We can also see an example of this in nature. Killer whales (orcas), short-finned pilot whales, belugas, and narwhals are the only animals besides humans who go through menopause. Other animals who have periods continue to be fertile throughout their entire lives, but female whales live long after they stop menstruating. During this final chapter, they become leaders of their pods or “repositories of ecological knowledge” according to a 2015 study on post-menopausal whales.
Celebrating Menopause Today
Menopause officially occurs after 12 months without a menstrual period, and it happens to women typically between the ages of 45 and 55 (though 51 is the average age).
While it’s often thought of as an end rather than a beginning, a shift in thinking and understanding can help us reframe menopause not as something to dread, but as a gateway into the most empowering phase of life.
“The exciting part about menopause is that, before the age of 40, women have very high estrogen and progesterone levels and those hormones wire you to mother,” says Dr. Gabrielle Francis, a naturopathic doctor known as The Herban Alchemist and advisor to Veracity. “Those hormones wire you to give, give, give. They flood you with this inability to see your own needs because you're wired to take care of everybody else. Even if you don't have kids, women under the age of 40 are very focused on caring for other people, worrying about other people, or needing to be needed.”
During menopause, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormones (LH) rise. Dr. Francis calls these the “queen hormones” because they wire women to get in touch with their spirituality and their creativity. “She starts to think about her own needs first for the first time. [She may get] very creative, very spiritual, very intuitive.”
Dr. Francis says women will often experience a shift in their relationships at this point, especially with family. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I love all you people, but you can do this yourself now. I'm gonna go take a belly dancing class.’ And everybody's like, ‘What happened to mom?’”
But this shift to prioritizing our own needs is essential for women, and it allows us to thrive – if we’re willing to embrace these new feelings.
Preparation Is Key to a Smooth Transition into the Goddess Phase
During menopause, the ovaries, which produce as much as 80% of a woman’s estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone essentially close up shop and stop producing hormones associated with ovulation and menstruation. The remaining 20% of these hormones are produced by the adrenals, and that continues post-menopause.
“One of the most important things that I tell women as they're moving into perimenopause is that, when the engine shuts down, you want to make sure the backup generators are going to kick in,” Dr. Francis says, speaking of the adrenals as the backup. “A lot of people are going through their perimenopause time and their backup generators are depleted — that's when they start to have all these menopause symptoms that are really uncomfortable. That's not normal – it's common, but it's not normal. It's a sign that there's imbalance.”
Perimenopause is the time before menopause officially begins; it may last several years or just a few months, and it's categorized by irregular periods and sometimes hot flashes and other symptoms. This can be a tricky time; women may feel like they have feet in two camps. “One day she's wired like a queen and some days she's wired like the mother, and she'll often feel like she's kind of two different people in one,” Dr. Francis says. “It's a time where I see a lot of people going through frustrations because they don't understand that the changes in their hormones are affecting how they see themselves emotionally and spiritually.”
In addition to lifestyle tweaks like meditation, healthful eating, exercise, and prioritizing sleep, Dr. Francis says it’s important for women to have “a partner in health” in the time leading up to and through menopause — a doctor or health professional who can test for hormonal changes and help her navigate through them. “It's very rare that a woman in our culture who's going, going, going, never recharging, always giving, always working and taking care of other people isn’t depleted. [She will likely] need some kind of additional hormonal supplemental support to help this be an easy transition,” she says.