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Andrea McClean is championing an open and honest discussion on the menopause.
As an ambassador for Holland & Barrett’s Me.No.Pause campaign, which aims to redefine how menopausal women are perceived, Andrea hopes to encourage frank conversation – with no embarrassing detail spared.
“50 per cent of the population are going to go through it – so why are we so afraid to talk about it?” She asked during a Me.No.Pause panel discussion. Me.No.Pause is a campaign aimed to show the reality of the menopause for millions of women across the country.*
In September 2016, TV presenter Andrea McLean underwent a hysterectomy following a long battle with endometriosis, and the procedure brought on early menopause. Andrea was in no way prepared for the rush of symptoms that followed, which she initially found particularly difficult to navigate while having to appear on screen every day.
“I used to used to flash on the telly, and I’d sweat so much I had to wear sanitary pads under my armpits,” she confessed.
“When I first told people this, they were horrified. But I don’t care.
“I interviewed my ultimate teenage crush, Jon Bon Jovi, with the pads under my armpits. At the time I was divorced and thought, well, ‘maybe…’ But then the heavy sweats came – but not for Jon Bon Jovi!”
In her book Confessions of a Menopausal Woman Andrea discusses how the menopause has changed her sex life with husband, Nick Feeney.
In an extract taken from her tome, Andrea says, ‘When I went back to work after my hysterectomy and talked about it on Loose Women, the papers picked up on the story and “Woman Has Menopause” seemed to be, if you’ll excuse the pun, pretty hot news..
‘I didn’t set out to become the poster girl for all this. It happened by default because I realised that there wasn’t any point pretending that I hadn’t had a hysterectomy or wasn’t going through the menopause, and I could see by the response I was getting how much of a relief it was to other women that someone was talking about the subject.
‘I faced up to the fact that a big part of me was afraid to talk about what I was going through for the same reason other women in the public eye now confide in me: they don’t want to be seen as ‘old’.
‘Originally, I wasn’t going to speak about it publicly because I didn’t want to be seen as old either. I still don’t! But I realised that this isn’t about age – the menopause can happen as early as your thirties and if you’re old then, what hope do any of us have?
‘Talking about “stuff” is what women do best. We share and offload, we laugh and we bond over the ridiculous and incredible things our bodies go through, and hearing other people’s experiences is what makes our own so much more bearable. So here goes…
The ‘S’ word
‘Whatever your experience of sex has been throughout your life − good, bad or indifferent − the menopause is one of those times when it most definitely changes. If, like me, you’ve had children, then it’s right up there with post-baby sex − you either get right back in the saddle, or you grit your teeth and bear it while internally raging that this is yet another thing you have to do.
‘I think how we feel comes down to two factors – body and mind – and the two are inextricably linked. Our body changes during the menopause; that goes without saying. It just doesn’t seem to work the way it used to.
T’he parts of us that were normally dry are now soaked (think upper lip, back of neck), and the parts we relied on to get wet are now bone dry (you know where I mean).
‘It leaves us feeling rubbish about ourselves, which of course starts to play havoc with our minds. How are we supposed to feel sexy when our bodies are falling apart, we have no energy, our libidos have dropped through the door, and everything our partners say and do makes us want to punch them on the nose?
In my experience
‘What I’ve discovered about the menopause is that it’s all about trial and error. What works for one woman might not work for another – and one thing is for sure, there’s no “quick fix” to make it all go away. The key, however, is to do something to improve the situation.
‘Women often ask me what kind of HRT I’m on. I’ve been prescribed four different therapies – oestrogen gel, which I rub on my skin daily; testosterone gel, which I apply once a week; oral progesterone tablets, which I take every night; and an oestrogen pessary, which I insert twice a week – and each serves a different purpose.
‘The oestrogen gel helps with many things, including low mood, while the testosterone gel improves energy levels, the development of lean muscle mass and importantly, sex drive. That leads me to the oestrogen pessary, which alleviates vaginal dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls, both of which can make sex not merely uncomfortable but downright agony. How can you relax and enjoy sex when you know it’s going to hurt? I say this from first-hand experience.
Getting back to it
‘It was around four weeks after my hysterectomy that I felt ready to try the one thing I’d been told to stay clear of: sex. Just the thought of letting Nick anywhere near that region was enough to make me cross my legs, but a month was a long time for us not to be intimate, and I missed the closeness of it.
‘It was me who initiated it, one night as we got into bed. We were both as nervous as first-time teenagers. Would it hurt? Would I bleed? As he took his lead from me, it was impossible not to squeeze my eyes shut and grimace. It was only when I tried to open my eyes again that I remembered I’d taken one of my strong sleeping tablets before getting into bed. I was getting sleepy and even though my mind was willing, my body wasn’t on the same page at all. I quietly asked Nick to stop.
‘A week later, we tried again. This time, we had some wine to help us relax, and tried to take things more slowly. Like a born-again virgin, my first time post-hysterectomy wasn’t like something you see in the movies (especially not 50 Shades of Grey!); it involved fumbling, wincing, grimacing, and trying to relax enough to actually enjoy it. It took a lot of patience, but we got there… eventually.
‘I have to admit that for a long while afterwards, cystitis and urine infections became the norm. For days after having sex I’d feel a dull ache as if I’d been kicked from the inside. I kept cystitis powders in the bathroom, and started taking cranberry tablets in an attempt to calm things down.
‘Why, you might ask, did I carry on? Well, because sex to me is more than just the act of intercourse itself; it’s about closeness and love, isn’t it? Not having sex, or putting it off all the time because of possible pain, meant I didn’t feel like Nick and I were as close as we were before. And I missed it.
What I’ve learnt
‘Things have never got back to how they were before, in the way that sex after having a baby is never quite as it used to be either. You simply can’t think of your body in the same way; it doesn’t feel exactly the same and, for most of us, it certainly doesn’t look the same.
‘While the urine infections and pain aren’t as frequent now, they still feature. But if I can give you one piece of advice? Talk about the state of your sex life; don’t just put up with problems. Sex is supposed to be something that makes us feel good and it has the potential to be one of the most emotionally connecting experiences you can share.
‘If it hurts, say something. If you can’t find a way to work around it without it still hurting? See your doctor. It’s time we all started being honest about it.’
Extract taken from Confessions of a Menopausal Woman by Andrea McLean (Bantam Press), out now.
* The campaign, running with the headline ‘Me.No.Pause’ focuses on one of the most difficult aspects women face during the menopause: the loss of femininity, identity and self. The campaign shows women asserting their identity and purpose despite the challenges of menopause, however tough it can be; with Holland & Barrett standing right beside them