Some time ago, I joined a group of friends to see a show called Menopause, The Musical. They (and most of the audience) roared at every joke about hot flashes, weight gain, insomnia and general crankiness.
I didn't get the joke, though my pals assured me I soon would.
Karen Giblin is glad that women are laughing about menopause, though her introduction to the subject was anything but funny. She founded an advocacy group called Red Hot Mamas 20 years ago, after an emergency hysterectomy at age 40 threw her into sudden menopause and a world of confusing symptoms, from hot flashes, to insomnia, to forgetfulness.
Giblin, an elected official in her Connecticut town, went looking for answers. "I went to my local bookstore, and found only one book on the subject,'' she said.
"I was so embarrassed I was even in menopause, I hid it under other books at the checkout. Now that so many people are talking about it, and there are so many jokes about it, I think that's a good sign. I think Red Hot Mamas has contributed to that.''
Her group is a lot more about health information than jokes, however. It maintains an informative website (www.redhotmamas.org) and partners with hospitals across the country to present programs to women trying to sort through the hormonal upheaval. You can attend a morning-long session June 18 at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater (see box).
Given that women have been going through menopause for, oh, a very long time, why is there so much talk about it these days?
"Menopause is universal among women, but the symptoms vary enormously, so it's a highly individualized experience,'' Giblin told me.
"I also think women are uncertain about treatments. They're finding it difficult to assess their risks and benefits.''
An estimated 6,500 women a day in the United States are entering menopause, Giblin said. Hot flashes are very common and get a lot of attention, but she thinks the insomnia can be the worst of it. "You're irritable, depressed, blue, you gain weight, then your sex life goes down like the stock market because you'd rather jump in the La-Z-Boy than have sex.''
But a lot of women don't tell their doctors, said Giblin, whose own doctors prepared her for surgery with information about pain management, but didn't tell her about menopause itself.
"The typical 7- to 15-minute appointment isn't enough time, unless you come prepared with a list of your symptoms. It's time consuming, it's embarrassing. But it's affecting women's quality of life and that of those around them.''
And whether or not you find humor in menopause, it is well worth talking about.
"It's so important to communicate with loved ones and friends that you may be going through a difficult change, but it's only a transition," she said.
"It does get better.''