I’m Supposed to Write about Menopause?

Dianne Kujubu Belli, executive director of The Institute for Healthy Aging at Keiro

Dianne Kujubu Belli, executive director of The Institute for Healthy Aging at Keiro

“Menopause?  I’m supposed to write a blog about menopause?”

The Institute for Healthy Aging at Keiro’s (IHA) first Women’s Wellness Conference in October 2010 was the launching pad for the Women’s Wellness page on the Keiro website as well as the Genki Woman blog (http://www.genkiwoman.org/).  The Genki Woman blog was established so the Genki Women of the Keiro community could continue to “take charge of ourselves.”

When the staff of IHA decided to publish a fact sheet on menopause, they asked me to write a blog about menopause to introduce it.  (See the menopause fact sheet at www.keiro.org/menopause).  But write about menopause?  I don’t think I ever talked with anyone about menopause, except my doctor and the researchers of the SWAN study.

I am one of the 3,300 women enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). SWAN is a prospective, multi-center, multi-ethnic, multi-disciplinary study of the natural history of menopause transition in women. The study includes African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Chinese, and Japanese women.

SWAN - Study of Women's Health Across the NationSince 1997, I’ve undergone annual visits which include the dreaded physical measures (weight, height, hip, waist, and blood pressure), fasting morning blood draw, interviewer-administered and self-administered questionnaires.  For the last several years, the visits have also included memory tests – another dreaded feature.

In addition to following the 3,300 women, SWAN also conducted a telephone or in-person survey of 16,065 women across the United States during 1995 and 1996.  The women were asked whether they 1) agreed, 2) felt neutral, or 3) disagreed with each of 10 statements concerning menopause and aging. The statements were as follows: 1) “The older a woman is, the more valued she is.” 2) “A woman is less attractive after menopause.” 3) “Women who no longer have menstrual periods feel free and independent.” 4) “Overall, going through the menopause or change of life will be, or was, a positive experience for me.” 5) “As I age, I feel worse about myself.” 6) “During the menopause or the change of life, I became, or expect to become, irritable or depressed.” 7) “I will feel, or felt, regret when my periods stopped for the last time.” The remaining three statements were: 8) “Menopause is a midlife change that generally does not need medical attention.” 9) “Women with little free time hardly notice the menopause.” 10) “I don’t, or didn’t, know what to expect with the menopause.”

What the researchers found was that African American women were the most positive, and the less acculturated Chinese American and Japanese American women were the least positive. Previous studies had assumed that Asian women were more positive about aging and menopause than Western women because of the concept of respect for the elderly in the Asian culture; however, the SWAN study showed that this was not the case.  The SWAN researchers concluded that the findings about the Asian women’s attitudes in the previous studies may reflect the differences in where the studies were conducted (abroad or U.S.) or the methods for conducting the studies.

For me, I don’t remember menopause clearly at all.  During this time of my life, I had two active and adventurous teenagers who each constantly and confidently told me, “Don’t worry, mom. I’ve got it under control.”  (Did you ever wonder why nature gives raging hormones to everyone in the family at the same time?)

At the time, my parents were also both seriously ill, I was attending graduate school on the weekends along with working full-time, and I ultimately ended up changing jobs. Quite frankly, menopause was the last thing on my mind.

Looking back, it is nice to know that I was in the company of 3,300 other women who are contributing to the research to understand and promote the health of thousands of Genki Women.  It is nice company to keep.

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