A few years ago, I wrote an article about the benefits of becoming a mother after the age of 40. Although pregnancy caused significant changes and discomfort, the excitement of my child’s arrival overshadowed those challenges. What I didn’t expect was that, years later, I would again experience intense changes. But this time, instead of lasting nine months, they could last for more than nine years, including the perimenopause period.
One day, during the middle of the pandemic, my husband said to me, “What’s going on with you? You’re not yourself, everything bothers you, and you explode at the littlest things. Where did your cheerfulness and good humor go?” And then I thought, “The truth is, I don’t know what’s gotten into me either. I feel exhausted, moody, I cry over nothing (even watching an animated movie), I have insomnia, sudden hot flashes, and if I eat dessert for dinner, I gain two pounds the next day.”
Decisions based on data
I knew I had to do something about it. I started my search with “Dr. Google” and bought a book on Amazon called Before the Change. The title of the first chapter was, “No, you’re not crazy! You’re in perimenopause.” I also realized that I was not alone in this: about 85% of women at this stage of life experience some sort of symptoms.
The next step was to go to my gynecologist, who, as expected, prescribed hormone therapy. But I was worried about the potential risks. My sister had breast cancer at 38 and got through it. But six years ago, an aggressive colon cancer took my dad from us in the span of two months. I still miss him so much that it hurts. My family’s medical history kept me from following the doctor’s recommendation, at least not before thorough research to make an evidence-based decision.
It turns out that the main study on the subject—Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), conducted in the United States over the course of 15 years and published in 2002—found that hormone treatment increased the risks of breast cancer, blood clots, and heart disease, among other side effects. For two decades, this study had a significant influence on people’s perception of hormone risks and on medical advice. Since then, smaller and less well-known studies have argued the opposite, defending the benefits of hormone therapies.
One thing is clear: there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about this issue. Recently, The New York Times published the article “Women Have Been Misled About Menopause,” which highlights the design flaws of the famous WHI study, including the underrepresentation of women around age 50. Additionally, one of the researchers did new calculations and confirmed that the risks are much smaller if the treatment is applied to people under 60.
Meanwhile, I have been searching for natural options to treat these symptoms for about a year and a half, reading dozens of articles and consulting holistic doctors. I discovered that certain foods, supplements, and roots—along with exercise—can make a big difference, and they’ve worked for me! I feel much better. There are also natural (or bioidentical) hormones and even pelvic floor therapies that are helping thousands of people. Getting professional guidance is essential since each person experiences this process differently. Besides, there are at least 30 different symptoms to sort through. Can you believe it!
Overcoming stigma in the workplace benefits us all
On top of misinformation, there is also stigma and shame that surround talking about how we feel, especially at work. Even with my closest friends, we keep our voices low so no one can hear us.
By 2025, more than 1 billion women worldwide (and 37 million in Latin America and the Caribbean) will be going through menopause, and over 70% of them won’t have the information they need to keep it from negatively impacting their lives.
A survey of 1,000 women in the United States found that:
- 40% of women have missed work due to perimenopause or menopause symptoms, and 59% of these women hid the reason for their absence.
- One in five women has considered leaving their job or retiring early due to lack of support during the menopausal years.
- 18% did not seek a promotion due to their symptoms.
A groundbreaking 2019 study in the UK found that 900,000 menopausal women left their jobs. This silent exodus represents a huge loss for both individuals and employers. Replacing an employee is estimated to cost between one and a half to twice their annual salary, which undoubtedly impacts the bottom line.
The irony is that people aged 45 to 55, who make up the bulk of this group, are at the height of their careers and have greater responsibilities. They have the experience, wisdom, and professional maturity to make major contributions and share their knowledge with younger teams. They no longer need to prove what they know, much less fear saying what they really think.
What we need are empathetic employers and leaders who are attuned to the needs of this group and can leverage the talents offered by a diverse workforce, in the broadest sense of the word. Developing a menopause-inclusive work culture begins with creating spaces for open conversation and making visible stigmas so we can take action. And, of course, the way we talk about menopause is equally important. This involves going beyond the symptoms and focusing on the value that people going through menopause or perimenopause bring to the table.
Fortunately, this is already happening. In fact, I was inspired to write this blog when I learned that IDB Lab and the IDB were organizing an event to discuss menopause, in partnership with the organization No Pausa, as part of International Women’s Day. Don’t miss this interesting talk on March 7 at 11 a.m. Washington D.C. time.
The end of the menstrual cycle does not mean the end of professional or personal aspirations. On the contrary, we should embrace the change and see menopause as a transitional stage that requires greater self-awareness and prepares us to flourish in every sense, with the hope that the best is yet to come. It is an experience we should approach with authenticity, positivity, and generosity. In the words of Nicaraguan poet Gioconda Belli, “At this age, you are beholden to no one and your best days lie before you. It’s your time to feel the fullness of womanhood.”