My New Charla

Last year, I blogged about my charla at the Mesa Final during the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair, and I received a surprising amount of feedback from people who found the transcript of my little presentation to be both educational and entertaining.

This year, a pharmacist and my husband took over the charla about antibiotics and super bacteria.  Luckily there was another topic just waiting for its charla debut at the fair:  let me introduce you to my new charla....Menopause!

OK, gentlemen, before you decide not to read this blog post, you should know that there were plenty of men of all ages who very much enjoyed this charla.  So, stick with me here and maybe you will learn a little something and be slightly entertained.

I prepped my little charla space at each of our sites with the following:  a few pink hearts taped up on the wall or hanging from the canopy (because February is the month of amistad y amor), my big pink bag with art supplies for the craft (yes, menopause included a craft), a few paper plates with inspirational quotes (either taped on the bag or whatever surface was handy), and a paper plate sign in plain view which had the title of my charla, "Menopause - My New Normal."

The fair was set up with about 25 stations, and people could go from one charla to the next in any order they wished.  As soon as a little group of 4 to 6 women gathered, I would start the charla.  Women would read the quotes while they waited:

"To complete years is obligatory, to make yourself a little old lady is optional."
"The beautiful young women are accidents of nature, but the beautiful old women are works of art."
"A 20 year old woman can be attractive; a 30 year old - seductive; but only after 40 years can one be irresistible."
"I'm me.  I'm a daughter.  I'm a mom.  I'm a grandma.  I'm a sister.  I'm a daughter of God."

Hello, welcome to my charla, "Menopause - My New Normal."  My name is Linda and I am a volunteer with the Lutheran Church.  Maybe some of you are already having some symptoms of menopause, and maybe some of you have already passed through this stage of life.  And some of you are very young (because there were usually quite a mixture of ladies at my charla), but it's good for you to know this stuff because some day you will have these experiences.  No woman can avoid them.  (Addressing the young ones): Be sure you all go to the menstruation charla over there because it is a really good one.  (Embarrassed looks follow.)

Surprisingly, most of the women knew very little about menopause.  A few were eager to ask questions right away about what age, how long, what symptoms...  

Menopause is a normal change in the body of every woman.  For some it happens in their forties, and some in their fifties.  Each woman is different. The changes come when the level of estrogen decreases in our bodies.  At first we may have changes in our periods, and those can be difficult.  We say menopause begins twelve months after our last menstruation.  Some women have lots of symptoms.  Some women have a few.  It's important for me to know what is normal for me, and for you to know what is normal for you.

One of the symptoms of menopause which I really struggle with is hot sweats (in English, we say hot flashes, but in Spanish, it is hot sweats.  At this point lots of the ladies nod their heads.).  For me, I always get a hot sweat when I am singing.  I don't know why, but I do.  That is normal for me.  Does anyone else get hot sweats at certain times?  At night?  Yes, and does it keep you from getting a good night sleep?  And after being sweaty, do any of you get really cold?  Yes, this is very normal.  

I should tell you a story about my husband.  One day we were at our sister church and I was on one side of the church and my husband was a little distance away talking to our friend.  She told my husband that at night she has a big fever.  It is so bad that her nightclothes get soaking wet.  Then she has chills and she can not get warm.  She says she isn't sick in the day and the doctor says its nothing.  She was very worried.  From across the room I hear my husband say, "Oh, my wife has that all the time.  It's part of menopause and it is really normal.  Nothing to worry about."  Imagine that, my husband was giving our friend a little charla about menopause!  So, hombres, it is good that you are here learning about what is happening to your beloved spouses.

(Next I hand out a half paper plate to each participant.  This is a good way to entertain the children who are at the charla with their moms and grandmas, but it is also a good way to break the ice with the women.)  If you like, you can each make a little craft while we talk about menopause.  Can you guess what it is?  (I grasp the straight side of my half-plate and fan myself with the circle part.)  Yes, it's your personal fan. (The ladies giggle.)  This is something very practical that you can slip into your purse so you are always ready when you have a hot sweat.  You can use these markers and decorate your fan however you like, I know you are all very creative.  I made a big flower on mine, but you can make trees, mountains, houses, whatever you like.  No, don't worry if you are not artistic.  You will make something beautiful for yourself, in your style.  

Let's talk about everyone's favorite topic:  the vagina.  (Depending on the group, I sometimes sent the children off to the side - but mostly the women wanted their little ones to listen.)  With the changes of menopause most women experience dryness in their vagina.  No, it is not fun to have a dry vagina, and it can make sexual relations uncomfortable.  It isn't easy to talk with our partners about these things, but they love us and want to know what is happening.  What are some things we can do to help with this symptom?  Drink water.  We really need lots of water in our bodies.  What else?  There are some foods that have vitamin E in them, and they can help make our skin beautiful and our vaginas more spongey.  Avocado and papaya are really full of vitamin E.  You eat avocado every day?  I thought so, because look how young and beautiful you are!  (Yes, these are actual quotes from my charla.)  

Sometimes the clinic might give you a cream with estrogen in it.  You can see that word estrogen on the label.  If you are very dry it is OK to use a cream like this, but if you have any troubles with breast cancer or other female cancers, this cream is not a good idea.  It is very important that you have your mammograms and your pelvic exams so that you stay healthy, and that you share everything with your doctor. 

Many women like to use a lubricant during relations to be more comfortable. (Eyes widened.) Yes, it is really OK to use a lubricant.  Use one with a water base.  And protect yourself - have you been to the STI/HIV charla?  A lubricant will make relations much more comfortable.  They have it at the pharmacy - even at some Supers.  One woman asked, "I don't have a partner or relations, but can I just use the lubricant myself to feel more comfortable?"  (The women waited for an answer.)  Oh yes, sister, yes you can!  (I give a lot of credit to the women who were brave enough during this charla to ask questions like this.)

After the vagina, I moved onto another favorite topic...

Let's talk about the bladder.  Well, during menopause things get dry inside and this affects the bladder.  It is really important to keep our bodies spongey by drinking plenty of water.  I know we don't like to drink water because then we have to pee more often.  But really, our bladder will work better if we drink plenty of water.  Maybe we all have a little trouble with drips of urine leaking out, like when we sneeze or we laugh a lot.  (All the older women and pregnant women nod.)  Nobody talks about this, but really, many many women have this problem.  It is important that we talk with each other so we know we are not alone with these symptoms.

With the bladder, one thing we need to do is think about using the bathroom.  The last thing we should do before leaving the house is:  use the bathroom.  And the first thing we can do when we arrive in a place after a long bus ride is:  find the bathroom and use it.  When I got here today the first thing I did was find the bathroom.  I didn't feel like I had to go, but I did not want to find myself here in front of you, giving my charla, and doing the little dance (they all cracked up at my little dance), and then run to the bathroom and have an emergency with my pants a little wet. (The women all look at each other and nod.)  No, it is better to plan and use the bathroom regularly to prevent an emergency.  And it's OK if you are going on the bus or out for a long time to put a little towel or pad in your bloomers.

One goal of this charla is to help women realize that many women struggle with these common symptoms and that it is helpful for us as women to talk with each other about the changes we experience in our bodies.

Did you know there is an exercise you can do to help your muscles inside so that you can control the exiting of your urine?  Yes.  The next time you go to the bathroom, start to pee, then stop, then start and then stop - those are the muscles.  You can do the exercise right now in your seat.  OK, everybody squeeze and relax, inside of yourself.  Can you feel that?  No one knows that you are doing this.  It is your private exercise.  When you are riding along in the bus, you can do it 1-2-3-4-5... maybe 10 times and you can think to yourself, "Ha, I am doing my personal exercise and nobody knows it."

The ladies were crazy for the Kegel exercises.  Depending on time and interest we also covered change in humor and difficulty with sleep.  If there were children in the group, I asked them how they could be helpful to their moms or teachers who might have some symptoms.  The kids were cute - with answers like "bring a cup of water" or "bring a chair so my mom can rest."  We talked about heart palpitations and the signs of a heart attack.  I tried to answer their questions.

Many thanks for coming to my charla.  I hope you learned a little something.  If you have any questions about your body, be sure to talk with your doctor or with any of the health workers here.  What beautiful fans!  

Actual quotes following the charla:
"My husband is very attentive.  He doesn't pressure me if I don't feel well."

From a husband who attended the charla:  "We should really know these things too."

"Now I can go home and tell my husband.  Before I did not have the information I needed to explain it to him."

Actual funny story:
A group of teen boys sat down in front of my table.  They noticed the paper plates and markers and thought my charla looked like fun.  In addition, participants were encouraged to attend ALL the charlas, so the boys were being responsible in complying with that directive.  I said, "My name is Linda.  Welcome to my charla.  Do you know what this charla is about?"

"No, no," they said.

"Look around," I said.  "Do you see a sign with the title?"

The boys noticed the paper plate with "Menopause:  My New Normal" written on it.  "Aaaaack," they scream and all but one take off like they had seen a ghost.  The ladies at the nearby Breast Health charla had a good laugh.


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