At a time when more and more middle-aged women are standing up to embrace their age, feeling confident to be visible, and when the media has finally installed a very vocal and visual platform to promote this – along comes the news of yet another way to halt the ageing process.
Over the last few weeks the papers have been full of a new medical procedure that can delay the menopause and offer relief to thousands of women who suffer more serious health complications with its onset. Developed by IVF specialists in the UK, the procedure involves removing and freezing ovarian tissue between the ages of 25 to 40 years, to then be placed back into their bodies as they hit middle-age and thereby delaying their biological track for up to twenty years.
For those women who are already in the menopausal stage of life, and particularly those who suffer debilitating night sweats, daily flushes, aching joints and anxiety, this medical development comes too late. But for those young women who are just beginning their adult lives, starting their careers, settling into long-term relationships and who are still able to burn the candle and wake up the next morning looking like a new born, this can be considered fantastic news.
They can listen to their mothers’ menopausal outbursts, watch them fanning the freezer door back and forth to cool down and think – that doesn’t have to be me in years to come, here’s the solution and at a cost of up to £11,000 I’m going to set in motion the steps to stop that unkind ageing process right now.
But it does also beg the question – how can these twenty-five-year-old plus women make – let’s face it – a costly decision about an unknown future for their own ageing process? Something that they may or may not struggle with. And more importantly, what message does this ground breaking procedure also send out to these young women about ageing other than the assumption that it’s going to be a rocky road and that middle-age can in no way be considered something to look forward to.
Perhaps the question that those of us who now sit firmly in our fifties should be asking ourselves is not how we can turn back time, but that are we the strong, independent, confident and resilient women we are today because of ageing? Can we argue that what we are trying to halt is actually what gives us the strength to be these self-assured women in mid-life? And surely what has led us to this solid stage in our lives is the adversity we have had to endure along the way. After all, we have the wisdom of experience to see that now.
Kirstin Scott Thomas’ epic monologue in Fleabag, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, depicts this perfectly when she says:
“Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth … We have pain on a cycle for years and years and years and then, just as you feel you’re making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes.”
I know that for many the menopause can be utterly draining for years, affecting daily life with pain and anxiety that is off the scale. But equally there are women who breeze through the menopause, the odd down day here and there, a little overheated at times, but who genuinely don’t know what all the fuss is about. And lucky them.
Clearly there are two sides to this. It is good news, but it has to be used wisely. I wholeheartedly endorse any medical development that can help women who suffer the more serious health complications of menopause, and I know that this progression is significant, not just for women but for the evolution of medical science. For many women it is going to be a lifeline in their future. But let’s put it into perspective. If we gradually diminish adversity by seeking to reinstate youthful perfection and eventually halting the ageing process, we are taking away challenge. And if we take away challenge, how can we ever grow to become the strong, informed, experienced, confident and, ultimately, authentic women we are as we reach middle-age?
Gaby Hinsliff writes an excellent article in The Guardian where she questions the notion that we should be scared of ageing and that it can in fact be liberating. She writes:
“… there is something oddly cleansing about the loss of one’s looks, as there is about letting go of anything once hoarded. It’s not so much a feeling of relief as a challenge, a brutal but necessary rite of passage which with luck can still open the door to something interesting.”
For me – ageing is definitely nothing to be scared of and it most certainly is liberating. Eventually we do get through the menopause and we can come out on the other side all the better for it. As Kirstin Scott Thomas’ character says: “… but then you’re free. You’re no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.”
Perhaps we need to take a pause and recognise that ageing is a natural constructive, positive and – yes – exciting progression as well, and can sit just as happily alongside the cosmetic clinics and new medical procedures. It has made us the women we are today and it’s a perfect blueprint for our daughters – the emerging young women who nature determines are going to one day be exactly where we are now – that growing older is to be well and truly embraced.