IS IT TIME TO PAUSE THE MENOPAUSE?

Now we know it can be done, is postponing the menopause something women actually want?

Some women breeze through but most of us seem to have a pretty horrendous time of it with the menopause, in one way or another. The symptoms can vary enormously from woman to woman, but the main consensus is: it pretty much stinks, but once it’s over it is so OVER. And then we can all get on with our lives. Many of us experience a burst of energy and positivity post-menopause, and find a new sense of resolve to do something meaningful with our lives. Or at least stop wasting time.

But what if we could delay the menopause? A procedure has now been developed that does just that. Using keyhole surgery to remove a small piece of ovarian tissue from a pre-menopausal women, it is frozen to preserve it then grafted back into the body once the woman enters the menopause – restoring the declining sex hormones and halting the menopause. Tissue taken from a 25-year-old might postpone the menopause for 20 years, while that taken from a 40-year-old might only delay its onset for five years

There are clearly many benefits to delaying the menopause, preventing the onset of a range of potential health problems such as heart conditions and osteoporosis. Women who go through an early menopause will understandably want to delay it. And it could also be a game-changer for fertility treatment. Unlike IVF, ovarian tissue preservation does not require drugs to stimulate the ovaries, and is likely to produce far more eggs. If women in their 20s routinely had ovarian tissue removed and stored, Fishel said, they could potentially have access to thousands of eggs should they later decide to have children.

The procedure, which costs between £7,000 and £11,000, is being offered to women up to the age of 40 through ProFam, a Birmingham-based company set up by Simon Fishel, an IVF doctor and president of the UK Care Fertility Group, in collaboration with other specialists.

“Apart from freedom from periods and PMT, post menopause you feel kind of liberated, even unstoppable”

But in some ways this feels like a step backwards. To me it feels like the world has finally got used to talking openly about the menopause, so the answer is surely not to delay it – but to make it more manageable and less taboo. Less sniggering and jeering at ‘sad old shrivelled up menopausal women’ and more understanding and supporting us through a natural process. As journalist Suzanne Moore said “It’s not women’s menopausal bodies that need ‘fixing’ but society’s attitude to them”. And how about the NHS supporting women properly through the menopause, providing up-front advice and treatment?

Because the process doesn’t need to be shrouded in horror. Miserable as the menopause can make you at the time, once you’re through it, it’s like coming out of a dark tunnel into the sunshine. Feeling you can take on the world. And then ruddy well doing it. As comedian Jenny Éclair said in The Independent “I wouldn’t be who I am today if I’d delayed my menopause”, and I concur. Apart from freedom from periods and PMT, post menopause you feel kind of liberated, even unstoppable. You feel positively #GenerationRestart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone has welcomed this medical innovation. Nicole Vance told The Onion “I always hoped someday there’d be a simple operation that could give me 20 more years of periods,” while Brandon Greaves said “Boy, I bet this makes women who have learned to accept and embrace life changes sure feel stupid.” Bestselling author Deanna Raybourn summed it up with “Menopause isn’t something that needs to be fixed for the average woman. Society needs to fix its attitude towards ageing women”. In case society hasn’t noticed, midlife women – menopausal or otherwise – are a force to be reckoned with.

Marina Gask