Before I had my first period, I knew roughly what to expect.
Before I kissed someone, my friends talked about it, so I knew roughly what to expect.
Before I was pregnant or brought up a child, I read about it, went to classes and knew roughly what to expect.
Before my perimenopause, I knew nothing. Nobody told to me about it, I read no books or websites, I hadn’t even heard of it! I knew my periods would stop sometime and maybe I’d get a hot flush, but I just thought “Happy days, no periods, no menstrual products, no contraception.” How little I knew!
In February 2017, I saw a BBC programme by Kirsty Wark called “Menopause and Me”. I was gob-smacked. It showed that menopause could affect my feelings, my thinking, as well as my body. And not just hot flushes – a whole host of symptoms including long-lasting effects on heart and bone health.
It’s good to talk
As a counsellor, I knew that talking helps in any situation and particularly challenging ones. I had already run Death Cafes in my home town of Perth in Scotland. These are pop up events where people, often strangers, gather to drink tea, eat cake and talk about death. So I asked Jon Underwood, Death Café founder, if we could set up a Menopause Cafe along the same principles, ie:
- As an open, respectful and confidential space where people can express their views safely.
- With no intention of leading participants to any conclusion, product or course of action.
- On a not-for-profit basis.
- Open to all ages and genders
- Accompanied by drinks and cake
Jon gave his permission for us to use his format to start conversations about the menopause. My husband, created a website, we did some PR and on a sunny evening in June 2017, we sat in Blend Coffee Lounge, Perth anxiously waiting to see whether anyone would join us for the world’s first Menopause Café.
We needn’t have worried: 28 women and men came to talk menopause. People sat at tables, discussing whatever they wanted, often starting with the simple question: Why are you here? Every 20 mins, we encouraged people to move to a different table and start new conversations. There was much laughter and lots of chat. Feedback included:
“I talked about more intimate matters to these strangers than I have to my friends”
“Now I feel normal, I know it’s not just me, I’m not going mad!”
Spreading the word
Thanks to radio, press and TV coverage, many more people heard about us and started their own conversations at home. Seeing me being interviewed on the STV news that first night, one husband said to his wife, “You should go to that”, so she jumped in the car and joined us 15 mins before the Cafe finished.
Afterwards, on the bus, a neighbour asked how the menopause café had gone, another lady joined in saying she had read about us in the paper. I sat there while these two women in their 70s talked about their experiences of menopause – in a bus! In Perth!
And that’s exactly what we want – to start conversations about the menopause and make it an ordinary topic of conversation. From the start, our purpose has been to increase awareness of the impact of the menopause on those experiencing it, their friends, colleagues and families so that we can make conscious choices about this third stage of life.
Not just a one-off
We thought this might have been a one-off event, but since then the idea has grown into a world-wide network of Menopause Cafes.
Volunteers host their pop-up discussion groups in their workplace, in their neighbourhood, online or in person. There are now over 1000 Menopause Cafes, we’ve become a registered charity, with Kirsty Wark as our patron, and we’ve been awarded the Point of Light award for volunteers making a change in the community.
To find out how to run a Menopause Café read our Guide. All you need is a venue, some refreshments and a warm, welcoming attitude with an open mind. It doesn’t have to cost you a penny!
Volunteer hosts don’t need to know about menopause, but they do need to know how to facilitate a group conversation. Usually people split into small groups, moving tables during the event, but sometimes everyone stays in one large group. There are no experts and no expectation. The idea is just to drink tea, eat cake and talk menopause, sharing stories, questions, tips, joys and sorrows.
Initially conversations tend to focus on the medical and practical aspects of menopause, but often they move on to more psychological and philosophical issues, such as:
- What does it mean to be an older woman in today’s society?
- Is my body forcing me to put myself first after decades of putting others first, through family or work?
- Is now the time to think about “I want” or “I need” rather than “I must” or “I should”?
It’s those broader conversations that led us to run the world’s first Menopause Festival #FlushFest, strap line ‘Learn a little and laugh a lot” in Perth in 2018.
Our fifth festival, #FlushFest23, will be held on September 8th and 9th, in person in Edinburgh and online. The Friday night Menopause Cabaret features performances by singers, poets and storytellers. Saturday’s itinerary includes medical talks and creative workshops: sculpt, sew, listen, learn and find your tribe!
Menopause is a transition stage, it doesn’t have to be scary, we can get through it and even celebrate it, together. These words from a woman who came to one of our Menopause Cafe’s sums it up perfectly:
Just a thank you for tonight to all ..who came listened, talked, laughed and shared. Without sounding mushy I am actually very grateful for my menopause right now, this cafe you have started has given me back my confidence and laughter.
To find your nearest Menopause Café go to www.menopausecafe.net If there isn’t an event near you, why not sign our working agreement and host one yourself?
To book online or in-person tickets for #FlushFest23, goto www.flushfest.net
By Rachel Weiss