January 28, 2022

Pause: One Woman’s Reflection on Her Journey with Menopause

Woman hiking smiling with her arms open wide in front of mountains

The Society for Women’s Health Research recently spoke with Sara Stamey, author of Pause and The Rambling Writer blog, about her journey with menopause. The following blog post captures takeaways from the conversation. This interview took place as part of SWHR’s Menopause Program. 

Menopause—marked as one full year after a woman’s last period and the end of her reproductive years—is a natural life stage that all women will encounter. Yet, it remains under-discussed and, as a result, leaves many women in the dark about the changes they will experience or are currently experiencing.

For Sara Stamey, 69, the transition into menopause (perimenopause) and menopause itself were difficult. She recalled that her journey was filled with a lot of self-education, trial and error in finding a remedy to ease her menopause symptoms, acclimating to lifestyle changes, and finding ways to process what she was going through.

Stamey said her journey began in her early 40s, when she entered perimenopause. She began having night sweats and would wake up with the bed soaked. Despite her significant travel between South America and the United States and a lack of continuity with doctors at the time, Stamey soon realized what she was experiencing. When she was around 50 years old, she stopped having her period and her symptoms increased drastically. She dealt with extreme hot flashes (sometimes several an hour), night sweats, vertigo, nausea, and depression. The combination of her symptoms, particularly her depression, made it hard to function. “At that point, I had started teaching again…so I was trying to hold it together with all these symptoms while teaching in front of a classroom…It was quite an ordeal.”

To help ease her symptoms, Stamey began exploring natural remedies, including supplements, wild yam crème, acupuncture, and massages. Initially, she chose not to pursue hormone therapy (HT) because both her mother and sister had breast cancer, and she was told it would increase her own risk. Unfortunately, Stamey said, the natural remedies provided no relief for her symptoms. After a while of continued trial and error and work with her counselor, Stamey’s counselor said, “You’ve done everything right, Sara. We need to get your hormones tested.” The test results revealed that Stamey’s hormones were depleted and she made the decision to get on HT. Within about a week, Stamey said she was feeling “normal and happy again.” “I know [HT] is not right for a lot of people,” said Stamey, “but I really feel it saved my life.”

Still, there are aspects of postmenopausal life to which Stamey is still growing accustomed. She experiences some hot flashes and night sweats, brain fog, and a loss of elasticity in her body (e.g., drooping eyelids). She also doesn’t feel her body has the resilience it used to—a difficult change of pace for an avid backpacker, scuba diver, swimmer, and biker like Stamey.

Yet, despite the challenges she has experienced, Stamey has resolve to maintain her lifestyle and has found ways to find the “humorous side” of her menopause journey. She said she is determined to stay as active as she can, is engaged in physical therapy, and has even felt some changes in her attitude as she has aged, including wanting to speak out against harmful cliches. Stamey also found an outlet through her writing—first through her personal journal and then through her novel, Pause:

“It was definitely a help to me at the time to write. I would do my daily journal in the morning while I was eating breakfast, and I decided some of these things are actually pretty funny… I was making myself laugh with this journal, and I thought, ‘This is good therapy to see the lighter side of it,’ and I wrote a novel based on it… I’m just trying to be honest about what midlife women go through and the highs and lows of it, and women are really responding to it.”

In reflecting on her journey, Stamey recalled no one ever talked about menopause with her and that when they did, they often minimized it—for example, by calling “hot flashes” “power flashes.” It wasn’t until she decided to turn her journal into a novel that she became part of the larger conversations happening on menopause and found online support groups, forums, and websites, such as Navigating the Change, Red Hot Mamas, and Menopause Goddess Blog. Yet, for such a prevalent issue, Stamey said, “There’s a dearth of information, and no one wants to talk about it. It’s interesting.”

Thinking through what would be helpful for other women coming into this life stage, Stamey suggested more education about the medical end of menopause and what it looks like physiologically as well as a need to improve the social aspects of menopause so that women don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. For example, Stamey said she wonders if she should have been more open about what she was experiencing after she learned a friend of hers, who was also an educator, was upfront about her menopause experience with her students, letting them know that she may have hot flashes during class and need to take off her jacket. Being matter-of-fact about your experience, recognizing menopause as a natural life transition, and not feeling like you need to hide what you’re going through will all be key to changing the culture surrounding menopause.

To further engage in this conversation, join SWHR on February 16, 2022 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the webinar, “Embracing the Change of My Midlife.” For more information about menopause, view the following resources:

SWHR’s Menopause Program is supported by educational sponsorships from Astellas Pharma and Roche. SWHR maintains editorial control and independence over educational content.