A Woman of Substance

The sun was beating down on an unusually hot Easter bank holiday weekend in the UK. My gran had come to our house for a – mandatory-on-such-days – BBQ and a swig or two of gin.

I love gin.

The elixir of life. The panacea for all woes.

The answer to all life’s problems can be found at the bottom of a glass/bottle/silo of gin*

Having been put off the juniper juice over 70 years ago, my gran – aged 14 – along with some friends ended up three sheets to the wind until the point at which she (not sure about her pals) unwittingly and violently purged her delicate innards. So I recently reintroduced her to that heady culprit of old and the myriad of botanical choices on the shelves. She is now officially a gin disciple.

After throwing back several goldfish bowls of the hard stuff on that sunny Sunday, our conversation turned to the menopause. You know! That standard, over-a-burger-and-an-iced-aromatic-alcoholic-beverage discussion!

I wanted to hear her story, especially in terms of the genetic factor influencing age, for my own personal understanding of what lay ahead of me.

I had actually forgotten that she had her uterus and one lowly ovary whipped out in her late forties, so Mama Menopause hadn’t had the chance to perform her natural swansong for my gran.

I was interested in knowing what treatment, if any, my gran had been offered pre-surgery. Nothing, nada, nowt!

It was the very early 1980s, she was around 47 and had been having heavy periods relating to fibroid issues and possible endometriosis. A hysterectomy was ruled the appropriate course of treatment for her. She was given little in the way of medical information and asked very few questions of her doctor. Her words to me: “I was stupid when it came to these things. I didn’t know anything and just did what I was told”.

So what post-surgical treatment did she receive then? Zero, zilch, zip!

“Nothing was available back then. We just got on with it”.

In fact, in this she is mistaken, not due to any fault of her own. HRT was actually available to women in the UK as far back as 1965.

So why was my gran not offered this treatment option? She doesn’t know, she just didn’t ask questions. Maybe she did ask and simply can’t recall. Either way, the answer will remain elusive.

Being a child who lived through the war years though, she doesn’t look back on that time with any amount of negativity or disruption. She genuinely seems to have just picked herself up and got back to carrying her 5 bags of Fine Fare shopping, two kids and a trike under each armpit.

I questioned her about the emotional and social effects it may have had on her. “We didn’t have time to dwell”, was her response. Floored by the fact she wasn’t floundering in rants and swear words, I urged her to think harder. “You must have been a raging, bile-spitting harpy. It’s physiological, biological, it’s farkin’ hormonal FFS….”.

She just smiled and shook her head.

Of course, it was a different time in many ways. I personally believe that she is quite right in saying that women just had to get on with things. They simply didn’t talk. Not to each other. Not to professionals. Often not to their partners.

The birth of the internet has brought both positives and negatives in this respect I feel: a topic for a future post, perhaps?

But was biology different? Did our hormones have the ability to just ‘get on with it’? Is it simply that our memories fade as we age, other harrowing life events take precedence and the possible misery and torment pale into insignificance? Or were women really made of stronger stuff back then? Physical work was more laborious, so did they genuinely not have time to dwell on matters? Was it a case of mind over matter? Did it work? Or were they struggling in painful silence?

What are your thoughts?

*(and naturally at the bottom of a builder’s brew – but tea frankly just ain’t as funny as gin, so for the purposes of this post, we’re talking gin. Though just to put it out there: I will never renounce my ‘amour fou’ for a good ol’ brew!).

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