Q&A with Shirley Weir, Founder of MenopauseChicks.com

On World Menopause Day, we’re chatting with Shirley Weir, Founder of MenopauseChicks.com, WHRI community partner, and fierce women’s health advocate.

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Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Menopause Chicks and what inspired you to start it?

A: My perimenopause journey began a little over 10 years ago. I was experiencing anxiety & depression for the first time in my life + sleep deprivation and brain fog that was impacting my ability to be the mom and daughter and partner and entrepreneur I always was. I wanted to feel empowered about my health, but I set out without a plan.

Some days I felt good and didn’t think about it. Some days I felt so bad, I could barely function.

I spent money on books. Lots of books. I spent a ton of time surfing the Internet (often at 3 a.m. when I was wide awake.) I talked to my doctor. I went to a naturopath. And a women’s health clinic. I bought vitamins. I dabbled in yoga, meditation and various exercise and weight management approaches. Heck, I even started a website, held events and wrote an e-book…

I was left feeling confused, overwhelmed and alone. You may feel some of these things too.

The truth is, sometimes a single book or event or doctor’s appointment is not enough. Sometimes we need more info…more clarity…sometimes it takes a bit more time and support to let it all sink in…to get it all straight…to find out what is best for our own unique situation. And often, so often…when we read something or hear something, we have questions…lots of questions, but no where to ask them.

This inspired me to launch Menopause Chicks, a website and online community. We empower women to navigate perimenopause and menopause with confidence and ease. We do this by connecting women to the best information, the top women’s health professionals who can support them on their journey–and we connect women to each other via this private community.

Q: Over the past several years Menopause Chicks has grown a lot, on and offline! You’re now one of the Women’s Health Research Institute’s community partners – what does this mean to you?

First off—I am so honoured and proud to be connected to the WHRI. Research—women’s health research—and disseminating quality health information to women—is paramount to being able to achieve our mission (which is to empower women to navigate perimenopause-to-menopause (& beyond!) with confidence & ease.

I love the role WHRI and it’s researchers play in our community. There’s a phrase I was introduced a few years ago called “knowledge transfer.” Everyone talks about how we live in the information age—but what good is information if a) it’s wrong or misleading (which has often been the case in women’s health!) and if b) we don’t have experts who can transfer new information, new findings and new, relevant health education to women so she can be empowered and in charge of her own health! Kudos to Dr. Lori Brotto and her team for taking this knowledge transfer role so seriously—it’s truly making a difference to how women view and talk about their own midlife health!

Programs like free community events on aging well and campaigns like #ItsNotInYourHead are validating women’s experiences. And they are empowering women to realize they are not alone; affirming they are smart and savvy and they can get through anything when they have accurate information and a strong health team working on their behalf.

Q: World Menopause Day is about raising awareness for support, treatment, and research in the area of menopausal health. Do you have any call to action for our community (researchers, healthcare decision makers, clinicians and practitioners)?

I sure do! (And it might surprise you!) My call-to-action for World Menopause Day this year is to media, marketers and even to some members of the medical community: STOP talking about perimenopause and menopause…until you have your facts straight. Otherwise, you’re ruining a woman’s ability to get informed, advocate for her own health—and yes, you’re even ruining a woman’s ability to ENJOY this phase of her life.

Here’s what I mean:

For decades, we’ve all been subjected to myths and misconceptions around menopause. It’s time to draw a line in the sand and ensure that whenever we do talk about menopause, we are speaking from an informed, knowledgeable place—otherwise, we continue to perpetuate misunderstanding and continue to confuse women who are trying to be proactive with their health. Here are three examples:

  • Don’t say menopause if you mean perimenopause. They are not the same thing. It has been very confusing for women to hear the word menopause when they still have a period. Menopause is one day—it’s the 12 month anniversary of the final menstrual period. Every day after that is post-menopause. And the phase of life leading up to menopause—is called perimenopause. The term perimenopause was only coined in 1996! But it’s now 2019 so we need to ensure everyone is using accurate definitions. The experiences of perimenopause are different for every woman. It’s a phase of life that includes hormone fluctuations as a woman’s body transitions from her reproductive years to menopause. Perimenopause is not a synonym for suffering—although for some women, hormone imbalance can lead to experiences that are uncomfortable and impact her quality of life. An example would be irregular periods, heavier bleeding or lighter bleeding. It’s one of the most common experiences of perimenopause, yet one of most under-discussed. This leaves women unprepared and assuming something is seriously wrong if it happens as part of their perimenopause experience.
  • Stop saying normal. If we continue to tell women it’s “normal” to forget things, leak pee when they sneeze, be wide awake at 3 in the morning, lose her temper with her kids, bleed through a single pad every hour, or have low libido, we will continue to have women not listening to the signals their bodies are giving them. What we want to do is tell women that these experiences are common AND there are easy, viable solutions. We don’t want them thinking they have to “suck it up.” This time of our lives is an opportunity to invest in our health; not to put it on the back burner because “it’s just part of being a woman.” We want women to get informed, ask for help when they need it, surround themselves with experienced health professionals and choose the journey that is right for them. We are the first generation to turn 50 and have 50 more years to plan for. This is an incredible opportunity to invest in our health so we can reap the benefits of vitality and longevity into our 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond!
  • Stop using “hormones” and “hormone therapy” like they are swear words. And get really, really clear on the latest relevant information before you talk about hormones and hormone therapy. For a very long time, the words “hormones + teenagers” led to eye rolls, and that sentiment continues to stretch into women’s midlife health too. Stop it. Now. It also doesn’t help that for over 17 years, women have been making limited health decisions based on headlines telling them hormones cause cancer—headlines that were misleading and inaccurate, and born from the now infamous Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study that was severely flawed. (By the way the headline announcing the study was flawed got buried.) We need to shift the paradigm to hormones are natural. Our bodies have been producing them for years and hormones serve hundreds of positive functions for our health. Hormone therapy is not a requirement for women navigating midlife, but it is a viable option worth investigating if she needs support managing uncomfortable experiences such as anxiety, depression, hot flashes, heavy bleeding or vaginal dryness. And the more we learn and the longer we live, hormone therapy is also regarded as an investment in our future brain health, bone health and heart health. Rather than something to ignore, it’s something for women to explore by working with their health care professional to conduct a risk assessment, and then if within 10 years of menopause and under 60, consider.

Learn more about Menopause Chicks, and follow them on Twitter.