A Bloody History of Menopause – The Happy Menopause Podcast
On World Menopause day it seems very fitting to look at the menopause from a historical angle and link it to women’s experience today. It hasn’t been an easy ride for middle-aged women over the centuries. We’ve proven to be quite a mystery to the medical community, which has led to some unusual, hilarious and often very distressing assumptions about what’s going on with the female body.
To help us unravel all this, I’m joined by oral historian Dr Helen Foster of the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester. As well as being an expert around menopausal themes throughout history, she’s also developed the Silent Archive, working with a group of volunteers to record women’s stories of menopause through interviews, personal audio diaries and conversations. I first heard her give a talk about The Bloody History of menopause last year at The Old Operating Theatre Museum in London and I was fascinated so I just had to snap her up for the podcast!
Helen takes us through the history of menopause, explaining the confusion and superstition about menstrual blood that built up over the centuries – did you know that we could turn milk sour and cause all manner of other domestic upheaval during our period?
We talk about vilification of post-menopausal women who didn’t fit into the norm, which led to many of th witchcraft trials in the 16th century and being shut up in asylums in later centuries. She also explains the utterly bizarre medical theory of the “wandering womb” which could apparently cause a whole host of mental and physical health issues!
Find out more about Helen’s work at The Silent Archive
Check out the Wellcome Collection series on A Bloody History of Menopause
Helen Foster is a writer, researcher, writing for wellbeing facilitator and oral historian.
She spent the first half of her career in the heritage sector, as a learning and interpretation specialist in historic houses and archives, working for organisations including the National Trust for Scotland and Heritage Environment Scotland. This is where she recognised the power of oral history as a way for people to share their stories, often excluded from the history books, and offer a human insight into lived experiences.
After completing a PhD in Creative Writing, Helen joined the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester. This move coincided with the realisation that she was beginning to experience symptoms of menopause herself. Noticing a gap in the oral history archives around women’s experiences of menopause and midlife, she developed the Silent Archive project. With a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Silent Archive worked with a group of volunteers to record women’s stories of menopause through interviews, personal audio diaries and conversations. Helen also exploring the therapeutic benefits of the process of expressive and creative writing – a strand of interest that emerged from her PhD – and developed a series of therapeutic writing workshops around menopause. She continued to research menopause narratives, exploring the therapeutic benefits of sharing stories at midlife, what words women use to talk about menopause and menopause themes that have resonated throughout history.
Helen is moving on from the East Midlands Oral History Archive shortly to pursue her interests in mental health and creative and therapeutic ways of sharing narratives and is training in psychotherapy. She is also busy co-authoring a book for Emerald Press about creative writing and health.
She also holds a degree in Drama and English (Roehampton) and a Masters degree in Heritage and Identity (Birmingham).