Life & Culture

The menopause can be marvellous

The way that women approach midlife is far too negative - and the bible shows an alternative approach


We need to stop obsessing about ovaries. It’s normal for a woman’s body to transform at midlife and it’s wrong to delay the process through HRT. For decades, doctors and the media have been convincing women that come midlife, their bodies start getting it wrong. But it is the medics and journalists who are wrong. Women will start feeling better in their middle years when society starts understanding menopause.

So says Tania Elfersy, 50, who has been writing and talking about what she calls menopausal myths for the past five years. She says ancient Jewish teachings have helped her bust the misunderstandings.

“When menopause hits the news we almost always hear that women are suffering from its symptoms because we never used to live this long,” she says. “Well, the Bible tells us this isn’t true. In Genesis, we learn that ‘Sarah had ceased to have the way of women’ and laughed to herself at the thought of having a child at her age. Not only does this ancient text reveal the existence of a post-menopausal woman, it also reveals a post-menopausal women with an intimate understanding of what she should expect at her stage in life. If the reader of over two millennia ago understood this, why don’t we today?”

Far from understanding the menopause today, Elfersy says we try to fix it. “In an attempt to find a quick exit from their sweaty and exhausting midlife rollercoaster ride, women in their 40s and 50s in the West have swallowed this whole narrative of ‘we malfunction during perimenopause and menopause’. They encourage each other to try HRT. “We’re in new terrain,” they say. “We just need oestrogen!”

In fact, she says, an oestrogen boost is the one thing women do not need in their middle years. The oestrogen theory, as she calls it, the claim that low oestrogen levels are the explanation for unpleasant experiences such as night sweats and hot flushes, is an another menopausal myth that Elfersy is determined to smash.

The theory conflates correlation and causation, she says. Fluctuating hormones create the conditions for these symptoms to arise: they are not the cause per se. For some women, simply starting to exercise regularly can bring huge relief. For many the answer lies in cleaning up their diet. But others, she says, must address the stress in their lives before symptoms start to dissipate.

“There is a brilliance in our bodies,” she claims. “They hold the innate intelligence of hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, which means they know how we should journey through menopause. Suffering is not inevitable, it’s not the default. There’s a reason women experience menopause very differently in different cultures. In the West we think our default is a state of stress and a bunch of unpleasant symptoms. If we can accept what Jewish teachings tell us, that there is a divine intelligence behind all life, it doesn’t make sense that so many women in the West suffer as they do. It’s not circumstances that make us feel a certain way, but our thoughts about those circumstances that create our feelings and experiences.”

Elfersy, who lives in Israel, having made aliyah from Britain 25 years ago, and whose background is in communications and writing (her lack of medical credentials is an asset, she says, allowing her to think outside the box) will discuss how we can start to think differently about all this at a talk at London’s JW3 this Sunday entitled ‘How midlife changes you… for the better!”.

You could say Jewish women have particular reason to go and hear what she has to say. According to a recent Harvard study of 2,500 American women from a range of ethnic backgrounds aged 45-55, Jewish women suffer the highest rate of depression during menopause.

“Is it because the movement away from our fertile years is considered more negative in the Jewish community than in other ethnic groups?” asks Elfersy. “After all, what is a woman in traditional Judaism when she is not fertile? It’s not like the menopause allows her to graduate to a new role within Judaism even though, as I understand it, that’s exactly what menopause demands of us.

“It’s a period of awakening, a time when we are supposed to wise up and learn how good health and happiness are created for the rest of our lives.”

Tania Elfersy is speaking at JW3 on Sunday November 3. Details

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