When I was a kid my mum sent me to the corner shop to buy her some Modess Super sanitary pads. There was always a pink package on her wardrobe shelf so I knew exactly what I was looking for.
But when I got to the shop I found that all the packets of pads had been wrapped in brown paper, so I had to rely on the shelf labels to figure out which package I wanted.
Why were they wrapped in brown paper? Because the fact that women bleed has always been a taboo topic. And so, I’m sorry to discover, is menopause.
To be clear, because I’m sure you’re wondering, I’m not there yet. In fact last month I bled a little for thirteen days. If you think that’s too much information then imagine if a guy had blood dripping from his penis for thirteen days.
Would he feel unlucky? Inconvenienced? Happy for people to snigger because he’s on the rag? If men menstruated and wore a clumpy pad in their pants would it be seen as false advertising like a padded bra?
I tell you this because I’ve been anticipating the end of the whole bleeding thing for a while since I’m in the 45 to 55 zone where it happens for most women.
I'd had no reproductive issues and during an ultrasound of my abdomen the technician told me my ovaries were beautiful, so I assumed I'd be an overachiever in menopause as well.
The last time I had one of my usual periods was the end of 2015. Since then they've been 'all over the place'. This is absolutely normal during the peri menopause phase, which, on average, lasts from three to four years. This is when your ovaries start winding down, causing the stereotypical hormone-driven symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and depression.
These symptoms are actually the basis of a whole genre of stand-up comedy called Menopause Humour; there's even a stage musical.
So some people are talking about menopause, but I don't think it's being talked about enough. In fact, I've found it difficult to get enough clear information to work out where I'm at in the process.
I thought I was having hot flushes.
Recently, I spent a week waking up at night, sweating and needing to push off my goose-down doona. I assumed I had joined the sisterhood of 75 per cent of women who 'suffer' through the less sexy Hot-Flashdance. I quickly decided that I couldn't survive the relentless broken sleep so I went to see a GP.
The male doctor suggested that women's claims that menopause symptoms were unbearable were bogus. He told me that, in around 2002, there was a scary link found between hormone replacement therapy and an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in some women, and this saw a drop in requests for HRT.
The GP blithely told me that, when the studies were published, women responded in droves by throwing away their HRT. I've read about this and he's right. But he's wrong in his insinuation that this proves that women were imagining how difficult menopause symptoms can be.
I think, if faced with night sweats or cancer, I might choose night sweats too, but I don't think this proves that women's struggles with menopause are just neurosis.
LISTEN: Mia Freedman has a Mirena. And she wants to tell us all about it. (Post continues after audio).
I don't know exactly what I wanted from the GP. I wasn't necessarily there to ask for HRT. I just wanted to talk about this sudden, disruptive change. Maybe some reassurance? Some clarification?
He took a bit of history and we had some difficulty defining my last period. Is any bleeding at all, even a mere trace, a period? I've since been told that it is. Then we agreed I'd think about what I wanted and he sent me for blood tests, including thyroid function. I was left with the impression I'd wasted his time and tested his patience for indecisive, whinging older women.
That was on a Wednesday.
The following Saturday morning the world was spinning. With great fear and effort I dragged myself along the carpet to get my vomit into the base of the shower. I thought it must be a stroke.
It turned out I had labrynthitis (inflammation of the inner ear) which had caused an acute attack of vertigo. Ironically, the same GP was on duty. And he couldn't have been more sympathetic.
My night sweats, in his opinion, had been a precursor to this acute attack. Given the new and sudden onset of the sweats, he felt they were a symptom of the brewing virus. My night sweats were now interesting. He'd experienced "terrible" labrynthitis when he was a student.
A GP is not immune to selective sympathy.
Isn't it time society soaked up its shame about menopause and women aging? Perhaps soak it up with a Libra Ultra Thin and toss it into a Flick Anticimex bathroom disposal unit so a technician in a hazmat suit can dispose of it.
People! If a bloody band-aid can go in a regular bin, why are we so uptight about menstrual blood? Penises go there. Some faces go there. Yet we've chosen to treat used sanitary products like nuclear waste.
Get over the stigma so women like me can know their night sweats are caused by their inner ear and not their uterus. Make it easy for a woman to tell her doctor about her bleeding or not bleeding issues without being seen as neurotic. If your periods do end for a year and then you have some bleeding, you ought to see your doctor.
That isn't normal and might be a sign of something wrong.
We have to respect the blood and the pretty impressive system that turns it on and off. We also have to respect women whose reproductive systems are going into well-earned retirement.
It isn't shameful or embarrassing, so can we stop wrapping menopause in brown paper?
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