Sandra Tsing Loh on why it's time to rethink menopause


Menopause isn't a popular topic of conversation - and when it does come up, the discussion rarely moves beyond horror stories about hot flashes and episodes of unprovoked fits of rage.

Sandra Tsing Loh wants to change that. The writer and performer, known for her work on NPR's Morning Edition and This American Life and for her bestselling book Mother on Fire, tackles menopause, its myths and why it needs a makeover, in her latest book, The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones. It's been called "scorchingly smart" and "funny as hell." Loh recently stopped by CBC Radio's Q recently to talk about it:

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Loh wrote an article investigating menopause for the Atlantic, called "The Bitch is Back." When she began to dig deeper into the topic, she realized there was a need for a voice among the sea of titles that prescribe yoga, lots of water, and kale as the cure-all for menopausal symptoms.

"You go into the bookstore, there's the cut-out of Dr. Phil, and then the dreaded women's health section where every book, instead of the menopause book with the fanged Medusa head on the cover that might be more pertinent, you always see a flower and a poppy and a daisy and a stethoscope," she said to Q guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. "I could not find the book that I really needed to get myself through this, so I wanted to write the book that I would've wanted when I was in this state."

She believes she not alone in this. By 2015, one in two American women will be menopausal, so Loh wants to change how we look at menopause. "It's going to be giant and we need to understand this," she said, "It's time for this discussion to change."

Menopause can be a decades-long experience for many women, with perimenopause, which is the transitional period beforehand, beginning as early as the mid-30s. With women living longer than ever, the postmenopausal period can last for decades.

"In 1900, the average life expectancy of a U.S. citizen was 48, so most menopausal women were dead, which is not a great place to be. Now you have people living to 116," she said. And it's the mid-menopausual age where women have the most pressure to contend with: raising kids and caring for elderly parents while trying to build or maintain their careers. "Women are trying to juggle so many things," she said. This is why Loh believes it's more important than ever to talk about hormones, menopause and what women are going through.

"So menopause isn't the change. Fertility - that middle section - is the change. When the estrogen or the nurturing cloud comes down and in a glazed eye, robotic way, you start cutting up sandwiches and folding socks and serving all the other people in your home."

Loh describes menopause and perimenopause, which is the transitional period beforehand, as waking up from a dream and going from cutting those sandwiches to hurling them. "A menopausal woman's hormone levels are the same as a preteen girl's. You return to where you were before," she said. "So if you see more women in power in a range of things, factoring [menopause] into their lives without missing a step and without not doing their jobs, maybe there's a way to look at it in a totally new way."