Premature menopause: multiple disruptions between the woman's biological body experience and her lived body
Aim of the study. The aim of this phenomenological study was to find out what menopause was like as an experience for women who were not yet 40 years old.
Background. Women's bodies have naturally occurring rhythms and expected transitions related to their menstrual cycle. One transition that all women will experience, provided they live long enough, is menopause. Menopause involves hormonal changes that result, on average (for Australian women), in the cessation of menstruation around 51 years of age. When women experience menopause prior to the age of 40 years it is defined (medically) as premature. While there is abundant literature on menopause as a biological event, the experience of premature menopause has been paid little attention and dismissed as a `mystery'. This study intended to uncover some of the so-called `mystery' of the experience from the perspective of the women.
Research methods. Hermeneutic phenomenology and feminist philosophy informed this study involving 35 women, all of whom volunteered to participate. They responded to newspaper articles, a radio announcement and through a midlife and menopause support centre. Thirty women engaged in separate face-to-face conversational style interviews. The remaining five women participated in a collaborative interview after some themes were identified through preliminary analysis of the transcripts of the one-on-one interviews. With the consent of participants, all interviews were audio-taped and later transcribed.
Findings. This study revealed that the experience of menopause came as a shock for the women – it was perceived as a major epiphany in their lives and they were confronted with a multitude of issues related to the timing of the event and their embodied understanding of menopause. The experience of menopause resulted in multiple disruptions in the women's lives. The women discussed many aspects of their lives that now seemed to be `out of synchrony'.