One of the lesser-known facts about menopause: it is just one day.
For being such a massive life transition, there are many misunderstandings about it.
One of the most common? Menopause is a long transition. It is actually a one-day event that is considered official when you have gone 366 days—one year and one day—without a period.
Everything before Day 366 and after the first hot flash is perimenopause. Perimenopause is a crucial phase that’s often misunderstood, understudied, and dismissed by both society and the medical-industrial complex. Most menopause studies focus on postmenopausal women, neglecting the distinct and vast array of perimenopausal experiences—specifically for women of color.
Some might be aware of various disparities when it comes to brown and Black people giving birth—the infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are higher than average. Menopause is no different.
Back in 1994, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) revealed that perimenopause affects certain groups of people more intensely. Black women were reported to experience more severe perimenopausal bleeding compared to their white, Japanese, and Chinese counterparts. It also suggested that Black and Hispanic women may endure perimenopausal symptoms for over a decade, unlike most white, Chinese, and Japanese women. This extensive study spanned the entire USA, encompassing five major racial groups and various socioeconomic backgrounds.
What is the reason behind this?
Researchers are linking these more intense and longer-lasting symptoms to “weathering,” a hypothesis formulated by Dr. Arline T. Geronimus, who found that health deterioration is the result of outside stress. This hypothesis applies to fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, menarche (first period), and menopause.
Recent research also links a person’s ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score to more severe menopausal symptoms. The ACE score comprises 10 questions assessing childhood experiences and traumas, with scores ranging from 1 to 10. A study involving 1,640 women experiencing “bothersome” symptoms found a clear connection between an ACE score as low as 4 and perimenopausal symptoms.
The recent New York Times article “How Menopause Affects Women of Color” by Alisha Haridasani Gupta highlights the dismissal, prejudice, and even ignorance of the medical community that is one more wind gust that adds to “weathering.”
The medical community’s ignorance in believing discomfort is merely “part of aging,” assuming menopause only involves hot flashes, or associating menopause exclusively with women at age 50, only amplifies the struggle along the journey to Day 366.
Menopause represents a profound mind, body, and spirit transformation. Disregarding, dismissing, or powering through it can present significant obstacles and health risks.
Bridging the gap in menopause care for women of color is not only intersectional, it is intergenerational. Learning and sharing about symptoms and solutions in perimenopause takes the pressure off, creating a shelter from the storm.
For resources and support check out:
Menopause.org (FKA North American Menopause Society)
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