Nina Kuypers, Founder of Black Women in Menopause
Nina started her menopause ‘holiday’ at the age of 43. Lacking information and advice, she founded the group Black Women in Menopause, and now feels better equipped for her journey to menopause and beyond.
“After scouring the internet for a list of essentials that I should pack for my menopause holiday, it quickly became apparent that I was unprepared. I wondered why so few black people, and people from other ethnic minorities, are interviewed in the media about their menopausal experiences. The images and experiences portrayed didn’t resonate with me on a personal level, and I didn’t have a place to discuss my experiences with other black people. Couple this knowledge with the fact that many healthcare professionals aren’t trained in the menopause, and it makes the process – that half the planet goes through – even more challenging. I quickly realised that I was travelling into menopause without a guide.
When I talk about my ‘menopause holiday’, I’m describing my journey to many destinations along the way to menopause, with a lot of suitcases being packed and unpacked as I tried to decide what I needed to take with me. Now I can admit that, at first, I didn’t recognise any of these menopause destinations that I was fortunate enough to visit – and I know there are many more destinations to come.
My journey began with a crash landing; I am discomfited to confess that at the age of 43, I had been diagnosed as perimenopausal. What does perimenopausal even mean? When the GP first handed me this one-way ticket to perimenopause it didn’t even register, as I was there to discuss blood tests for a different matter. What followed? Nothing. I was sent on my merry way with zero conversation or information. Surely there should be a leaflet that says: ‘Welcome to the first destination on your menopause holiday! Here’s some information to help you – what to pack, what you need.’
Although I heard what the GP had said, I didn’t really take it on board or ask for more details. I thought I had always been quite mindful of medical matters, and I’d briefly discussed the menopause with my mum, but it wasn’t something that we’d had a profound conversation about. Perhaps I was naive, but I had so many other things going on in my life that it wasn’t a priority to learn more.
All I knew was that I’d have a hot flush now and again. Was that it? No, not at all. I presented to my GPs (male and female) with a range of on/off symptoms: headaches, body odour, dry skin, Tin Man joints, coarse, thinning hair, allergies. As the GPs were trying to piece this all together, they overlooked menopause and attributed my symptoms to Type 2 diabetes. Maybe they thought I was too young, at 43, to have menopause symptoms, or perhaps it was due to my ethnicity.
Once I had landed at my perimenopause destination, I started to do some research. The penny dropped several months later (I’m still having penny drop moments): the extreme fatigue, night sweats and headaches weren’t indicative of Type 2 diabetes, it was all due to perimenopause. With this in mind, I can see that it’s no coincidence that menopausal black people have such a high prevalence of menopause-related illnesses such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Since I began my menopausal holiday, I’ve dabbled in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). It didn’t work for me during perimenopause, but when I entered postmenopause, I made a conscious effort to try it again. Why? Because I want longevity, and heart disease is still one of the biggest killers – and there’s a lower risk of many health issues including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis and sarcopenia when you take HRT. Alas, my HRT journey has ended abruptly while I undergo tests, but that’s another story.
I still have many more destinations to visit on my menopause holiday, though my suitcases are now significantly better equipped. I wish I had known more when I first set off on my journey, but it isn’t too late – it never is.
What I can do is share my story, so I’ve set up a private menopausal ‘travel agency’ via Facebook (Black women in menopause), which is a safe place and provides educational events for black people and people of colour to share their experiences and learn from professionals.
A lack of information leaves people unsupported during the menopause. I’ve been piecing together the jigsaw pieces for myself, and it’s now evident that those pieces were spelling the word ‘menopause’. We collectively need to dismantle the unhelpful stigma that surrounds menopause, so that it’s no long taboo. Then we can let all people know that it’s okay to talk about it, and our education can begin.”
Follow Black Women in Menopause on Facebook, @BLKMenopause on Twitter and @Blackwomenmenopause on Instagram