Menopause: Nothing about the word screams “fun.” One Houston doctor, though, begs to differ.
Well—sort of. Dr. Barbie Taylor, known to fans and followers as “Menopause Taylor,” wants to at least make talking about menopause fun. Moreover, she wants to make it commonplace.
“Menopause is probably the most neglected area in medicine, and it’s probably the most neglected area in women’s lives,” the trained gynecologist says. “No one’s talking about it, and I think that’s a huge disservice to women.”
So, after retiring from her practice in 2001 and deciding she had “so much more to offer women,” Taylor set out to change that fact. The crux of her mission is simple: Make learning about menopause as entertaining, accessible, and unforgettable as possible for women (and men!) of all ages.
Though most women enter menopause at age 51, planning can and should begin decades earlier, Taylor says. Choices women make as early as in their teens will affect their reproductive health decades down the line.
“I always call it puberty in reverse—it’s the same stuff happening over again when you’re 51. It’s the very same process,” Taylor says. “It’s like puberty turns the light switch on, and menopause turns the light switch off.”
Yet typical preparation for menopause is paltry compared to that for puberty, the subject of countless after-school specials, grade school seminars, and the infamous blue-food-coloring-on-a-pad demos.
Even more medical advice, products, lectures, and tomes are devoted to another major reproductive event: pregnancy.
“We’re pregnant for nine months, and the planning that goes into that is exorbitant,” Taylor says. “We’re menopausal from one-third to one-half of our lives these days, and yet there is no planning. It’s sort of this denial … and then when it hits you over the head like a ton of bricks and your life turns upside down, you’re miserable.”
To combat that, Taylor has commandeered her own unique brand of menopause education. It’s not political, controversial, or product-pushing, she says, and no one else is doing it. Much of it occurs online, with her playful YouTube series netting many thousands of views. Taylor has heard from viewers as young as high-school aged who stumble across her videos—and usually show them to their mothers.
“The power that it gives you to know things early in your life is absolutely shocking,” Taylor says. “If you know in your teens what to expect in your future, you cannot believe how that changes your life.”
Part of that includes busting pervasive misconceptions—at the start of her two-day seminars, including one this weekend at Hotel Granduca, Taylor gives participants a 10-question multiple-choice quiz. The average score? One or two correct.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. You just don’t,” Taylor says. “That makes you realize how unprepared you are for all of this stuff.”
Taylor makes sure to “define everything,” including familiar terminology (like “total hysterectomy”) most people think they know. Often, Taylor finds their understandings actually rife with inaccuracies.
She also uses props, models, and even food to demonstrate more complex topics, harkening back to high school health class days. Admittedly, said health teachers glossed over Taylor’s topic of expertise.
That’s especially problematic given the health risks associated with that time in a woman’s life: One out of two women die from a heart attack after they’ve entered menopause, when previously protective estrogen levels have plummeted.
Talk of menopause is generally reduced to jokes about hot flashes when women should really be concerned with preventing (and recognizing) cardiac arrest, Taylor says. Instead, undue emphasis is often placed on other long-term diseases like breast cancer that, while still hazardous, statistically affect far fewer women.
“So much of what women know or what they think they know is based on fear or misconception,” Taylor says.
At the core of Taylor’s ideology: Women deserve more. Menopausal women are the fastest growing sector of society—if you’re not one, chances are you have at least one in your life.
“If men suddenly lost their testosterone, there would be an ATM—automatic testosterone machine—on every corner. It would be the biggest social concern, and it would be a great big priority in our society,” Taylor says. “Women handle menopause so complacently. I think we should have a little bit more desire to take control of our own health and learn what we need to do now so that we can make the rest of our lives the best of our lives.”