going through regarding it to the menopause.

“Make sure she gets a provider who really listens to her,” Minkin said. “We can offer a lot to help with symptoms.”

Also, partners should pay attention to the little things — like having clean sheets next to them at night so she has a dry outfit ready to change into when she’s sweating through her pajamas.

“Also, if you see her getting irritated, don’t offer her a glass of wine,” Minkin said. “A lot of women turn to wine to calm themselves, but it makes matters worse by inducing hot flashes, which makes her wake up even hotter.”

If a woman needs to sleep in a cool bedroom, her partner might also want to consider getting a dual control electric blanket so she can keep her side of the bed warmer if desired.

But supporting people with menopausal symptoms should not fall solely on the shoulders of the male partner. All types of partners, including family members, friends, and even co-workers, can be there for people as they go through this often uncomfortable transition.

Even bosses should be attuned to what’s happening (if the employee so desires) and sensitive to what it takes to be happy at work during menopause.

“One simple thing people — including co-workers and managers — can do is make their environment friendlier,” Minkin said. “Let her control the thermostat and understand that she needs the room a little cooler…Give her windows that she can open and adjust herself.” Consider flexible working hours that suit your internal clock. It’s all very simple, but it helps.”

A little support can go a long way.

What can we do to support future generations of menopausal people?

Fostering an open discussion about menopause with younger generations not only helps women feel more confident and comfortable going through menopause, but can also help prepare their partners. And it’s important to bring our sons into the conversation.

“Your sons are your children and they want to know what mom is experiencing,” Minkin said. “And the knowledge will not only help them understand and support their mothers, it will also make them better partners when dating a woman later in life.”

Last but not least, it can help younger generations when older people who have already made the transition talk to their family members who are going through the menopause and offer support.

“It used to be that you didn’t talk about these things a lot,” Minkin said. “But your mother and Queen Victoria also went through menopause. Talking to her can be helpful for both of you.”

* Only first names were used for data protection reasons.

This resource was created with the support of Astellas.

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