Clark University Sociology Professor Deborah Merrill’s new book, “Mastering Menopause: women’s voices on taking charge of the change” (Praeger, 2020), reveals that contrary to popularly held beliefs, some women find menopause to be a positive experience. Women interviewed who’d undergone “the change” said they considered new careers and leisure activities and engaged in worry-free sex; they also reported that mindfulness was an effective way to keep unpleasant menopausal symptoms at bay.
Professor Merrill conducted intensive interviews with women who had recently undergone the transition (or during varying stages of menopause). She examined menopause within a social context and focused on how women’s perceptions, thoughts, and practices influenced their experiences. Her book includes case studies of women from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds who shared their struggles with and approaches to managing symptoms, and the meaning they derived from their personal journey through “the change.”
“I was surprised to encounter women who thought positively about menopause,” said Professor Merrill, who noted that some women she interviewed said that their children were more self-sufficient, and they did not have to worry as much about money.
“They were considering new careers, leisure activities, and rearranging the priorities in their lives,” said Merrill. “Women also reported improvement in their sex lives as a result of menopause, in part because they were no longer taking birth control pills that had suppressed their libidos and because they were no longer afraid of pregnancy.”
Another common theme Professor Merrill found through her research was that women who practiced mindfulness found it reduced the negative symptoms of menopause and helped keep hot flashes and night sweats in check.
Unlike other books on the topic, “Mastering Menopause” includes tactics for managing the physical side effects of the transition and outlines holistic techniques designed to combat the mental and emotional symptoms.
Polly Young-Eisendrath, a psychologist from the University of Vermont Medical College and author of “Awakening and Insight: Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy,” wrote, “Dr. Merrill shows conclusively that practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness, when they are regularly used, permit women to work effectively with their limitations, suffering, and pain during this major life transition.”
“Mastering Menopause” aims to be accessible to both social scientists with an interest in the social constructions of illness and women currently going through the change themselves.
Professor Merrill has been on the Clark faculty since 1992; she has researched and written about relationships between parents and adult children as well as marriage, in-law relations and caretaking. Merrill is the author of several books, including “When Your Gay or Lesbian Child Marries: A Guide for Parents” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), “When Your Children Marry: How Marriage Changes Relationships with Adult Children” (2011), and “Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law: Understanding the Relationship and What Makes Them Friends or Foe” (Praeger, 2007).