10 Reasons to Celebrate Menopause

By , Cathy Cram, M.S.
Editor's Note: Cathy Cram, M.S., is the resident maternal fitness expert on our sister site, BabyFit.com. She writes a monthly series on menopause health and fitness.

My past menopause blogs have dealt with some of the less than pleasant changes that occur during and after menopause, so for this blog I want to cover some of the positive changes that come with this life change.   It's summertime, so it feels appropriate to lighten things up and look at things with a "glass half-full" attitude.
For most women, menopause not only results in freedom from monthly menstrual periods and birth control, but also coincides with major life changes.   Children are nearing adulthood or are already launched, and our relationships with spouse, partner and family begin to shift as the nurturing hormones wane.  
Your attitude about these changes can play a strong role in how well you navigate the rest of your life.   Shifting from being full-time mom to the parent of near adults can result in an identity crisis, but instead of spending precious time mourning this change, think instead of how much energy you'll now have to nurture your dreams.  After years of having your children's needs come first it can take time to adjust to having more time to yourself.  The quiet you may have dreamed about when in the thick of childrearing may feel disconcerting, but try to avoid filling the void too quickly.    Discomfort can be an effective catalyst for making positive life changes if you allow yourself time to sit with it, and think about what actions will provide long-term emotional sustenance.
For those of you who never had children (I'm in that group), menopause can cause you to mourn the loss of choice regarding parenthood.   On the other hand, you can close that door and open others that allow you to make your mark in the world and form meaningful, enriching relationships.   You have value and worth outside of reproduction, so don't let anyone make you feel less of a woman because you don't have children.  Think of the people in your life who had a positive influence on your development, such as aunts, teachers and mentors.   As the saying goes, "it takes a village" and your life experiences offer a perspective that can enrich  a child's life.
The years after menopause can be the most fulfilling of your life, as long as you continue to view yourself as a strong, vital person.   Maintaining a fitness routine will help immensely with your self-esteem, as will surrounding yourself with people who have a positive attitude.   If you don't have a strong circle of women friends, think about ways you can form new friendships or rekindle old ones.   The emotional and physical benefits of spending time with good friends becomes more important as you transition into midlife.
One consistent factor that researchers find when studying women and mental health is the power of female friendships.   I know in my life, my girlfriends have been a constant source of strength, laughter and comfort.   They've been with me through marriage, divorce, and a parade of dating debacles, always ready to shore me up when I'm down and gather the wagons during illness or other difficult times.   Within my group of friends, I know that I'll never lack for a simpatico ear to regale with my latest indignity of aging or mental acuity lapse.
I hope that as you head into the menopause years you'll strive to cultivate good friends, keep yourself fit and healthy and laugh every day.   In addition, if you have a bad day of hot flashes, read through this list--hopefully it'll help you keep it all in perspective!

Here is my countdown of the "Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Menopause."
10.  Your children are becoming young adults and able to feed and care for themselves (hopefully!), so you can start making the meals that appeal to you not your kids.

9. Your body no longer is on the roller coaster ride of a menstrual cycle, giving back those days each month you spent suffering from cramps and bloating.

8. You can take all the money that used to be spent on tampons, pads, pain relievers and birth control and put it towards a vacation.

7. Your brain shifts from caregiver to others to caretaking yourself.

6. You can rediscover your youthful dreams, hopes and desires or create new ones.

5. You can say no.  Not maybe, we'll see, or let me get back to you--just no.

4. You can say yes--to what you'd really like to do, not what others would like you to do.

3. You can become an athlete. It's never too late!  Go ahead and work toward your dream of running a half marathon, or train for that bike trip through Tuscany you've dreamed about.

2. You can keep learning. The brain responds with positive neural changes when used, so read, write, think and learn.

1. You can fly. Think of your life in terms of a butterfly; it's your turn to emerge from the chrysalis, spread your wings and fly!
There's more than just hopeful thinking behind this list, as current research supports the positive changes women can experience in their post-menopausal years.  There are many books on this topic, but my two favorites are:
  • "The Female Brain," by Louann Brizendine, M.D.
    This intriguing book is an interesting read on the brain changes that occur during the female lifecycle.   The section on menopausal brain/hormone changes illuminates the physiological reasons for the shift in how our brain functions after menopause.

Catherine Cram, M.S. is the author of Fit Pregnancy For Dummies, and the owner of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting, LLC. Catherine's company specializes in providing prenatal postpartum fitness information to health-care professionals.

Are you celebrating menopause? How so?