Catherine O'Keeffe aka The Wellness Warrior is a Perimenopause Coach who is on a mission to empower women at menopause transition.
When it comes to women's health, there are many misconceptions and biases that persist from years gone by. From childbirth stories to how some women are treated in hospitals around the world, great strides are being taken to unlearn much of the misinformation out there about women and their health.
One area that remains shrouded in confusion is the menopause, with many women still uncomfortable talking about it. This, of course, means that younger women who will have to go through it eventually, do so somewhat blind and perhaps more nervous than they should be.
Catherine O'Keefe wants to break that taboo.
As a perimenopause coach and founder of the Wellness Warrior, Catherine educates women about "the change", guiding them through symptoms, and what to expect.
She spoke to RTÉ Lifestyle about how she wants to empower women in the menopause and why much of the work must be done in changing Ireland's approach to it.
Why do you feel people need to discuss the menopause more?
Growing up, my mum never discussed Menopause, it was an unspoken chapter laden down with heaviness and taboo, doubtless all the more difficult for her.
Menopause is inevitable in a women’s life, every woman goes through it, it is a natural transition from one life stage to the next. As we are living longer, menopause is at the midpoint, and there’s a whole second half to be lived beyond.
Many women have a very tough time. The list of symptoms that can accompany hormonal change is astonishing - from anxiety to osteoporosis to sexual and relationship problems, mood swings to migraines. We need to deal with this - it affects the health and mental wellbeing of women, of their families, their communities and workplaces.
Then there are women who experience menopause unexpectedly and early: cancer-induced menopause or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency – there is little to no support or discussion beyond their diagnosis.
Where does Ireland need to do better?
If we look to Japan, menopause is known as Konenki or "period of renewal". In China, it is similarly known as a "second spring". Women in these cultures report lower levels of disruption during menopause, and while there may be many reasons, including a diet high in soya, the positive societal approach could well be a supporting factor.
Where do we start?
Include menopause in secondary schools sex education, for a start. Normalise it. When the time comes our children will vaguely remember that page in the biology book that referred to menopause. We share with our children as we go through this journey, sons will understand it for later life and daughters will be empowered with knowledge.
We look to our health service to support women through this – and ensure they have all the information on their available choices, from traditional and newer forms of hormone therapy to natural approaches and lifestyle management.
Right now, talking is key. Every conversation is a stepping stone to change. I have been doing talks all around Ireland and the response is just amazing when you get a group of women together – the atmosphere is one of empowerment and relief when women understand they are not alone but are supported by each other and valued.
Our more progressive GPs are becoming more tuned in to the nuances of menopause symptoms. Workplaces too, are beginning to put measures place, to accommodate menopause as they do maternity.
What have you found in your research that can help women going through the menopause?
Knowledge is power – hormones can be a confusing territory. Proper honest outlines of the pros and cons of the choices on offer is vital, and I can’t stress enough the importance of tuning into our bodies in our 40s - adopting healthy choices in our movement, nutrition, self-care, to avoid burnout and protect our bone density, our pelvic and sexual health, our mental health and vitality.
Whether a woman opts for HRT or a natural approach, these healthy lifestyle choices are non-negotiable past 45.