There are many topics that are not openly discussed in Irish society: mental health, religion, League of Ireland soccer. The menopause is obviously right up there. And that despite the fact that – as pointed out in the wry and moving new RTÉ documentary The Change: Ireland’s Menopause Story (RTÉ One, Monday) – all of us will be touched by it in our lives to one degree or another.
Fifty per cent of the population will experience the menopause first hand, we are reminded. And the other half will be a bystander to its effects on someone close to them. Where, then, is “the conversation” about this unavoidable milestone?
The Change comes on the heels of a series of films in the UK about menopause, 90 per cent of which were presented by Davina McCall. These were generally fixated on sex and the importance of cutting a glamorous dash as you orbit your 50s.
The film doesn't condescend to middle aged women. There is no Hallmark Card drivel about "life beginning at 50" – or that their best days lie ahead
RTÉ’s take on the subject differs in that it delves into the physiological effects of the menopause. “The loss of oestrogen can be felt everywhere,” says Dr Caoimhe Hartley. “Your brain, your skin, your heart.”
Christine talks about the impact of the menopause on her emotional well-being. “I felt so alone. I thought, ‘there’s nobody I know is going through this’,” she says.
“I started feeling off a couple of years after I’d had my daughter. As time was going on: more mood swings, aggression … the brain fog was really, really bad.”
Alas, the first rule of menopause is that nobody wants to discuss menopause, we hear. “Menopause is a bit like pensions,” says Loretta Dignam, founder of The Menopause Hub, a dedicated menopause clinic . “You’re only interested in it as you get closer.”
So shunned is the topic even healthcare professionals are sometimes caught unawares when the menopause creeps up. As with other women, it is a turning point with which they must reckon and, hopefully, make peace. “Just because I’m 60, I don’t want to be an old 60,” says Dr Deirdre Lundy, a flinty American who has lived in Ireland since studying medicine at UCD and is an expert in menopause care and hormone replacement therapy. “That’s a personal choice.”
The film doesn’t condescend to middle aged women. There is no Hallmark Card drivel about “life beginning at 50” – or that their best days lie ahead.
This is instead a refreshingly honest profile of a generation that – like every generation before – assumed they would never grow old but which is now confronting the sharp end of middle age. And as a sober exploration of an essentially taboo subject it is informative, honest and watchable.