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Stortford women to launch Menopause Cafe at Eat 17

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Suzie Thorpe, left, and Sharon Neary
Suzie Thorpe, left, and Sharon Neary

Bishops Stortford mum Sharon Neary has decided it is time for change and is launching a Menopause Caf in the town to confront a taboo for many women.

I have learned to listen to my body, to stop for a minute and take a breath, and stop rushing around trying to do 100 things at once
Sharon Neary, Bishops Stortford Menopause Cafe co-founder

The 56-year-old support worker at Manor Fields Primary School is working on the project with pal Suzie Thorpe. They plan to hold a first evening meeting for members at Eat 17 in Potter Street on Thursday, September 13.

Sharon, who lives in Gilbey Avenue with husband John, 55, is drawing on her own experiences as she sets up the discussion group.

She started her menopause around three years ago and said: “It’s a bit of a taboo subject – many women don’t talk about it and they can feel isolated.”

The Menopause Café – now a charity spreading nationwide and worldwide – was originally set up in Perth, Scotland by Rachel Weiss. She was inspired by Kirsty Wark’s BBC programme Menopause and Me and the Death Cafe model she had already been part of.


n The definition of menopause is when a woman stops menstruating – or having periods – and is no longer able to conceive naturally.

n The most common age is between 45 and 55, as oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age is 51.

n Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before 40, known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.

n Symptoms of the menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, depression or anxiety, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration and reduced libido.

n Menopausal symptoms can begin before periods stop and last around four years after last menstruation.

n Treatment includes hormone replacement therapy (HRT), oestrogen creams, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), regular exercise, a healthy diet and more specialist therapies.

Around 30 people attended their first meeting in June 2017. By January this year, the movement had spread to England and Canada, and this summer Kirsty became its patron.

The concept is simple: a discussion group, rather than a support or counselling session, to talk about menopause with “no agenda, objectives or themes”.

The not-for-profit project also promises “an accessible, respectful and confidential space” and pledges “no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action”.

When Sharon began to suffer hot flushes, she went to her doctor and a blood test confirmed ‘the change’ was under way.

She confessed to feeling “maybe a little bit emotional” and tried to explain to her husband and children what was happening.

Daughters Taelor, 26, a product developer for the Karen Millen fashion brand, and Daryl, who has just graduated from Bournemouth University with a degree in psychology, began investigating online with brother Niall, now studying economics at Nottingham Trent University and about to start his second year. They found advice, including a video, which the family watched together to find out “what Mum is going through”.

Their efforts helped John, her husband of 27 years, understand the emotional and physical challenges Sharon faced.

She decied not to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) as her oestrogen levels diminished and admitted: “It’s been a rollercoaster for the last couple of years.”

But she has learned to deal with the effects: “As I was going through it – and I still am – I’ve learned to cope with it better.

“I have strategies. I have learned to listen to my body, to stop for a minute and take a breath, and stop rushing around trying to do 100 things at once.”

She admitted it was hard in a world where women try to carry on as normal, regarding any concession to the condition as a sign of weakness in the workplace.

Talking to her peer group has helped break down barriers and reassured her that she is not alone – although the menopause can feel very isolating. She said: “Talking to other women has made me realise that I need to do something.”

The result is the café and Sharon said: “Some people feel like they’re going mad, wondering ‘What’s happening to my body? What’s happening to my mind? What’s happening to me?’ And some people feel like it’s all quite normal. But just coming along to have a chat can help.”

Menopause Cafés are open to all ages and genders with an interest in the subject, but Sharon and Suzie’s focus will be on women initially. Their hope is that new members will gather at Eat 17 from 8pm and chat until around 9.30pm. There is no charge, but drinks and any food must be paid for.

After the first meeting, the group will meet on the first Thursday of each month. Sharon said: “It will not be me giving advice on what to do – it’s a talking forum to talk to other women going through the same things and to just know that you’re not on your own.”

However, at the end of the café sessions, she hopes to invite therapists, nutritionists and exercise experts to talk and offer advice if members wished – but this is an optional extra.

* For more details or to register your interest, email sharonneary51@hotmail.com

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