How did we get stuck with menopause? I don’t mean the whole evolutionary argument about surviving-until-your-ovaries-quit-working. What I’m talking about, instead, is the label. Menopause has to be about the biggest downer of a name in the history of the world.
The thing that really sticks in my craw, speaking as a female member of the august medical profession, is that I’m pretty sure we’ve been stuck with the name “menopause” because of one annoyed, amorous male doctor, whose wife asked him in a moment of passion to hang on a sec until the hotflash passed.
Besides, it’s just plain scientifically wrong.
Menopause is a misnomer. Regardless of the origin, using the word “menopause” the way we do now doesn’t make sense medically. To show you what I mean, let’s take a look at the other (starting) end of the reproductive years.
Menarche refers to the start of monthly periods in the same way that menopause, scientifically, refers to the end of periods. When it comes to teens, we all know that having your first menstrual cycle (menarche) is just one small part of a multiple-year complicated biologic process. Your first period enters the stage like a loud tuba blast somewhere between the crescendo start of breast development and the screeching end of bone growth, with tiny bursts of random hair-sprouts syncopating the whole process. You know what I mean—you went through it. But no one goes around asking, “Is your daughter going through menarche?”
Instead, we have a wonderful word for that process, a word that implies all the out-of-control goofiness of the experience. That word is…puberty. Now that’s a good word. You can hardly say it with a straight face.
The midlife-woman’s multi-year process that leads to the end of periods also causes a lot of changes. Breasts, skin, and bones change. Hotflashes can arrive, even the old pubes get a re-working. Once again, hairs sprout in surprising places. We’re talking a whole system re-boot. Kind of like a reverse puberty. Menopause (like menarche) can occur as a step toward the middle or end of the process.
Whichever male doctor it was, long ago, who thought of tagging the whole process with the name “menopause,”—well, he surely didn’t have a clue about everything that was involved.
So here’s what I suggest, medically speaking. I think we modern women ought to reclaim our bodies and re-name what is now commonly called “menopause.”
Maybe some of you are thinking, wouldn’t it be a lot of bother to get everyone to change? Won’t we seem kind of PC and militant if we do this?
Well, how different would you feel if your menopause was called something else? What if menopause was called, instead, “triumphomen”? “Hey, is that a hot flash?” your friends would ask. “Don’t tell me you’ve started triumphing. Why didn’t you tell me?”
What about, in honor of the reverse puberty concept, we call it, “revpube?” Now that’s a word that makes me feel like some parts of my life might be revving up, instead of permanently stuck on “pause.”
Or how about, for a less guy-involved name, we called the menopausal process, “newlife.”
“Look at Betsy,” you and your girlfriends could say as you try on shoes, “she’s been having ‘newlife’ symptoms for about six months. She’s says she’s can’t wait to see how she feels at the end.”
Claiming that kind of ground, to me, is worth a little trouble.
So what are we going to call it?
There are three traditional ways of naming things in medicine. One way is for the doctor who notices the issue to claim a process or disease with their name. Think Hodgkin’s disease, or the Tanner stages of breast development. Using that system, all us women would be going through (yes, believe it or not, this is my name) the Gurley. “Hey, are you starting to gurley yet?” would be the question. Or, “wow, I’m feeling so gurley this week.”
I like my name, but “gurley” does lend the whole experience an unfortunate air of ditziness.
The second traditional option for medical naming is to base a name on the latin and greek roots for words. Think anemia or (if you’re a plant) photosynthesis. Here are some latin/greek options: novo/neo, vita/bios, vigor/energia, femina/gyne (for the words new, life, energy, woman).
Let’s just say that some of the pairing options are not a good idea. Novo (“new”) added to vigor (“energy”) results in a very unfortunate “novigor”. I did like the possibility of calling menopause “neovavoom,” although that word might stretch the limits of what is strictly latin/greek. And, I found it hard to imagine my stuffy, white-coated colleagues leaning back in a swivel chair and asking over the top of a clipboard, “So how is your vavoom?”
The third, most modern, option for medical naming is to create an acronym out of a series of descriptive words. Think AIDS (which stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Menopause, as a transformation process of life-energy-woman-new, would be referred to as becoming a LEWN (pronounced “loon”).
Ahem. Back to the drawing board.
After looking at all the options, here’s my vote. I would designate (medically, publicly and pubic-ly) on behalf of all the women of the world, the multi-year process commonly misnamed “menopause” as, instead—— (trumpet fanfare)—
It’s a word can be pronounced either “inner-jine,” which sounds very similar to energize, or “inner-gy-nee” (as in gynecology). I kind of like pronouncing the word “inner-gy-nee” better, maybe because it has a more medical ring to it. Or maybe because it implies going inward and having new energy for being a woman.
We all overhear snippets of conversation that color our perceptions of ourselves. Here’s the kind of snippet I hope to overhear in the future—maybe at a coffee for parents. Maybe at the mall. Maybe from the three women power-walking at the park:
“Yeah, I was feeling stuck, but then I started going through energyne. Everything seems different. But in a good way, you know?”
Register your vote for the renaming of menopause:
What do you think menopause should be called?
1) The Gurley. It makes me giggle.
2) Menopause. I hate my life and I have too much to do to think about change.
3) Neovavoom. I just want to hear a doctor say “vavoom” to me.
4) Energyne. I can already see ads with pink “energyne” middle-aged bunnies…