Actress and playwright Anna Hultin on self-discovery after menopause.
Who said life ends with menopause? Finnish actress and playwright Anna Hultin, 56, who has tackled the issue of lack of information on menopause with a serious yet playful and informative monologue, sees the end of fertility as a new beginning for women - an opportunity to be even more yourself.
Anna Hultin went into perimenopause when she was 45. During the following seven years she experienced all kinds of symptoms - pains in the soles of her feet, brain fog, memory problems, and arrhythmia. She went to see doctors and gynecologists in Helsinki. No one could tell her at the time that declining estrogen levels were the cause.
At 52, when she hadn’t had a period for half a year, she started having hot flashes. It was only then she was able to put the dots together and finally understood what was happening. They were difficult to deal with while in character on stage and she tried to hide her struggles the best she could. One day at work she was sharing her experiences with her colleagues. They said, why don’t you write a play about it?
Hultin took on the challenge and learned as much about menopause as she could. But the libraries weren’t exactly packed with books on the topic. So she called up experts, talked to other women, and wrote it into a monologue called Är Det Hett Här? - in English, Is It Hot in Here? which premiered at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki this October.
The play is both informational and anecdotal. Hultin enters a small and sparsely decorated stage in thick, old-fashioned garments. She gets hotter and hotter, taking off her garments one by one. Although she apologizes for the interruptions, they are a theatrical move to draw attention to the inconvenience of hot flashes. She honors the unadulterated moments that can happen during menopause by giving space for them to happen naturally in the play. In between her monologue, three characters which she portrays herself, an aerobic instructor, a psychologist, and a TV icon, discuss menopause with humor from a scientific and health point of view.
When Hultin interviewed a group of women about their experiences last summer in preparation for the play, she discovered they all shared a similar feeling. Despite symptoms often being disruptive to everyday life, once they had passed the most difficult phase many of them experienced their loss of fertility as a relief. Most women are fertile for forty years. The women she talked to felt there is no need to define themselves according to their sexuality and ability to reproduce anymore.
With menopause, Hultin realised how much sex hormones have affected her choices and self-perception. The sexual attraction game changes, and the drive to make children is no longer there. When fertility ends, there is the possibility to explore who you are without this dimension again.
"Some women feel invisible when this happens. I see it as an opportunity to be more of myself without the hormones that have played a big part in my life for such a long time."
For Hultin, menopause has reminded her of who she was and how she thought of herself as a young girl before she got her first period. This has made her feel more in touch with herself than ever.
"The best part has been feeling I don’t need to please others anymore. I dare to speak my mind more. That doesn’t make me unempathetic. It just means I don’t strive for approval. Funnily enough that often means I get more of it", she says.
During the play that showed on November 30th, the audience consisted of mostly women, with only a handful of men. Hultin would want women to see the play with their partners to open up the discussion on menopause at home. So far she’s received a lot of gratitude from women for opening up the discussion. Hultin realised many have a need to talk about it. Women have many active years after menopause and she hopes more will get the support they need to embrace this important transitional time, beyond the physical symptoms.
"What makes women at my age visible is their courage to show themselves as strong women. They are attractive not because of fertility, but because they show up as themselves", says Hultin.
Facts about Anna Hultin:
Name: Anna Hultin
Family: Husband, three grown-up children, and dog
Does: Actress and playwright
Favourite books on menopause: Red Moon Passage. The Power and Wisdom of Menopause
Most inspiring woman?
"I’ve never had idols. I don’t mirror myself in others that much and I don’t look at people and think “this is someone who I should be”. But I appreciate women who are at peace with themselves, have found their way, and dare to stand up with their heads held high."