Me & My Menopausal Vagina: Jane Lewis' book urges women to be proactive about vaginal atrophy

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Living with vaginal atrophy

The Menopause Counsellor Diane Danzebrink’s call to action on the back cover of ‘Me and My Menopausal Vagina’ was “If you have a vagina, know or love somebody with a vagina, you need to read this.”

Hot Flush rose to the challenge but rather than review it ourselves we handed it over to Hot Flush hubby, Basil.

Basil’s review of Jane Lewis’s book ‘Me and My Menopausal Vagina’.

When I was asked to review this book by my wife, I looked upon it as a challenge to show that I was a modern man. The title and cover are quite eye-catching, so I made a point of reading it on the bus and tube on my way to work to see if anyone would react and I proudly told my colleagues about my mission. 

However, I soon realised that it was a book that I SHOULD be reading. I thought I was reasonably well informed, having been closely involved with my wife’s peri-menopausal journey during the launch of Hot Flush, but nothing could have prepared me for what I learned from Jane’s story. Her frank and unvarnished telling of her incredibly painful and difficult journey was humbling. Her candour and self-deprecating wit makes the book easy to read but her stories of her struggle to get the help she needed and the general ignorance surrounding vaginal atrophy were astounding. I was stunned by of the lack of support some women suffer and was saddened by the thought of all the women who by either upbringing, circumstance or lack of access, live with this condition completely unaided.

I now see that my very public reading of Jane’s book was purely bravado but what I have learned from its pages has made me a more aware and, hopefully, more sensitive human being.

This courageous book is something that everyone should read, both women and men, young and old. Jane writes that all women should not be afraid or embarrassed to know their bodies better and that they should demand to be heard when they go to their doctors for help. This should be seen as a call to action to all women and to health professionals everywhere.

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Hot Flush asked Jane Lewis, author of ‘Me & My Menopausal Vagina’, how her long suffering of vaginal atrophy lead her to write this book. We asked her if she could contribute a positive message for our #positivepause campaign, and well, this proved to be a bit of a challenge for her!

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PositivePause campaign, ummm I have had to dig very deep to think of anything positive to write about vaginal atrophy, as there simply isn’t anything. I guess a huge positive is that I have written a book about it, to help to break the shroud of secrecy that affects a lot of women both now, and as the population ages, in the future, suffering and telling no one. I really hope this book will start the conversation and encourage women to seek help and not hide away trying to cope on their own, with marriages and partnerships falling apart, and doctors not suggesting women drink a glass of wine to relax, see a councillor or just put up with painful sex. Luckily, I have an excellent GP, and a supportive husband, but many don’t, so this book aims to empower them to take charge, and not be fobbed off. So, that is definitely a positive, however I still wish I was writing about the problems of whiteflies eating my cabbages.

I decided one day I had simply had enough of yet another menopause book coming out, with as always, only a tiny mention or no mention at all, of ‘vaginal dryness’, which for many women, is so much more awful than it sounds: sore, burning, itching, episiotomies that split, painful sex or no sex, constant UTIs, whillst some women can’t wear pants or trousers or sit down. I think you get the picture. Therefore, I decided this part of menopause needed its own book.

Approximately 50% of women will get vaginal atrophy with varying symptoms, some mild some totally miserable, but it’s believed 70% is the likely number, if not more. Yet only 7% of women see their GP, simply suffering in silence and self-treating. This is potentially very dangerous as it can lead to conditions such as lichen sclerosus and vulva cancer, amongst other things. So, don’t be embarrassed, as embarrassment kills. Unless we start talking and going to our GPs nothing will change, and we continue this cycle of shame and embarrassment.

We get vaginal atrophy due to the vast reduction in oestrogen. The vagina, vulva, bladder, urethra and pelvic floor are very oestrogen dependant and although we can buy moisturisers and lubes, for many, these act as a sticking plaster when reallt our vaginas are crying out for local oestrogen. Some of us, myself included, also need HRT. I have had laser treatment as my episiotomies were almost splitting open but since treatment are now much better. Laser treatment is definitely not for everybody but I had got to the point of desperation.

So for me, I will do my utmost with the help of others, to spread the word that this book exists, so women don’t feel alone. Pass it around; to your daughters (to educate not scare them), your son, your partner and definitely your GP, knowledge is power.

Since writing the book I’ve spoken to two GPs and a care assistant in a nursing home, I am horrified to hear that there is no local oestrogen offered to the women in their care. Apparently, there are many women suffering, but the prevailing attitude is that they don’t need treatment as they don’t have sex anymore or can’t apply treatments themselves. Is any other medication stopped for such a reason? Women in nursing homes are almost guaranteed to have UTIs and spend life on. and off, antibiotics, when for many whilst local oestrogen may not stop UTIs, it could at least make them more comfortable. My goal is to get this problem recognised. We’re living much longer and told to eat more healthily, exercise more, do this and not do that, and with that comes longevity. The medical profession has a duty of care for these older women who are living in misery - care assistants and GPs need to routinely ask women, “Are you sore in your vaginal area?”, as embarrassment makes it very unlikely that they are going to tell anyone.

Jane Lewis x

16th October 2018

Copies of Jane Lewis’s book can be bought on Amazon here

#positivepause

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