Menopause Is a Privilege

Omisade Burney-Scott, creator of "The Black Girls’ Guide to Surviving Menopause" knows that community is key to thriving as we age, and she’s here to provide it.

Menopause Is a Privilege
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Despite my mother’s best efforts, there was no amount of preparation that could have readied me for my first trip to the gynecologist after my first period. I still remember walking down a carpeted corridor, into a freezing room and being greeted by what looked like a vintage torture device — a steel table covered with crunchy tissue paper and metal stirrups at the base of what looked like two outstretched insect legs. 

You want me to strip down and lie … on that? Are you kidding me?

Before the appointment I was anxious. I envisioned having a grand conversation about my menstrual cycle with a doctor. I also thought I’d have time to ask questions about whether my severe cramps were normal. (Spoiler: It wasn’t normal, and I did not.) Instead, I was prodded with a duck-bill-shaped metal tool called a speculum (another torture device!), told to take an Advil, and sent on my way.

There are few rites of passage that signal you’ve reached a certain age and the world isn’t quite ready for you and your beautifully complicated body like the first trip to the gyno. Personally, it set the stage for many experiences in which conventional medicine and my needs didn’t align. The same rings true for many people entering menopause. For years, I witnessed my mother experience “the change” — severe hot flashes, various medications, irregular bleeding, the works. Her complaints fell on deaf ears. Doctors did what they could, which never seemed enough. It was through her experiences that I understood how, from your first period to your last, the support through reproductive healthcare is deeply lacking. 

Though if you ask Omisade Burney-Scott it doesn’t have to be this way. “Your menopausal journey begins when your period starts,” says the founder of The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause (BGG2SM), a multimedia project focused on normalizing menopause and aging through the centering of the stories of Black women, women-identified, and gender-expansive people.

Menopause has been stigmatized for too long. With Flash Forward, we turn it into an open conversation and celebrate the people making that possible. Scroll to the bottom for more from this special issue.

Communal Care Is Key

“Culturally I was able to observe menopause in our family, but there were no explicit conversations,” she says. Now, at 55, Burney-Scott fondly recalls the myriad comic books and resources left lying around the house by her mother, a nurse, which helped her understand her body at a young age.

“[I was] a beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement and the women's movement. When I was in elementary school and junior high in the ’70s, sex education and a lot of the information that was being put out there was to help girls understand their bodies; to keep themselves safe from unwanted sexual encounters, unwanted pregnancies, and things like that,” she says. 

As a seventh-generation Black Southern feminist, you could say it was no surprise that organizing came naturally to Burney-Scott. Like her mother, her aunts were also nurses and teachers. Sixteen of her 19 cousins were women. There was no shame around periods, and in that large of a family communal care was crucial for survival.

That level of openness laid the foundation for her early work as a social justice organizer, community builder, and philanthropist. “I began doing social justice work in 1995, which was well before it became this trendy thing,” she says with a soft laugh. 

When questioned about what pulled her to this specific path, it all led back to her mother who passed away when Burney-Scott was only 31. The platform she’s built in many ways is like a conversation she’s having with her mother. As she aged, Burney-Scott realized that the time of her first period likely marked her mother’s last, and now that she was entering the same phase, she couldn’t help but consider the woman whose resemblance she bears and wish she were here to learn from. 

“If she were alive, we would be having all kinds of conversations about what it feels like to be older and how things have changed for me,” Burney-Scott says. “I just know that there would be so many kinds of real woman talk conversations that we would have around midlife and what it feels like now to be in this 50-plus body.” 

A Deeper Problem 

No book, doctor, or research spiral on WebMD could prepare us for menopause. To make the most of such a major life change, many Black women must often turn to their communities due to a lack of support from primary caregivers.

A recent study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), found that Black women experienced more hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause and menopause than other women. The same study revealed numerous instances where race and ethnicity impacted health as we age.

Due to systemic racism and implicit bias in the healthcare space, the realities Black people in the U.S. face when placing their lives in the hands of doctors can feel truly dire. According to the CDC, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Infant mortality rates are the highest among Black infants in the U.S. and studies have also proven that it’s all too common for Black patients to have their complaints and symptoms dismissed by practitioners leaving their pain undertreated. Feelings of medical gaslighting are common. That stark reality, coupled with a culture that feels lightyears behind when it comes to reproductive health and wellness, means Black women-identified and gender-expansive people are left to fend for themselves.

A Guide for a New Generation

Through Burney-Scott’s “A Black Girl’s Guide To Surviving Menopause” platform, Black people who experience menopause are given the space to feel seen, heard, and encouraged to share stories and resources through storytelling. Through Burney-Scott's podcast, listeners are encouraged to think wholly about age and menopause, it's not just hormone replacement therapies and hot flashes. Conversations on love, sex, the impacts of white supremacy, and beyond are all on the table. Live discussions and partnerships with brands are also a part of the platform. 

“We are not a health-centered organization,” says Burney-Scott. “We’re not a group developed by doctors or nurses or researchers or public health professionals. We are also not one of these ubiquitous online gender-specific communities,” she says. Through first-person narratives, particularly with the podcast and storytelling, she aims to disrupt the erasure of Black people’s voices as it relates to ageism and menopause. 

For many women, the word “menopause” triggers fear, discomfort, and even depression. Through organizations like Burney-Scott’s as well as Tania Glyde’s Queer Menopause and Karen Arthur’s Menopause Whilst Black, those narratives are shifting. 

According to the North American Menopause Society, an estimated 1.1 billion people will be post-menopausal by 2025 and not a single one of these individuals will have the same experience. “Aging is such a privilege and I think of menopause as a shape-shifting experience,” says Burney-Scott. “And while you’re shape-shifting, you find yourself in this really intense, liminal space. But then, there’s freedom.”

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