Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

by Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD

This summer I took my grown sons to visit my birth place, the location of my one-room school house and the small white church on top of Pleasant Hill in the middle of an ancient graveyard.

I live and work in New York City, a world away from this place, even in the 21st century. Family in Kentucky still expects that I will recover from the madness that propelled me to leave home and move to such a strange place. They are certain that I will come home again.

While I may not go home again, memories of another time in this place are always with me. In a real way I have been around menopausal women all my life.

Community and family life in the mid-20th century in the rural south was always multi-generational. Great-aunts, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and the other extended families of friends and neighbors filled our lives with stories – some told, and some only witnessed.

Women of a certain age with flushed faces and occasional steamy complexions were always fanning themselves, winter, spring, summer and fall. "Sure is hot in here," is a phrase I heard so often it became part of the background noise in my head.

No one ever mentioned that it was odd that there was frost on the ground when the fans were moving back and forth through every church service. These thin cardboard fans — adorned with a religious picture on one side and a discrete advertisement for one of the two local funeral homes on the other — were placed for easy access in the backs of the pews next to the hymn books.

Every Sunday after church, we joined my mother’s family for a noonday dinner on the farm where she had grown up. My grandmother had given birth to 12 children in this farmhouse. I made a great effort to sit at the long table for grown ups at these dinners since this is where the hum of secrets filled the air. I knew that I needed to know what these women knew. Whispers of The Change fluttered around general conversation.

I had been given no information about any female bodily function, had seen no one undressed except infants and children, and had no idea that my first menstrual period was yet to visit me every month. I knew, though, that these secret conversations held by female relatives were my only source of knowledge about becoming a woman. Books on women’s health did not exist here.

I first addressed the issue of menopause when I was 12 years old. My mother chose to correct some aspect of my adolescent behavior in the presence of my aunts and older female cousins. I responded to her admonitions by declaring to the group that they should excuse Mama’s behavior because she was going through The Change.

I had picked up just enough from my sleuthing to understand the common wisdom of that time held that women were expected to be volatile and somewhat irrational during The Change. My emotionally powerful words were acknowledged by a quick slap from my mother and banishment from that afternoon’s group.

One year later, at 41, my mother gave birth to my youngest sister and never had another period. I knew almost nothing about menopause when I made that remark, but I knew that menopause was a taboo subject. The only acceptable response was good-bye and good riddance. There was no model for new possibilities, no template for reinvention, no guidance or information for using menopause as an opportunity to take advantage of the future.

My trip to Kentucky filled me with wonder as I juxtaposed my memories of those women at that time and the women I know now who are certain that there is no pause in menopause! In New York City, I work with extraordinary women who have created Women’s Voices for Change to alter the perception of menopause, to correct menopausal myths and to provide a much more balanced view of this important transition. We call this time The New Menopause.

These 21st-century women are changing the way menopause has been described by treating this life stage as one of social activism. We recognize that almost nothing ever changes for women unless women mentor other women, share information and settle for nothing less than the belief that all women over 40 can be inspired to live this half of their lives without shame, fear and denial. We believe that menopause is not to be whispered about but is to be acknowledged as an opportunity for transformation.

This blog has been created as a way to empower women, their families, communities and employers about the realities of The New Menopause. Please join us!

Patricia Yarberry Allen is an obstetrician and gynecologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and is on the board of Women’s Voices for Change.

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  • Angie November 24, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Allen, for your memorable evocation of the secrets and silence which shrouded women’s “change of life” during the years we — women now going through menopause — watched our mothers go through it themselves. My mother, like yours, supplied me with little or no information about any female bodily function, which I imagine is the very experience she herself had from her mother. But I had the great good fortune to come of age with the women’s movement, and found out most of what my mother was too embarrased to discuss from the revolutionary book Our Bodies, Ourselves.
    Few of us then, as I remember it, paid the same kind of attention to the issue of menopause that we unleashed on the more immediately pressing questions of work, careers, female sexuality and child care. Menopause, in a sense, has become the last frontier. It seems to me though, that it only becomes an opportunity, rather than simply a difficulty to be got through, if we use that opportunity to re-imagine what is possible.
    We can be grateful to have pioneering doctors like you, Dr. Allen, who have begun unravelling the myths, complicated questions and still-to-be-resolved issues surrounding the once-unmentionable. But there is still a great deal of thinking — thinking about one’s own life as well as thinking in common — to do and I’m thrilled to see the inauguration of this web-site which proposes to do just that.