Burning Woman, Part 2
Stepping into Your Power Post-menopause

Despite the wear and tear of menopause on the body, it has its silver lining—an end to the reproductive years and an opportunity to focus on new goals and projects. Once symptoms have lifted—sometimes with the aid of hormone replacement therapy—many women are free to contemplate life’s second act. Unlike their mothers’ generation, today’s generation-X women can forge a new midlife path—one with older children (or no children), a wealth of life experience and opportunities to check items off their bucket lists.

Terri Allred, a Rochester nonprofit consultant, strategist and life coach (and RWM writer), sums up her post menopause experience: “As a 55-year-old woman, I feel like I am finally the fullest expression of who I was intended to be. While menopause was difficult, with physical symptoms that were challenging and pretty much no help from medical providers, I am on the other side now with fewer hot flashes! I have finally let go of the ‘imposter syndrome’ of my youth and embraced the wisdom that comes with age and experience. Several years ago, I decided to visibly embrace my crone status by allowing my hair to grow out grey, my natural color now. While I was initially shocked at the difference in how people responded to me, I am now proud of what the grey represents—a lifetime of experience and love to share.”

Finding new passions
Rochester artist and teacher Jennifer Jesseph agrees. Jesseph also experienced a roller coaster of menopause symptoms, which she successfully treated for a period of years. With the changes to her body came changes to her hobbies. She says, “I got into art in my 50s. I’ve always been a writer, and that’s something I know how to do. I wasn’t into art, but now I like it a lot.”

Earlier in life, she didn’t try art because she didn’t think she could, but that changed as she got older. She says, “I had my boundaries, as in, I can’t do that, because I don’t know how to do it. But now, I don’t mind admitting I don’t know anything sometimes. I feel freed up to ask questions, and I’m not afraid to ask.”

Jesseph has gone on to have several successful art shows in the area, beginning with “Locavore” at the Rochester Art Center in 2017. Her unique work utilizes textiles, fiber and other media, including oils, acrylics and watercolors, to question myths and fairy tales. She often centers her pieces around women and feminism, as well as female identity. Her exhibition “Who Is She?”, which just closed at the Rochester Art Center, used “fiber art and portraiture to highlight the faces and stories of female heroes who made our world a better place.”

Whether you try a hobby, do service work, spend time with family, rest, travel, or do something totally different, the years after menopause can be an opportunity to thrive in new ways. Read more at rwmagazine.com.

Always consult your medical care team before making changes to your health care.

Thriving later in life
Jennifer Jesseph is grateful to be at the post-menopausal stage of her life. “Our reproductive rights are so managed,” she reflects. “Once you get past that with menopause, it’s like, there’s nothing you can do to me now—I’ve seen it all!” But that doesn’t mean getting through the menopause years is easy. “Our health care systems are not great. Certainly, they don’t support women as they age and especially not women of color or women in the developing world. We’ve improved things, but there’s still a lot of work to do and still a lot of cultural stereotypes to get rid of.”

Gail Collins, a humorist, author and New York Times columnist, focused on the activities and careers of older women in her 2019 book “There’s No Stopping Us Now.” Her chronicle of women in their later years— from suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to present-day Supreme Court justices and politicians like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Nancy Pelosi—highlights older women’s achievements around the world. Collins underscores the dance between achievement and the social and economic barriers women are still negotiating. This was never more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantines, when many women in their prime career years were forced to juggle working from home while providing childcare. Many dropped out of the workforce altogether.

Maybe to counter this trend, in June 2021, Forbes Magazine published its first “50 Over 50” list of “entrepreneurs, leaders, scientists and creators who, after the age of 50, are achieving their greatest accomplishments and making their biggest impact.” The varied group was chosen from a nominee database of over 10,000 and included Vice President Kamala Harris, media entrepreneur Shonda Rimes and biochemist Katalin Kariko—inventor of the mRNA vaccine.

The ‘grandmother hypothesis’
Another way to think about post-menopause is that each day truly is a gift. Technically, we human women shouldn’t live past our fertile years. Most species reproduce and then pass away, with notable exceptions being orca whales, short-finned pilot whales and Asian elephants (Croft et al., 2015, ‘Trends in Ecology and Evolution”). This line of academic inquiry has led to “the grandmother hypothesis,” put forward by historian Susan Mattern and anthropologist Kristen Hawkes, among others. In short, menopause is seen as an adaptive means of ensuring family and group fitness by securing the hunter-gatherer and caregiving skills of post-menopausal women. This “alloparenting” gives family and community groups greater resources and, therefore, a greater chance of survival. Over time, this investment of skills and food may have led to the complex brains we e now see in humans, elephants and orcas.

A new starting point
The truth is, menopause isn’t a death sentence at all, but rather one more transition of many throughout the course of life. Cultural expectations tell women that they must age a particular way, or in the same way as their male counterparts. Chris Molnar, Ph.D., a Philadelphia psychologist, reports that each woman has a different menopause experience. Although she grieves not being able to give birth to and raise children due to the demands of her career as a clinical psychologist, researcher and head of an anxiety treatment center, she appreciates the many ways she can still nurture people of all ages.

Dr. Molnar is about to give birth to two books that she considers “her babies.” She now feels ready, in her 50s, to have her voice heard because life is short. She says, “I am more fearless and am ready to speak truth as I experience it. I have much less concern about praise and blame from others.” She continues, “As a mindfulness teacher and practitioner, I am part of several sanghas in which I see 70- to 80-year-old women aging so gracefully. Their practice has benefitted them, and me, so very much. I aspire to embody the grace and compassion that I see ripening in the community of senior practitioners of which I am gratefully a part. If nothing else, menopause is a chance to ask, to reflect, and to choose one’s next cycle, or ‘act,’ with grace, purpose, wisdom, and power.”

About Author

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Anastasia is a volunteer, mom and gardener. She also loves reading, running and enjoying time with family and friends.

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