My mother always used to say that she never felt a day over 27 and, true to form, lived bizarrely devoid of any sense of being a particular age right up until she was diagnosed with cancer of the liver at exactly forty years beyond that age. She was gone within the year but then that could so easily have happened to her at any age and, if it hadn’t, I daresay she would have been in her 80s by now and still saying she didn’t feel a day over 27. Her cancer was just a very small detail of a life that had so much else going on; it never did or could define her. Her life, prior to that, was something she just got on with as a parent, neighbour and a friend, with never a cold or an illness that I can recall, no fuss about covering up wrinkles or showing a gray hair; just being herself, saying it the way she saw it, laughing a lot.
Age, as all of us keep reading and some of us tell ourselves we believe, is all in the head (and it is) yet I continue to see so much evidence around me of people living as though it is very real indeed. They see their more advanced years coming over the hill as though it were an invading army…bracing themselves…and its as though, fearing the worse, they bail out on themselves, disbelieving their own ability to withstand this thing they see coming. In this lies a key to why we often flounder in our middle year, especially if we haven’t ‘done the work’ to get to know ourselves and what we are all about. When tested by so-called adversity, so many of us find the relationship we have with ourself is lacking in substance; are unable either to catch ourselves or to trust that we will be caught.
I was almost desperate to spend some time reading great books over the hols but wanted to find something grounded in the kind of ‘real’ life experiences that I could relate to…hmmm, challenging…and, for a long time, really struggled to get anywhere. The fiction listings online seem to be full of so much drama and depression, bleak themes, horror and then, on the other side of the pendulum, so much insipid romance and fluffy-woman’s-magazine themes, stories about looking for ‘the one’ or loosing him again, being angry with him, trying to find another one; so many eggs put in that one thematic life basket (still). Am I alone in feeling all at sea in so much that feels irrelevant to me as a woman of a certain age, too worldly-wise to be easily shocked; too experienced and convinced of the power of (living in the) now and of who I intrinsically am to want to keep dredging over history, lost loves and minor setbacks; too aware of my own strength, resilience and individuality to want to hear about what I should and should not be doing or how I could improve?
Tipped off by a friend who was enjoying the read, I started out with an unlikely choice for me, since I’m not big on autobiographies, being Jennifer Saunders ‘Bonkers: My life in laughs‘; attracted by the likelihood of some (my-generational) humour and the promise that she deals with ‘the cancer chapter’ with unsentimental honesty, even a laugh or two – and so she did. In fact, I heartily cheer her for talking about the great taboo in depth as it is the general reluctance to do so that feeds the pervading feeling that cancer is the bogeyman in the cupboard of the middle years of a woman’s life; also for the fact the topic didn’t take over the rest of her story. For a couple of weeks, on and off, I enjoyed this book as a humorous gallop through the territory of growing up in the eighties and now finding that you are ‘this age’ and embracing the hard-earned right to be how you choose to be and say it like it is; yay, more power to that. What also came out loud and clear is the sense of a woman who has been unfailingly, unremittingly herself through thick and thin and who has now reaffirmed to herself (through the life-jolt that loss of hair and significant surgery so often delivers) that she both loves and respects herself, just as she is.
After that, I was thrown back in exactly where I was before, flaying around in a sea of first-chapter samples that seldom engaged me past the very first few pages. Perhaps because I am in this mood of feeling out where I am in the history of my own life, I instinct-purchased India Knight’s latest offering ‘In your prime, older wiser happier‘, yes because of the title, only it had become apparent within a few short chapters that her idea of prime still comes at the price of some of the same-old sacrifices as ever; you know, ones that keep at bay our deep-seated fear of turning into one of those marginalised female stereotypes that we are culturally entrained to make fun of. If I am to be so pigeon-holed then its seems I am forced to confess that – by her terms – I am straddled somewhere between Wacky (“Art Teacher with Cats, GSOH”) and Hampstead lady (“Love Culture, Me”). Those necesary sacrifices – to avoid my condition worsening – include keeping to endless rules of thumb about what I shouldn’t be doing (wearing gray, sporting long hair, short skirts, shorts when not on a beach or Birkenstocks without a pedicure…oops!) and so much that I should (applying ever more costly skin gloop that has no respect for animals, the environment or the beauty to be found in deeply engraved laughter lines, plus an invitation to reassess the wearability of leopard print – no thanks).
I was kept vaguely amused for a chapter or two, though I am not sure that was always the intention, and uncomfortably close to letting out groans of indignation at other times. Yes, there was some sage advice in a few areas, some common-and-identifiable-observations-of-the-shared-female-experience in others but this book was no ground-breaker on topics that really matter to a woman of this age, like coping with readjusting hormones (the party line about the benefits of HRT being trotted out with dutiful respect to the pharma-funded GP who will likely advocate it, while the natural bio-identical hormone route (*see footnote) that has utterly smoothed out and transformed middle-years health for me and many more enlightened women that I know is skimmed over as far too controversial, expensive (eh?) and as ‘slippery territory’). I was only left with a stronger sense of what I feel is my own inherent approach to growing older because of the many contrary opinions that I hold to this book’s middle-line advice rather than a vehement sense of, yes, this is all very helpful. I was rather glad I wasn’t someone coming to it feeling all at sea and in need of a genuine lifeline or I might have lost my inherent trust in my own somewhat ‘ hippy’ instinct towards fashion, skin, hair and health and all but given up on myself as my own best counsel; not to mention being put at risk of turning into someone who is very high-maintenance and ironed-out of all the very quirks that make me uniquely myself.
What kept coming at me, as I read on, is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for women of this or any age and that its a fallacy…and the stuff of the women’s advice pages of old…to think that there is. Such neatly arranged advice can’t help but be a dressed up version of the kind of survival handbooks that were thrown at our mothers’ or grandmothers’ generation; the ones that walked them through the motions of keeping their husband happy, their houses pristine and their children well-turned-out. What it seems to be saying is that if you make your world watertight by following certain rules of thumb (dress nicely, deal with your teenagers, do what your doctor says) then you will be left at some liberty to play around a little bit and have some ‘fun’ inside the safe-zone you have now created until your health packs in. Reading such advice (and it is broadly available in every mainstream woman’s magazine) you get to feel something along the lines of this: “Phew, at least my outfit isn’t embarrassing now I’ve checked it all against the book, plus my crows-feet are all covered up…just as long as I don’t smile too much for my £50/bottle miracle-micro-dermo-amino-eternal-youthful-radiance-enhancing-bla-bla-bla foundation to cope with”. “Yippee” we are meant to cheer in unison – yet why do I hear the quack-hoot of a booby-prize playing in my head?
The thing is, what these middle years are all about for me…for all of us, surely…is not needing to be told anymore, not needing to be guided how to do it right; in fact, needing no other lighthouse in our sea but our own radiant beam shining out wheresoever it wants to go – oh, and laughing our way to a whole load of eye-crinkles because we’ve found the funny side to life. Since I was very young, I have loved to joke about how I would get old eccentrically, appearing one more sandwich short of a picnic with every passing year, cycling around my village wearing a big floppy hat and brightly miss-matched clothes and, very likely, a smear of green paint somewhere around my right ear but…importantly…a twinkle in my eye and a broad smile on my face that speaks of ownership of self and everything I have put into my eccentric little world. Now I have reached my late forties, I see that what began as a joke is looking more and more likely by the day and I embrace that, I love how that feels through my entire body. It gives me a reason to keep strong and healthy, to keep visualising a very long and worthwhile path ahead of me (with excellent cycling legs and a call for many hats); an existence stretching off so far into a full and wholly unpredictable landscape that it would be a fallacy to try and second-guess anything to worry about or to attempt a prediction of any of the inevitable twists and turns in the road ahead. Rather, I can surrender to the journey and let it unfold, chapter by chapter, whilst enjoying the view. Life, contrary to popular opinion, does not abruptly halt exactly where it is and become moment-by-moment predictable from the age of fifty. In my own mind, this age has all the hallmarks of being a time of rebirth, a brand new start, having shaken loose all the crap that you accumulated for the first few decades of life, which was really just one very long dress-rehearsal so you could get the hang of the ropes.
Reading what I have lately, across many sources, I suspect my viewpoint is counter-typical and that what confronts most women is, at best, denial (a refusal to even peek through the crack in the door towards their later years) and, at worst, an abject fear of what lies ahead, often set-into-place by anecdotes of the way old-age ‘happened’ to a parent before them, as these ideas of what is deemed to be inevitable tend to self-perpetuate through family histories (“my mother got cancer…weak bones…diabetes…bla bla bla so I must expect all that too…”). The one stand-out quote from India Knight, one that had me laughing out loud, is the truism that we have allowed ourselves to become like a “collective village idiot” on the topic of menopause, which is something few women (and even less men) seem to know much about. Out of such ignorance, great fear is often born; it also leaves the territory wide open for those with other agendas to feed their own mis-information into a topic, leaving those affected by it disempowered and super-reactionary to rumours and exaggerations. The fact of the matter is, menopause is an entirely natural stage of a woman’s life; not an illness or a curse. In many cultures, it is (rightfully) viewed as a transition to be celebrated and embraced but, as with all things female-cycle related, it has become contorted in the knots of a culture that has vilified the natural workings of a woman’s body until we have come to dread the most natural and perfectly-timed stages of our own life-journey.
The huge and apparently insurmountable fear of what lies ahead starts as a gentle mind game from around age forty onwards and then, with more and more dedicated application, starts to realise itself in the very cells of the body…for what hope has a body of continuing to generate healthy cells if the very expectations that feed them assume that all that lies ahead is loss and deterioration, mutation and, finally, full-throttle degeneration leading into death. Quite literally, we think ourselves to death and, if anybody reading this isn’t aware of the profound connection between our thoughts and what goes on in our bodies, I suggest you google Bruce Lipton and the word ‘epigenetics’; there is even a school of thought that suggests the only reason we die at all is because we expect to and this certainly applies to ageing. If you are not convinced, just look around you and see how it happens in practice; the stage after 50 is the bit when we really get to see in action who is thinking what as people filter into lines of those who think old before their time and those who really don’t, with vast and very visible differences in how people weather their particular stage of life.
That latter, hopefully, is me because I really don’t feel ‘mature’ or ‘old’ or ‘middle-aged’ (whatever these things are) and it genuinely shocks me when I read that women think that approaching 50 is any kind of a big deal. I am just one year younger than India Knight and am really not entrenched in most of the age-related mindset that she deals with; so many of the topics, such as can I still shop in Topshop, felt mightily premature. I walk around shops…as I did a few days ago…dipping into ‘younger fashion’ stores just as freely as those (apparently) geared at my age-group, drawn by whatever happens to be of interest to me, and never hesitate to buy what I like, based on personal preference and what fits my sense of aesthetic but certainly nothing to do with following anyone else’s age-related rule of thumb. The same applies to activities, places, you name it – why should I be age-barred from anything? As for how I feel inside my body, the health challenges of the past few years have only made me more determined to embrace my returning fitness and mobility as fully as possible, so wild horses wouldn’t keep me from enjoying my physicality to the max, let alone a mere idea of what is likely to happen due to ‘aging’. On my walk just now I took a short-cut beneath a low barbed-wire fence that used to have me crawling on hands and knees (and snagging my coat) yet limboed smoothly beneath it, whooping as I went, and I often feel better these days than I ever did in my twenties, so I think I’m safe to stop using the passage of time as any kind of accurate predictor of decreased mobility.
Something about the almost daily saunas I am currently taking (for health reasons) has been incredibly humbling and transformative in the relationship I have with my body as I am forced to sit there and gaze at my naked reflection in the glass door for forty minutes at a time…and we are talking about a body sitting in a posture that is totally relaxed, with none of the fake tensing of abs that we tend to pull if we are passing the mirror…and yet, after four weeks of this, I meet myself with a steady and appreciative gaze. In that willingness to take in what my physical form has become, I celebrate my healthy fleshiness, honour the scars, admire the curves of my womanhood…meeting myself honestly and lovingly as the shape of the real woman that I am, not that airbrushed idea of a woman that is thrown at us left and right. Nine times out of ten, the me I am looking at is locked in its own embrace, arms hooked easily around knees or wrapped around my own torso as I stretch into my shoulder blades and it feels like no coincidence that one of my new yoga poses ends in a self-embrace (yoga is such a great teacher for life). I find I fall into such an embrace with increasing regularity, these days; as I nestle down to sleep, or curl up with a book, allowing it to be the natural gesture that it is whilst also making it feel like a conscious act of self-appreciation, just as I would if I was expressing love, tenderness and gratitude to another person…for it is all of those things combined.
It made me smile more than I can say to read about an increasingly popular new phenomenon that is springing up around the world, the cuddle parlour, cuddle parties and cuddle therapy businesses; places where you can pay money to enjoy an entirely platonic cuddle with somebody, yes a stranger but it really matters not, on the premise that any amount of skin to skin contact is better for us than none at all (Buddhism has long-advocated hugging as a mindful practice that comes with huge benefits and medical science is now confirming it). Once upon a time, I was in a very long-term relationship where there was no physical contact at all except…well…and being in the polar opposite of that now, I can speak from experience about how the embrace of another can make your heart open up like a sea anemone in a gentle current; it can be quite startling how quickly the feeling grows to flood every cell of your body with the feeling of a zillion stars exploding until it can be contained no more and radiates out of the body, feeling like you are nothing less than a cosmic lighthouse beaming love to the universe. Put simply, the more we engage in such contact with each other, the more we radiate love to the whole planet – fact!
In a novel I just finished reading, one of the most memorable encounters of this fifty-something female, who is having a very hard time with where she is ‘at’ (and who has just taken the, for her, extremely radical step of leaving her husband and their well-ordered life to go off on a road trip to ‘find herself’) is when she spends the night locked in embrace with a man she only just met, and half her age, both of them getting something deep and entirely platonic out of the experience. This book, ‘The pull of the moon‘ by Elizabeth Berg, is another I seem to have picked up in my quest to explore how others are playing with these ‘women of a certain age’ themes and this one made a promising start. There was much to be identified with (not with my current life but the one I had before I did my own version of tear-it-up-and-start-again…) in the the letters this woman writes home to her husband, and the diary entries she makes. Many of the observations she makes feel right on the nail of how a woman sometimes self-surrenders her power, opinions and preferences, bit by subtle bit, until she wakes up one day and wonders how she lost herself so completely. Compounded by the abject fear of menopause and all this entails (back to my previous point), this can instigate a crisis of epic proportions; one which I have happily averted by having the wake-up call to my life in my mid-thirties. When it happens all at once, as for many women it does (and just as the children leave home), their life can suddenly feel like a train-wreck.
Sometimes it starts with a feeling of loss and of grief that is so abstract that they can hardly put their finger on what it is that is actually wrong with their life. The voice of this book, Nan, describes how she would wake in the night with her guts wrenched in fear and this road trip, and nights spent sleeping rough out of doors, is her way of going some way to meet this nondescript fear and expose it for the illusion that it is; and it works. Meanwhile, her exploration of the stale and disempowering patterns her marriage has fallen into is gradually achieved through her stream-of-consciousness musings as she recalls how – little-by-little, year-by-year – she had handed over all of her selfhood to her husband, subserving it to an idea of what it entailed to be a ‘good’ wife and mother. Yet I was delivered a huge stomach-punch of frustration by the fact that she, eventually, turns her car around and heads home to a husband who has given no sign whatsoever that he has taken on-board or even read any of her musings (which amount to all the things she would have liked to have said to his face, only he never stopped to listen to her). Her naive presumption that she will go back home and slip into her old life as easily as she slips on her husband’s favourite dress and that, for their remaining years, they will share hobbies, take walks and hold hands on the porch of their new home by the sea (her only request) takes a huge leap of imagination since he’s shown no previous inclination to wile away the hours in any of the ways she prefers. No mention, no hint, is even made that there is any alternative and that she simply may not fit back into a life with him now that she has allowed herself to expand to fuller capacity. You are left wondering if that’s it now, her growth cut off in its prime once again; and a relationship that stunts growth is no relationship at all since it is impossible to relate to each other where there is no space to be all that you intrinsically are.
Maybe its because my mother was a fifties bride (is it a coincidence she always chose to feel the age she was the year before she got married…?) and a homemaker in that old sense of the word that I was invested with certain attitudes, by my upbringing, that were a little bit out of time as someone born (almost) in the ’70s. Whatever it was, I spent my first marriage jumping out of bed first, every morning, to iron my husband’s shirt and make his breakfast, bringing them to his bedside; even in the first couple of years after my daughter was born, though I had very likely been up half the night. He never lifted a finger in the kitchen, had no idea where the washing machine was, was angry if dinner wasn’t on the table when he bothered to get home. He made a lot of disparaging remarks about my appearance and I took them all on; tried to do better. The day all that changed was the beginning of the end of that marriage as he began alternating between being passively irate with me, all of the time, for reneging on some sort of contract I wasn’t ever aware of having signed and actively flaying around, like a scatter-gun of anger and hurtfulness, at the withdrawal of comfort-services he believed he had purchased as a lifetime subscription. By then, I had reached the point of no return, from where I knew I had to do it differently, for my own sense of self-worth and, quite simply, in order to survive (though I know of many women who continue living like this for far more years than I did, cocooned in a coma of numb acceptance and the inevitable death-of-self).
Those first few acts of defiance in the face of marital expectations were the true beginning of my evolution as a human being (the biggest one by far being that ticket to freedom that was the purchase of the car I’d been told I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to have) and I honestly have no bitterness left in me now. For whatever reasons, we had both made the choice to be the way we were with each other; we self-selected our roles and our marriage dynamic, each playing out some sort of distorted expectation of the other that we had cooked up inside ourselves from childhood (and the things our parents did or didn’t do). We had been co-collaborators and had painted that particular picture of a marriage together, only now I chose different…and I got very different; my second marriage is cut from a very different cloth, it is a partnership of equals, the word ‘allowed’ never comes into it and, in fact, my husband is virtually the only one who ever touches the ironing board as I choose not to. Above all, we know how to hold each other, in love and in space; in fact, we each preserve our own (and each other’s) space above all else and, being afforded such room to manoeuvre, are able to continue to grow – exponentially. Such a relationship is the ultimate self-loving act and no relationship should ever be perpetuated that is less than a mark of self-love since that – as we all know deep down – is the key to absolutely everything in this life. We are all our own first love!
When we entered into that initial relationship with ourself, choosing to be born into this world as a human being, was it any less than the kind of commitment we might otherwise dream and romanticise about making to another person? Did we not, with our very first breath, effectively wed ourselves to our own human form and enter into the longest-running partnership of all in this lifetime? Did we not, in that first splutter of air and as eyes opened wide to a dazzling world, promise to love and honour, to have and to hold ourselves, through all things? Implicit within that, did we not undertake to expect and so celebrate the best in ourselves, to assume right before wrong, worthy before undeserving, well-intentioned before faulty? Why is it that, by the time we are (just!) half a century into this we have forgotten and reneged on it all – especially women – jumping to conclusions that have us believing our bodies are failing on us, that they are poised to undo us and that we must coerce and force and disguise and despair while hating it all, denying who and what we are metamorphosing into and refusing to acknowledge or trust in the journey it would take us on if we only let it; instead grounding our feet in the dust of youth and insisting ‘no, I want to stay here in my first bloom forever or be damned’. Imagine if a tree did that, holding-on grimly to its blossom, denying the unfurling of leaves, the dropping of ripened fruit, the emblazoning of the landscape with its autumn colours and the definition and sanctuary that the silhouette of its maturity provides against winter’s unconditional surrender to the elements; where would we be without each of those stages?
One of my favourite experience cross-overs with ‘The pull of the moon’ is the chapter where Nan goes into a hairdressers and demands that all the fake chemicals and colour that have been layered onto her hair for years be stripped away to reveal the natural silver underneath and, whilst I have never put my hairdresser to task on this (opting for the slow and arduous route of regrowth) I am in that place too! I took the decision almost a year ago to ‘go natural’ with my hair colour and have spent the intervening time genuinely relishing the ever-lengthening strands of silver~white shining through. In fact, it took me almost the whole of that year to pluck up the courage to go back to a hairdressers, expecting disparaging comments or sideways grimaces from younger staff, but I finally went for a trim a couple of weeks ago and the owner, whose attention was thoroughly caught by my unusual announcement, said “wow it looks great, I think you made absolutely the right choice as the colour coming through is really lovely and suits your complexion” (and I could tell she meant it). I have to admit that, against my olive skin, the white does look striking and, above all, looks like it goes with the whole package of my features rather than looking like an add-on in this year’s latest fashion shade, which never looked quite right to me (and, after years of conforming, had long-since lost touch with whatever my ‘real’ colour was meant to be). The array of emotions that you experience, as a woman, when you make this kind of a decision has startled me somewhat, not least the push and pull of feeling like you are swimming against a cultural tide yet half enjoying the rebellion and also dealing with the variable reactions you encounter from others, although my sense of my own individuality and strength has only increased in proportion. Month on month, it has come to feel ever more like some sort of (literal) cover-up has been going on all my life until now because, culturally, all odds are stacked in favour of great hair meaning coloured hair when its really not true at all; so why don’t more women know that, once they get past the first inch or two of regrowth, they have all this natural glory awaiting them? Why don’t we see it depicted on more woman for whom it is the natural likelihood that they have a smattering of salt and pepper in their hair (and that doesn’t mean in their nineties)? When did we all start hating our grays and our whites so vehemently that they have been marginalised out of sight (although embraced on men…) and who told us they were no good, that the mantle of youth must be ours all our life? It feels like a metaphor for so much else that is going on in our attitudes towards what should be regarded as the prime of a woman’s life.
Having said that, there’s now a movement out there, and its growing daily, to challenge these premises from the roots upwards and its typified by a web-community called Revolution Gray and various social media sites such as Gray is the New Black. These are the hang-out ground for a growing community of women who spend their time (yes) egging each other on, sharing their experiences and taking on media and workplace preconceptions about women who have ‘let it go’ (though it would be more accurate to say ‘let it be’ as this is conscious choice at play, not accident). There’s nothing dogmatic or ‘us and them’ about what these communities have to say; as with everything, it all comes down to personal preference and if it really makes you feel great to colour your hair then go for it, but what these people are saying (and I count myself amongst them) is that it shouldn’t be a societal measuring tape; they are also asking that the beauty of a woman’s natural colour be acknowledged because gray can be every bit as stunning as all the other shades promoted by the hair industry. On the tail of this seachange, there’s a whole new trend for graying hair filtering through celebrity land, even amongst those too young to grow their own, which bespeaks a massive turnaround in attitudes towards the older woman as younger women start to emulate their seniors in a way that hints at something aspirational or to be looked forward to (rather than dreaded). On the back of such attitude changes – and hopefully before our daughters arrive here; may they grow-up looking forward to all the future has to offer – we can really start to get things shifted back to where women are celebrated for having reached their advanced years instead of approaching them with such awful trepidation and that ever-hovering feeling that we are supposed to come up with a way to halt time in its tracks.
And so it should be; as in days gone by, and in indigenous communities still, the older the woman the more respected she is, the less heckled by the opinions and prescriptions of others she becomes, the more she gets to choose her own direction and foibles without consequence, having earned it through experience. The territory that is popularly depicted as the wasteland of a woman’s life should actually be when she steps into her full power and starts to truly enjoy herself, unfettered by the demands of parenthood (this latter being an attitude more-so than a description; one which is not necessarily limited to the relationship we have with our offspring…) and never less in need of being told how to dress or behave. A woman who has arrived here is deeply party to the amassed layers of wisdom that she has accumulated across the years and aware – oh so aware – that she is so much more than the skin deep version of herself; in fact, her light comes from the inside and shines brightly at all her windows. As Jennifer Saunders hints at, as she makes fun of the endless stream of autobiographies written by twenty-somethings who have hardly lived yet, women ‘our age’ really have something to say!
When she reaches this place, she gets to have and to hold the full bounty of all that she is as a self-realised human being, no longer plundered of all those long-accumulated goodies by a society that depicts her as ‘less than’ based on number of birthdays whilst stripping her of all her self-worth, which is popularly counted as nothing against all the flimsy trappings of youth and wrinkle-free beauty. Suddenly, all of this gets turned on its head as she start to realise that life is a cumulative process in a way that has nothing to do with how much we earn or purchase to fill wardrobes, bathroom cabinets and ever-bigger houses (and you can almost feel the collective sigh as women start to ‘get’ this). By claiming this state of affairs as the way things already are (which comes down to a simple choice to see things this way) – yes, we really ARE this embodied tour de force, lit up from within – we get to skip over the small bump in the road that is the ‘middle years’ and, in a golden era where we are likely to live to a riper old age than ever before, build up a full head of steam towards all the great and undiscovered territory spread out across all the many years ahead, prepared to relish every moment.
* As ever, I make no medical claims and my viewpoints, as above, are anecdotal based on my own experience and not intended to constitute medical advice. To read more about the efficacy of bio-identical hormones and their safety I refer you to the excellent Natural Progesterone Advisory Network webpage, bookmarked at a page that deals pointedly and informedly with some of the controversy and why this route is not widely promoted by doctors; I then suggest you read more under their headings relating to recent research into the safety issues of HRT. It is my viewpoint that only once women are informed in a way that is disentangled from the kind of vested interest that has nothing to do with their highest wellbeing can they truly consider that they have exercised a choice.