40 OVER 40 Dr Shahzadi Harper

December 12, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

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#12

Dr Shahzadi Harper

Menopause and Women's Health Doctor

 

Dr Shahzadi Harper by Jenny SmithDr Shahzadi Harperby Jenny Smith

 

This project is all about celebrating women from all walks of life doing wonderful things in mid-life and beyond.  After experiencing quite a rough time when my perimenopausal symptoms started, I am naturally drawn to the women out there who are banging the drum for greater menopause awareness, and Dr Shahzadi Harper is one such women. In fact, she's probably been on the campaign trail longer than anyone and has helped countless women navigate their way through what can be a really frightening time.  

 

Shahzadi is from working class Pakistani heritage and is passionate about making sure women from all cultures are getting the right information.  Studies on the menopause have predominantly been done on white women but it's important to note that women from certain cultures can present with different symptoms.  She explained to me that women from the Indian subcontinent, for example, tend to present with vaginal dryness, body pain and fatigue.  Japanese and Chinese women tend to present with shoulder stiffness and chills rather than hot flushes.  The menopause is much more of a sensitive subject in these cultures too which means less women coming forward to seek help.  Shahzadi says it's absolutely vital that doctors understand this too.  

 

When I arrived to take her photographs, Shahzadi was still in her (rather beautiful) robe. She looked so stunning in fact, that I asked if she'd consider leaving it on for the session. I'm so pleased she said yes as I feel these photos show a wonderful relaxed side to her character.  What a beautiful woman on the inside and out.

 

Thank you Shahzadi for being one of my 40 and fo answering these questions.

 

In your experience, what are some of the biggest differences/challenges ethnically and culturally when it comes to the menopause?

 

The biggest challenge is firstly the awareness or lack of awareness around it and then the stigma. The hush hushness especially in some cultures where the value of a woman is based on her fertility. 

The word menopause needs to just be normalised so when women of whatever social class and ethnic heritage hear it they know what it is and know they can seek help. I worry so many women are suffering unnecessarily because they don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies and are fearful of asking or seeking help.

 

Dr Shahzadi Harper by Jenny SmithDr Shahzadi Harperby Jenny Smith

You must hear all kinds of horror stories form women suffering the affects of menopause and not feeling supported or understood - any that you can share that might help other women reading this?

 

The number of stories I have of women who have just been putting up with symptoms and then finally come and see me and start treatment is huge. They are always so pleasantly surprised at how much better they feel once they're on the right treatment.  They so often regret wasting the last few years; I hear women saying I must’ve been miserable for the last five years, I think I must’ve been angry for the last five years, I feel like I’ve missed out and lost years with my children, my children used to say I’m not fun anymore.

 

I’ve had a situation whereby one woman was fired, because she could not remember the information that she was meant to present, and as she was in her probationary period she was let go. I’ve had another woman say I wish I’d come to you five years ago, because then I wouldn’t have left my job and currently I’m working for the woman that I trained.

 

Dr Shahzadi by Jenny SmithDr Shahzadi Harperby Jenny Smith

In your capacity as a women’s health doctor you are helping so many women get through the often debilitating symptoms of the menopause. But what has your own menopause been like and how has it been being a single mum through this time?

 

My own personal perimenopause journey, has been up and down - filled with loss of my father and a break up - I have experienced fatigue, which I mistook for depression alongside anxiety and brain fog. The brain fog frightens me as my mother develop dementia under the age of 60. I was really keen to start HRT sooner rather than later. Also, I couldn’t afford to lose my memory, literally as I am the breadwinner in my family because it’s only me and my daughter. So if I can’t work then, I lose financial freedom so managing my payment for sooner rather than later before falling off the cliff of menopause was really important to me. Also being single, I didn’t want to fade into the background. I felt I had a lot more living to do, which I do now.

 

What more still needs to be done to support women in the menopause?

 

Menopause Needs to be part of everyday language.  Start from school so it’s normalised. At school we get taught about puberty, pregnancy but also we should be taught about menopause. It is a natural stage of life and also something every woman will go through, and everyone of us will know one woman or another, so we should have an understanding.

 

Once we have children growing up, normalising menopause then hopefully we will lose some of the negative narratives of itchy, bitchy, sweaty women who are past it! 

 

Dr Shahzadi by Jenny SmithDr Shahzadi Harperby Jenny Smith

What advice would you give your teenage self?

Believe in yourself!

 

The Me Too campaign rocked every industry. What has your experience been of this as a woman in medicine?  How if at all have things changed since you first started out?

 

It’s helped to highlight and call out the sexism and harassment women get day in day out including in the medical profession. I think it’s been a really positive movement and made men stop and think - we women are equals! 

 

Dr Shahzadi by Jenny SmithDr Shahzadi Harperby Jenny Smith Photography

 

So many women worry about looking older - far more than men do.  What are your thoughts on the ageing process?

I think it’s natural for women to feel fearful- society is still very much looks based. I’m not anti ageing, but it can be hard - seeing the physical changes. Women are still very much judged on how they look - we live in a very visual society and ageing women are seen very differently to ageing men.  Personally what I’m afraid of is loss of health and mobility and mental capacity. 

 

Anything else you would like to share

Don’t let age or stereotypes hold you back!

Thank you so much Shahzadi for being part of my 40 OVER 40 project.

 

I think it's fair to say that our hormones have affected us all at some time in our lives be it puberty, PMT, pregnancy or the menopause.  If that's you then check out my podcast, Dear Hormones, hopefully it'll make you smile. You can listen to it here.
 


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