THE conversation around menopause needs to be as normal and natural as talking about pregnancy, and the whole family needs to be involved – because it impacts the whole family.
That’s according to Catherine O’Keeffe, the country’s first menopause coach who is hosting a ‘Menopause Success Summit’ in Cork on May 21.
Catherine wants to shift the conversation from embarrassment or shame, to empowerment and education when it comes to menopause.
Previously a director in investment banking, Catherine, 51, started experiencing perimenopausal symptoms when was 44.
At the time, she had been working in the financial sector for 20 years, but the impact of hormonal-induced brain fog and anxiety were contributory factors to her taking voluntary redundancy.
Her stomach still churns when she thinks of a day when she was presenting to a room full of people and every last piece of information she had to share simply deserted her, thanks to brain fog.
She gradually realised she was fighting menopause, and that it was going to come anyway, so there was no reason to resist it.
Realising that this was something no one was talking about at that time, she educated herself and she’s now the country’s first menopause coach and founder of Wellness Warrior.
Along with the summit’s 13 expert speakers, she’ll sharing everything she’s learned on her journey.
Like women’s health in general, Catherine feels there’s a glaring lack of education, support and awareness when it comes to menopause.
“My aim is to provide factual, reliable, practical information. I don’t want to add to women’s overwhelm,” she said.
Catherine has worked with over 100 companies on menopause support in the workplace, and feels there’s still a taboo on the topic.
“It’s an inevitable stage of life and we have to be comfortable with it. It’s also everyone’s business, not just women, because everyone is impacted by it. We have to start thinking really wide and big about the menopause.”
Dublin-based Catherine said she’s still surprised how many women don’t know what’s going on in their bodies during perimenopause and menopause.
Menopause specifically refers to the stage when it has been 12 months since your last period, and perimenopause is the time before this where symptoms can range from the psychological to the physical. So that’s brain fog, anxiety, rage/frustration, low moods, loss of confidence, lack of sleep, aches and pains, urinary incontinence and vaginal dryness. It goes far beyond the hot flushes and night sweats that everyone is familiar with.
Statistics show that 20% of women won’t experience serious symptoms, but conversely 25% will suffer severely, and the remainder will fall some place in between.
“It’s unique to everyone,” stresses Catherine who, at peak perimenopause, is currently managing her symptoms, but says this could change at any time.
There’s currently a national conversation on the shortage of HRT for women, but Catherine says this has been the case for a few years.
She feels generic brands could play a role in a solution: “The big pharma always take precedence but I think it’s time we start to look at how generic brands can help the supply issues being faced.”
For lots of women, she says, HRT works well as a treatment, but it’s not the silver bullet some might think it is.
“Like everything else, you must review the risk and benefits. Not every woman will do well on HRT and there are side effects like withdrawal bleeding, nausea, headaches. It does require patience, some tweaking is needed, and it can take three to six months to kick in.”
What’s fundamental to navigating the menopause are lifestyle changes, she says. That’s exercise, and weight management: “The fact is, you cannot eat the same quantity of foods at this time. Wine and crisps will not be your friends! Alcohol in particular will encourage anxiety, poor sleep and hot flushes.”
Stress also has a huge impact on a women’s menopause.
“And, for me, sleep is the bedrock of managing all menopausal symptoms. If you can get that right, a lot of the others will follow. But there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to treatment. Every woman is different and a lot of respect is needed in the menopause conversation.”
Catherine would also like to see menopause education included in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) classes in secondary school and has written to Education Minister Norma Foley with this proposal. And she would like that ethos continued throughout a woman’s life, and for her to automatically get sent a letter in her early 40s reminding her of a health check, and her options regarding navigating the menopause. Catherine is also an advocate for accessible treatments for menopause in a community setting, particularly for things like pelvic health physio.
“It’s about removing fear, and providing information, and that’s not there yet unfortunately, which is where the summit comes in,” she said.
Women’s lives have been shattered by the menopause, with many thinking they’re going mad, she said.
“I don’t want any woman to feel like that, to feel alone, when this is a normal part of life.”
The Menopause Success Summit takes place in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Little Island on Saturday, May 21 from 10am to 5pm. Early bird tickets cost €145. See menopausesuccesssummit.com
Menopause Summit speakers
Dr Brenda Moran: Her aspiration is for all women to be able to avail of good quality sexual and reproductive healthcare throughout their life transitions.
Tom Coleman: A health scientist, he’ll advise on how to get the best sleep you can during menopause.
Suzanne O’Sullivan: Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and subspecialist in urogynaecology for almost 20 years in CUMH. She’s working at a national level to improve services for women with pelvic floor problems and incontinence.
Moira Geary: How to manage overwhelm, anxiety, worry and fear during menopause A former nurse and midwife, Moira holds an MA in Psychotherapy and has 25 years’ experience working in the personal development space.
Dr Mary Ryan: A Consultant Endocrinologist, she’ll help to understand and embrace key hormonal changes during peri-menopause and menopause.
Diane Danzebrink: Therapist, wellbeing consultant and menopause expert with professional nurse training in menopause. She’ll help understand the psychological aspects of menopause – how to manage your mood, emotions and mental health through menopause.
Sabina Brennan: A chartered health psychologist, she will talk about finding your way through the fog – how hormonal fluctuations and other lifestyle factors affect how your brain works and what you can do to adopt a super brain strategy.
Gerry Duffy: An international speaker and coach in of goal setting, leadership and public speaking.
Kathleen Hurley-Mullins: Beauty therapist/farmer/Operation Transformation Leader, 2022, will talk about embracing your menopause body – practical tips to help manage your weight and shape during menopause.
Sherna Malone: Leading facialist based in Clonakilty with a large online following, on why skin changes during menopause and how to maintain a healthy glow.
Noelle Brown: Professional actor on why, when all else fails, laughter really is the best medicine.
Alison Cullen: Nutritional practitioner on optimising digestion for menopausal transition.
TOP TIPS FROM CATHERINE
Catherine, who is writing a menopause advice book due out next year, stresses that the menopause is unique to every woman - but here are some tips that might help;
She advises women to deepen their education but find trusted resources and take one piece of information at a time. It can be an overwhelming time – don’t add to it.
Sleep is the bedrock to managing most symptoms. Getting good sleep is crucial.
Find support. Find your tribe through family, friends, and work colleagues. Don’t feel like you’re alone