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It’s no secret that at woman&home, we like to chat about the menopause.
So you can imagine our sheer glee when we heard about a new book that not only discusses the harsh realities of menopause, but also celebrates it in all its entirety; the good, the bad, the sad, the euphoric and, ultimately, liberating times that occur during this time in a woman’s life.
Sam – former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Red, and co-founder of The Pool – shares experiences of perimenopause and menopause in this new inspiration read on life after 40. The menopause has suffered bad press for far too long, but The Shift is here to rewrite the narrative. A book of too halves, Sam takes us through the losses and the gains, not just through her own story, but those of a 80-strong cohort of women sharing their unique experiences.
We caught up with Sam on the inspiration behind her new book and the freedom that awaits on the other side.
Changing the stigma around menopause
“51% of the population go through it and no one talks about it. It’s as simple as that. It’s not celebrated. We celebrate our dogs’ birthdays. But menopause is like a stain that we’re not allowed to talk about. I wanted to write something that was a bit of a manifesto for what life could look like post menopause and that seems to have really resonated, not just with women who are coming up to or in menopause, but with much younger women, too.
“Old women just vanish, we hit menopause and we just go.”
“The way it’s treated, it’s like it’s this awful thing. Old women just vanish, we hit menopause and we just go – and people don’t want to be associated with that. But most women I know feel better than before. I feel better and more powerful and more me – and if younger women knew that they wouldn’t approach it with dread.
“I split the book in half – the first half is the crap, and then it’s fabulous. When I heard Kristen Scott Thomas talk about the joy of post-menopausal life on an episode of Fleabag I though, ‘God, that’s so true’. That once you get through feeling like you’re not yourself anymore, that you’re fatter and feel terrible, or that you’re anxious and have lost your confidence, you start to come out of it and, honestly, it’s incredible. I truly felt more myself than ever before. More confident in myself, less of a people pleaser, more assertive. And most of the women I spoke to said the same thing.
“The mental health aspect of the menopause isn’t talked about enough, when it comes to the negatives. When it starts, you can feel anxious and lacking in confidence, all of those symptoms. But when you come out the other side, there are benefits. There’s a more purposeful energy and it really is fucking fabulous.”
The inspiration behind The Shift
“The idea for the book fermented for a while. When I started to realise I was going through the peri-menopause, there were books out there, but they weren’t books that I wanted to read. They were very health-focussed and, essentially, about what vitamins to take. I started to think about what I would have liked to have read during my experience. I wanted to write a book about a time in your life when change is built into you – and how to harness that.
“It’s the first book I’ve written that’s personal. I always set out to write from the beginning something that combines my personal experience with other women’s experiences, plus social and political context, with a manifesto style approach. But when I sat down to write it, when I’d done all my research and a lot of initial interviews, I was surprised how personal it got when I started writing. In total I spoke to around 80 women for The Shift and I had a focus group of around 50, who I would just email them questions. Just asking them a few questions on a theme and seeing what came back made me think that there’s so much to explore here.”
Life after menopause: the other side of the story
“There’s still a story around women’s lives, where you find ‘the one’ – whether that one is male or female – and you get a house, and have babies. As a woman, you’re constantly asked, ‘are you having babies?’, ‘are you trying to have babies?’, ‘do you want babies?’, ‘why don’t you want babies?’, ‘why have you not had babies?’ – and when that stops – as it does with menopause – it’s like ‘that’s it now – we don’t have anything else to say to you’.
“It’s not the end of the book for you, it’s just the end of the chapter.”
“And the message that I wanted to get across was that it’s not the end of the book for you, it’s just the end of the chapter. And there’s a whole, enormous – if we’re lucky – swathe of our lives left to live, whether it’s the second half or the third act; however you want to put it. And we can shape that any way we want it to, we don’t have to just go quietly into our dotage.
“I’ve got better at pleasing myself. I’m never going to be a pottery maker or flower arranger, but I’ve always loved learning things and I’ve loved learning about making the podcast and learning all the software. I feel like that’s taking my skills as a journalist and adapting it to a new medium.
“I wanted to have more older women’s voices out there.”
“The new podcast [The Shift (on life after 40) with Sam Baker] kicked off last month and it’s basically an excuse for me to nose around other women’s lives. I wanted to have more older women’s voices out there, talking about stuff that we care about. The response has been amazing and people saying ‘it’s nice to hear women like me, talking about stuff that interests me’.”
You can find out more about Sam Baker’s podcast, The Shift (on life after 40) with Sam Baker, and listen to episodes here.