More and more, women are opening up about menopause, talking candidly about their own experiences. Here, eight well-known Irish faces chat about the good, the bad and the ugly of the ‘change’
With today being World Menopause Day, it’s the perfect time to chat to some familiar faces about a very natural phase in every woman’s life that for too long has been shrouded in secrecy and misinformation.
Menopause is the term for the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles, marking the end of her reproductive years. It usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, but the average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51. Women’s oestrogen levels decline at different rates and perimenopause takes place when our bodies begin the natural transition to menopause.
Some people sail through this phase of life pretty much unscathed while others find it very difficult, and as you can see from the stories our celebs have shared, no two women will have the same experience. Here’s what they had to say about the ‘change’.
“As I’m annoyingly medically aware, I was awaiting menopause, but it can still creep up on you. It’s very sneaky. Most people discuss menopause as the event, but perimenopause is the actual hot flush bit and that’s the killer.
“Menopause began for me around age 47 and it hit me with even more anxiety than I usually have. Add in night-time sweats — they’re hell and totally ruined my sleep. I had brain fog, which drove me insane, as my mind, which used to be like a steel trap, became an utter sieve.
“I had been looking up bioidentical hormones, but when the menopause hit, my interest in other remedies vanished. Black cohosh and dong quai didn’t work, so I went to my wonderful doctor for HRT. I find it very good but still get some symptoms. I get tireder plus I’m creakier.
“That’s hard as I used to only have arthritic hands and neck, but I’m hyper-flexible and refuse to give in, so I work at it with yoga and dog-walking.
“A huge part of menopause, I think, is the mourning of your fertility because the chance of being a mother again is over, but that passes. Now at 55, I find the big plus is a feeling of confidence. The menopausal cycle is a wake-up call that shows women that life is finite, which is a gift. We suddenly refuse to be walked on and don’t tolerate being patted on the head, so to speak.
“My determination to mentor younger women and to give them the power I wasn’t aware of having at their age is even stronger. Menopausal or not, we rock!”
“I was very busy and exhausted at work, and suddenly realised around 55 that I must have gone through the menopause. I was lucky as I had no hot flushes or anything like that. When I was about 46, I missed two periods and thought I might be pregnant. I told my husband, Enda, and he said ‘not at all’ at my age, but the thing is that we were having a regular, good sex life.
“I never avoided sex because I didn’t want to be pregnant, as I was always thinking about having another baby but it never happened. My GP did a test and said I wasn’t pregnant but it could be the beginning of menopause. It was disappointing because I would have managed a baby fine, but anyway, that’s life.
“The truth is that I never felt the menopause either in my brain or body, which was just as well because I was in government at the time in a big job in education. Work was full of bother and things going right and wrong, so I had enough headaches in my life without adding an acquired one.
“I’d love other women to know not to fear menopause and take it as it comes as it’s just another part of life.”
“I had myself psyched up to think menopause was going to be horrendous, because you’d hear these stories of women going quietly mad in years gone by so I didn’t know what was coming down my tracks.
“Menstrual matters were considered a very personal matter when I was growing up, and my mother never spoke of menopause before she died at age 57. Even if I had to go to the chemist for sanitary protection for her when I was growing up, a note was written to the pharmacist and it was placed in a brown paper bag. It was all top secret.
“I’m 62 now and feel that I sailed through menopause really and I’ve been very lucky. I know other people who suffered anxiety and depression during it and have friends who had to go on medication. My cycle ended in my early-50s and I was happy about that because from an early age, I suffered with a lot of pain and had to go to bed with a hot water bottle. I don’t miss those days.
“I didn’t feel any different during menopause apart from having the occasional hot flush during a period of about six months. I’d feel the heat rising in my body and would think my face was roaring red, but nobody sitting with me would actually know. I don’t think I suffered from mood swings either, but maybe if you ask my husband, Peter, he might give you a different answer.”
“My periods had always been like clockwork so when the first one was late, my first thought was that I might be pregnant, even though that was very unlikely. Then when I started to have hot flushes I went to the doctor, and was gobsmacked to learn I was going through the menopause in my mid-thirties.
“It turns out that a number of women in my family went through early menopause, but because nobody ever talked about it years ago, none of us realised it was a possibility for us. Even though I’m happily childless. I was really taken aback by the fact that my body had taken the decision away from me.
“I was 34 and at an age where many women are now having their first child. I would have been utterly devastated if I’d wanted to get pregnant to discover that the opportunity had passed me by.
“Hot flushes were my only real (but awful) menopause symptom, and they were horrendous and always came without warning at the most inopportune times. I remember sitting in meetings and feeling a prickly heat start at the base of my back, which always signalled breaking out into a sweat all over. I was so afraid that people would see me sweating and think that I was panicking about my work.
“Because I was so young, my doctor put me on HRT. This immediately stopped the symptoms. However there was then a concern about a link between HRT and breast cancer, so after a few years I came off it. The very next day I had a hot flush again, as bad as ever. I took black cohosh, which I found very helpful.
“Although most of my symptoms have gone now, I still get occasional hot flushes so it’s something you have to learn to accept. The plus side, of course, is the liberation from having to make sure you always have period protection in your handbag.”
“I had trouble ever since I started menstruating at only nine and was diagnosed with endometriosis in my late-30s, which explained why I was always in so much pain. I’m 59 now, and when my periods finished a month after my 57th birthday, I began to have night sweats, hot flushes, mood changes and irritability. I also still seemed to suffer all the usual symptoms of having my usual period without the actual bleeding.
“I would have liked to have known a lot more about the menopause in advance, and wish I had known the triggers and how to cope naturally. I felt it was a taboo subject, and even my mum Sadie didn’t discuss it until I explained I was going through it. She said she never suffered so I thought I would be just like her, and I was anything but prepared for it. Sadly Sadie passed away last July and is not here to answer any more questions.
“As it got steadily worse, I tried herbal remedies, acupuncture and other over-the-counter remedies, but nothing seemed to work. I went to my GP, who was very sympathetic and prescribed HRT patches.
While HRT is a wonderful solution for some people, I gave it up after a few months as my symptoms got worse and I started gaining more weight and my feet and legs swelled up.
“I did some research and discovered that spicy foods, excess coffee, alcohol and stress are my triggers. I’ve learned not to let things get to me like they used to and to breathe deeply, and the flushes pass very quickly.
“I avoid the foods that cause me problems, and don’t drink much coffee these days, opting for a nice cup of tea. I was never a great sleeper and can survive on five hours a night. However, Derry finds it hilarious that I’m snuggled up in bed and my feet are sticking out from under the covers. It works for me.
“Covid lockdowns and the restaurant closure have meant I’m not under the same pressures, so I have time to go for a long walk and take time out. And, more importantly. I’ve learned how to breathe, grin and get on with it.”
“The truth is that I sailed through menopause. I was heading towards 60 when it happened so I was very late going into it. I remember some sweats and a little bit of anxiety, but Jesus, it was nothing I don’t experience every day about work anyway.
“I dealt with the flushes by heading out in the cold to cool down or putting ice cubes on the pulse points of my wrists. The advantage was the period discomfort going because I wasn’t sorry to say goodbye to the monthly cycle.
“The mind is a powerful thing and I didn’t let the menopause in, really. I always want to be working and on the go, so I had to work through it and keep going. I have always been able to keep challenging things at bay in my life, which may be a good or bad thing, but I try to stay positive and keep going.
“I think this awareness month is the best thing ever, because I’m 70 now and it was never discussed in the past. I wish there had been more open conversations about it in my time, as while I feel I was lucky with my experience, I have friends who had a very difficult time.”
“I was 47 when perimenopause started, and I started to think that there was more to life than just sitting on a till. That’s when The X Factor came along. I had the mood swings and the tears, but I didn’t have time to think about it. I just got on with it.
“The only thing menopause took from me was my period and I have no regrets about losing that. I’ve heard women talking about their libido being on the ground, but my sex drive didn’t go during menopause and I still felt sexual. I had mood swings but only my daughter had to put up with those as I didn’t have a partner.
“I wasn’t with anyone as I had put up a wall before the menopause due to being hurt in past relationships. Instead of my drive going down, the peak came up during the menopause and it was unbelievable. I wouldn’t have minded having someone around. And now my libido is even stronger than it was before the menopause.
“I suffer from depression and even when I go down, I come up much stronger than before because I know my mind and body for the first time in my life.
“I found the menopause empowering, because while my body was changing, so was my mindset. I think it helped me to realise the person I really am, because I didn’t know in my 30s and 40s.”
"I have not been told I’m in menopause officially, but I was told I was perimenopausal a year ago. Or, as my gynaecologist politely put it, ‘You are on the horizon.’
“That sounds like something beautiful, I thought. There is nothing beautiful about the menopause. Actually, saying it’s natural also makes it sound lovely — it is not.
“The only obvious effect on me so far is my feet as they are on fire. My solution is walking on kitchen tiles barefoot or putting them up on a cold window. I still get periods but they don’t last as long, so that’s good. But I could have a different list in a year.
“My advice to others is that if you are suffering in any way, say it. If a colleague or boss can’t handle you saying, ‘I am menopausal,’ that’s their problem. Talk to a GP and if he/she says it’s natural or you can’t do anything about it, go to another GP. One thing I know is that we have suffered periods, PMT, incontinence, haemorrhoids and our lack of sexual drive silently and enough is enough!
“I have a very public job, but I live in Ireland and am not too private, obviously. I have been in the public arena for 30 years, so being sick with pregnancy, dealing with bereavement, having personal problems — all of these experiences were sidelined for the job when necessary.
“If I am upset, my colleagues are always there, and honestly, probably the camera crew more than anyone. The camera never lies, and they will always know when you are not OK.
“I remember my wonderful aunts Cáit, Mary, Nora, Bríd, Maggie and Jude were constantly referring to hot flushes and had battery-run, hand-sized fans. I found them hilarious, and they seemed to either drink a few more red lemonades, brandy and Jameson and always had a packet of sucky sweets in their handbags. But, remember, that generation wouldn’t share that they were sad, depressed or on any medication.
“I was and am not prepared for the menopause, and if I say it publicly, people are a little embarrassed for me. Why? Does saying, ‘I am probably menopausal’ make me sound old and therefore there’s a presumption that I am no longer attractive, or do I seem of less relevance? The world is unquestionably ageist but we have to fight it if we want it to improve.
“It’s incredible how when Liveline discussed menopause, it became an open discussion and educated so many people. Women have been trying to talk about menopause for years and it gained no traction, but maybe that’s the patriarchy.
“The positive aspects of this stage of my life are peace of mind and knowing the truth about my life. I would not swap anything with a 30-year-old, as my children are finished school and that was a hurdle. I have a strong companion in my life, and it’s now I am reaping from my investments in people. I got this far and my family is intact, so whatever life throws at me, I have a strong base to handle it.”