Menopause, once a taboo topic, is now the subject of medical controversy and a gateway to third age exploration. By the year 2010 (when the youngest baby boomers enter this stage of life) some 60 million women will either be approaching menopause or have already gone through it. This large and well educated group of women may now get its chance to define aging, as it redefined work and motherhood, sex and marriage, physical and spiritual health for ourselves and generations to come.
The amount of material available about menopause has exploded exponentially since Gail Sheehy published The Silent Passage in 1992. While we have moved out of silence, we have not moved out of anxiety; new levels of attention and technology have brought new levels of confusion.
Our age hysteria is so intense that we have turned the natural process of menopause into an estrogen "deficiency disease." Advertisements proclaim; “What Menopause???” as stratagems are devised to hormonally regulate women’s entire lives, from birth control to perimenopause to postmenopause, in one smooth pharmaceutical flow. For decades millions of women were told that hormone replacement therapy is a long-term medical necessity to protect their heart and bones. Only in 2002, when the Womens' Health Initiative Study found this strategy was not scientifically verifiable (with risks outweighing benefits), did some doctors reconsider their standard recommendation of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer had always been a concern, but recent long-term studies found HRT increased the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and dementia (conditions it was supposed to prevent).
Women need to use their own bodies as sources of knowledge as we are in uncharted waters. As older women we are searching for touchstones, ones that are holistic and consider our biology. What we will make of this profound shift in our lives influences the quality of our aging, and the quality of wisdom we have to share in this world.