More than 2.5 million Australians are approaching perimenopause or in menopause. But so many women in their 40s and 50s suffer symptoms FOR YEARS without realising these are related. Beloved author Kaz Cooke believes there’s a flood of misinformation and hard-sell marketing coming at perimenopausal women, and it’s confusing!
Her new book, It’s The Menopause, seeks to offer reassuring, practical information. BroadAgenda editor, Ginger Gorman, had a chat with Kaz about the book. (And let’s be honest, tried to hold it together and not fangirl too much.)
You’ve been writing about issues that are important to women for a long time. Why did you write this book?
There’s always more than one reason to write a book. Partly because of my own experience with perimenopause; partly because I already had form, in writing about what could be called health-related life stages (for want of an even more tedious phrase!).
So, there was a logical progression from Real Gorgeous (body image and beauty), Up The Duff (pregnancy) Kidwrangling which became Babies & Toddlers (parenting littlies) and the two Girl Stuff books, for tweens and teens, about navigating first periods, self-confidence, body image, etceterragghh.
It was obvious that a lot of women were being given no info, dodgy info, or patronising info about perimenopause and menopause and I wanted to tackle that. It took me about three years to do the research.
Tell us about your survey of 9,000 women. What scope did it have? What kind of questions were you asking?
Just under 9,000 women responded to a really comprehensive online survey I did to help research the book. I wanted to know what their experiences had been, for how long, which symptoms they’d had, what they knew about what was happening to them, what solutions they’d tried, how they felt.
There were around 75,000 written responses to scores of questions, and I read them all. Some were moving, some were funny; taken together they are an incredibly honest conversation between women that covers rage, confusion, regret, help for others, courage, hilarity and optimism.
I knew I would want to use quotes in the book. And together with my faffings & cartoons, and the practical information from world-class medical and other experts, it’s what makes the book unique in a crowded market dominated by celebrity, ‘one-theory’ and hard-sell ‘wellness’ product menopause books.
I wanted to let women choose their own health solutions once they had the independent info.
What did you find that surprised you?
It was clear that women had been told to expect hot flushes, but what many found worse were less ‘tidy’ symptoms such as a catastrophic self-esteem crash, heavy and unpredictable periods that went for weeks, what I call sneaky wee – unexpected weeing when coughing, sneezing, or at other times, very painful sex – many things that women were too embarrassed to tell even their doctor.
Lots of survey respondents said they didn’t know something they had suffered or were experiencing had anything yo do with hormones or menopause.
According to your research, how is mental health impacted by menopause?
It’s now accepted that the interplay of misbehaving or changing hormone levels can and do have life-altering effects on mood, concentration, anxiety, depression, irritability and rage, self-assessment and the recurrence of previously managed symptoms of severe mental health problems including OCD and eating behaviours.
Women told me they struggled to be taken seriously by doctors or correctly diagnosed and treated. I think this is changing but not fast enough for many women who can think they’re experiencing early dementia or just terrible at everything. That happened to me, before I knew what it was, and it was devastating. Like a lot of women, who write about it in the Survey, I didn’t feel ‘myself’.
And what about physical impacts?
Where to start!? Well, there’s a lot of detail in the book, and not everyone will experience every symptom but suffice to say it’s head to toe, from losing head hair, gaining chin and upper lip hair, breast changes, itchy skin, heart rate changes, dry vagina, bladder problems, weight gain around the middle, and brittle, splitting toenails.
And in menopause, a higher risk of bone fractures and heart disease. All of this can be tackled with medical and other treatments and changes.
In your findings, how did work intersect with menopause?
Many women experienced discrimination, were frightened of admitting to menopause because of teasing or being refused promotions. Workplaces need to change to help women with temporary problems, such as brain fog.
A good workplace will make changes that will actually help everyone, not just menopausal workers: even temperature control comes into play. Some women even quit their jobs, which companies are now trying to avoid.
What hope can you give us here?
Lots! The final chapter in It’s The Menopause is the voices of women who’ve found true freedom and a shift in their life priorities that makes them really happy. And because the book is funny all the way through, it’s not a chore to find out what’s happening and what your option are. I want people to know I’m only trying to sell them a book – not flog them celebrity moisturiser or powdered nonsense, or a theory that isn’t supported by evidence and public health advice.
Women will be thrilled to know the advice about medication of the past was wrong – it’s much safer for almost everyone, and there are other options for those who need to avoid it.
Is there anything else you want to say?
By all means share stories but don’t get your health info or just follow advice from celebrities, friends, relatives, or random Googlery. There are lists in the book of which websites to trust, which symptoms to look out for, what options there are, and what to ask your doctor.
- Picture at top: Kaz Cooke. Supplied/Annie Maver)
Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Ginger’s bestselling book, Troll Hunting, came out in 2019. Since then, she’s been in demand both nationally and globally as an expert on cyberhate and the real-life harm predator trolling can do. She's also the editor of BroadAgenda and gender editor at HerCanberra. Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.