Karen Giblin Talks Taboos, Taking Control, and Facing Menopause without Fear
Introduce yourself and your work to us.
I’m Karen Giblin, the founder and president of Red Hot Mamas. In 1991, I had a hysterectomy with the removal of my ovaries (oophorectomy). At that time, I was serving my third term in public office as Selectman, in the town of Ridgefield, CT.
I faced incredible obstacles at menopause, but I never gave up. After my surgery, I returned to work with very problematic menopausal symptoms—hot flashes, sleepless nights due to night sweats—and I was irritable, fatigued, and experiencing memory loss, probably due to lack of sleep. I felt as if I were lost in the Bermuda Triangle trying to find solutions to slay those menopausal symptoms!
I quickly realized that I was not alone due to the fact that many women in my community heard about my surgery and they began calling me. First, they asked me how I felt, then they began openly confiding in me that they, too, needed information about menopause.
They were on the same quest as I was seeking the information as to what to expect when menopause arrives and how to best manage its course. It was through the insights of these women that I was able to create the Red Hot Mamas Menopause Education Program.
I wanted to show some leadership to help those women, as well as to help myself. I knew at that time a new direction needed to be taken in women’s healthcare to address the needs of women approaching menopause and through their postmenopausal years.
So, in 1991, I went to our local District Nursing Association and told them I wanted to develop a menopause education and support program. They allowed me to develop the first Red Hot Mamas Menopause Education Program and host it at their facility. I chose the name Red Hot Mamas, as my young daughter used to call me a “red hot mama” when she saw me having hot flashes. I thought the name was apropos, so I used it when forming my education and support program.
The legacy I want to leave is that I created reform in the way menopausal health information and support is delivered. Since its creation, Red Hot Mamas has helped thousands of women to have a better understanding of menopause to optimize their health through the menopause transition.
I am a longstanding member of the North American Menopause Society and the International Menopause Society. I’ve co-authored two books on menopause: Eat to Defeat Menopause and Manual of Management Counseling for the Premenopausal and Menopausal Patient. I’ve been a national speaker on women’s health issues. Articles about my experience have appeared in Fortune, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Living Fit, Reader’s Digest, Time, and Harper’s Bazaar magazines. I’ve appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, The Today Show, and many local news stations in the US.
What is Red Hot Mamas?
Red Hot Mamas is the nation’s largest menopause education and support program. Our programs have been offered free to women in over 250 hospitals and physician group practices in the US. The program’s mission is to broaden the base of women’s knowledge about menopause and empower them to become educated healthcare consumers and active participants in the management of their menopause.
The programs provide valuable menopause-related health information and support to women before, during, and after their menopausal years. Our turnkey education and support programs are conducted monthly and are free to women and their families. Our topics cover all aspects of midlife women’s health, e.g.: menopausal terminology, premature menopause, perimenopause, natural menopause, medical/surgical menopause, menopausal changes and symptoms, strategies to abate symptoms, treatments.
We also address other midlife changes: mood swings, depression, anxiety; vaginal and urogenital changes; memory and cognition; sleep; weight; sexual activity; bone health; skin, hair, and oral health; and others. We also provide information to women and encourage them to make positive changes to their lifestyle habits through eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing stress, getting enough sleep. And, we stress the importance for women to have a positive attitude and learn to enjoy the twinkles in their wrinkles.
Why is shedding light on menopause important to you?
Shedding light on menopause is very important to me because even though menopause is a natural life transition, very few women are prepared for it. And there is no doubt that for some women, the menopause transition can be a very mysterious and intimidating event. Red Hot Mamas helps to promote a better understanding of menopause and the health issues women sometimes experience during this time of their lives. It’s important for women to have accurate, up-to-date information so they can make informed decisions about their health at menopause and beyond.
Women also need to formulate an individual action plan with their clinician. This will help them to deal with the changes they experience, and hopefully, they will develop a proactive prevention program for the second half of their lives.
Women need reliable resources to guide them through menopause. They need to understand the physical and emotional changes that they may be experiencing at menopause. They need their questions answered and lots of information to help them make wisely the decisions that will ultimately affect the rest of their lives.
In what ways do you think ageism and/or sexism play a role in the way that we talk about menopause culturally?
I remember asking my mother about her menopause. She did not hesitate when telling me that it was pretty rough. She said that she had a hard time accepting because she suddenly began to feel old. A lot of this was due to her lack of understanding about menopause. My mother also did not have anyone to talk about it with her, because at this time, menopause was a taboo subject that wasn’t openly discussed.
Feeling “old” led women to become entrenched in the negative stereotypes about menopause. That, coupled with the pressures of eternal youth and beauty, made menopause a very stressful event and it devalued women. It certainly conjured up images in women’s heads that menopause would be a point of no return—they’d feel old, exhausted, and lack vitality. This perspective, I consider to be ageism, and suggests a negative image of menopausal women and older people.
We’ve come a long way since my mother’s experience. Today women are redefining menopause. They respect aging and view menopause as a natural part of life. They’re also not afraid to openly talk about menopause.
After establishing Red Hot Mamas over 25 years ago, I’ve spoken to thousands of women. These women told me that they weren’t surprised when menopause happened. In fact, many of them said, “Menopause is no big deal. I want to just get on with it, and I cannot wait until it’s over.” They don’t view menopause as a sign of decline, and they do not feel like they are old! They view menopause in its proper perspective and are keeping a healthy attitude about it.
The menopause transition has inspired many women to pay attention to their health. Most women are determined to remain active and vital, and they clearly understand that they have the privilege of living much longer beyond the age of menopause. They want to also take control of their destinies and live long and wonderful lives.
While some women have an easy time with menopausal symptoms, other women say their symptoms may be very disruptive to their lives. Fortunately, there are an array of products available to alleviate these symptoms.
It’s important to find a healthcare provider (HCP) that is knowledgeable about menopause. Women should feel comfortable with this HCP about discussing all their menopausal concerns. They should be sure to visit their HCPs on a regular basis and weigh the pros and cons of their advice about all menopausal treatment options.
Do any specific interactions/moments through Red Hot Mamas stick out to you as particularly impactful or perspective-changing?
Some memorable women attending our Red Hot Mamas programs that resonate in my mind and others who have written to me through our website:
- A menopausal woman who had tears in her eyes seeking help because she had significant hot flashes that were affecting her quality of life. She also had hair loss and was devastated by the hair loss and did not know what to do.
- Another memorable woman was a woman who spoke that she had so many mood swings that her husband knew when not to speak to her.
- Another women claimed she simply flat-lined sex because she completely lost her libido. The thrill of sex had disappeared.
- A woman who had surgical menopause who was struggling at work because she was not thinking as sharply as she had been before having surgery. She was worried about losing her job.
- Another woman that every time she laughed she leaked urine. She was too embarrassed to bring this up to her doctor.
- Another woman had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Her sleep was disturbed by night sweats. She then had problems going back to sleep after awakening.
What advice do you have for women in perimenopause/menopause right now?
I would like women to shift their outlook about menopause and discard those old myths that surrounded it in the past. Try to keep menopause in its proper perspective. It actually can be an exciting and liberating turning point in their lives.
The best advice I can give for those going through menopause is to know your body; be able to identify the changes which might occur; and become educated about what you can do to help yourself. And, certainly, be knowledgeable about what’s available to treat menacing menopausal symptoms.
It’s also important to pay attention to your health at menopause. Good nutrition and exercising regularly are vitally important. Try to maintain a healthy weight; get enough sleep; reduce your stress levels; don’t smoke; have regular health checkups and stay current on all your health screenings and vaccinations.
And, gain as much information about your health as possible. Knowledge is power. The more women know about menopause, the better they are able to communicate with their clinicians and make their own healthcare choices to minimize the effects of menopause.
I also suggest that women have peer-to-peer support. That is essential. Talk to other women and recognize you are not alone. Appreciate who you are. You have spent a lot of time establishing your identity. Appreciate all the wisdom you have learned. You can be happier and have more opportunities to pursue new interests, establish new friendships with women who will support you.
Lastly, Margaret Meade claimed we can “develop postmenopausal zest.” So keep a positive attitude, educate yourself, be able to articulate your needs with your clinician, develop a healthy lifestyle, and keep those twinkles in your wrinkles.