Karen Giblin is the founder of Red Hot Mamas, an author, and speaker. Her interest in menopause began with her own surgically induced, sudden entry. Since that time, Red Hot Mamas has worked with more than 200 hospitals and health organizations to provide free educational programs, so other women won't be taken as off-guard as she was herself by menopause symptoms. The website contains a wealth of information as well as opportunities to ask questions of experts and participate in conversations with other women.
Dr. Barb: Our guest today is Karen Giblin, who has been a leading advocate for education about menopause for, at this point, for several decades. As the founder of Red Hot Mamas, she’s spearheaded the development of education programs, as well as hosting an online community of and for women who are navigating “The Change.” I met Karen back in 2010 as I was developing the MiddlesexMD website and we have shared a mission over that time. So welcome, Karen, and thank you for joining me.
Karen: I’m so delighted to be on your show today, and what a fantastic job you’re doing to help women all over the country.
Dr. Barb: Well, thank you, Karen. I would like our listeners to know more about Red Hot Mamas. Can you give us—I know there’s a lot to it and some history behind it, but can you share some of what the organization does and what they have done and how it assists women?
Karen: Certainly, I would love to do that. Well, Red Hot Mamas has a really long track record. I’ve been working in the area with Red Hot Mamas for over twenty-six years now, and what we do is we provide education and support to women who are entering menopause, who are in that phase of menopause, and through their postmenopausal years.
We provide hospitals and health care practices with tools to offer Red Hot Mamas programs. And our programs are offered in about 200 hospitals in the United States and Canada, and they are free to women and their loved ones, because menopause doesn’t just affect the woman, it also affects the ones who are around them most of the time. In addition to our hospital-based programs that women can attend on a monthly basis, we have a website. It’s redhotmamas.org, and we’re lucky enough to have you, Dr. DePree, as one of our medical advisors for our website, and we’re very thankful for that. And on that website, redhotmamas.org, we have an “ask the experts” section where women can write in and ask one of our experts like yourself and get answers. We have a newsletter that women can subscribe to from all over the world, and it’s a free e-newsletter and it’s called the Menopause Minute and that comes out, again, monthly. We provide a lot of information in that newsletter. We also have a community forum, okay, where women can talk to one another and share their stories about menopause, and our community forum is on ispire.com, but you can log on to our website to join that forum.
We have lots of information on that website, and we also conduct research and we do that with prominent MDs in the field of menopause and we’ve presented our research at medical conferences and we also create a lot of educational materials for women to learn about the effects of menopause. As you’re familiar, we’ve also participated and attracted a lot of media attention throughout the years. So, I guess we’ve done that, because of our way that we approach women and because we really found that the more information and knowledge women have about menopause the more it helps them make important health decisions that they need to, and with those health care decisions, that sometimes lessens the changes that sometimes occur to menopause due to some of the symptoms that are associated with menopause.
Dr. Barb: So it really is one of the most comprehensive resources, I think, women can have regarding menopause. I thank you for the work you’ve done over these many years to try to help bring this somewhat difficult condition—for some women at least—bring this into the spotlight and be a trusted resource for women. Can you share with the audience a little bit about what led you to create this?
Karen: Well, as you mentioned before, I am the founder of the Red Hot Mamas, and I founded it in 1991. That was due to, at the age of 40 I had to have a total hysterectomy, and it was the hysterectomy with the removal of my ovaries, it was called an ovariectomy. After the surgery I certainly felt the impact of the symptoms I was experiencing, and they were very problematic and disconcerting for me. I had things like hot flashes that I didn’t even know existed, because I was age 40. I had night sweats, my heart was beating faster, I had heart palpitations, I developed insomnia. I couldn’t sleep, and the next day I was fatigued and that led me to have major forgetfulness and, you know, I felt as if, at that time, because I didn’t ask the right questions of my doctor before I had my surgery and I didn’t know what to expect after the surgery, I felt very lost. And I always say I felt lost in the Bermuda Triangle, because I really didn’t know where to find the solutions to my problems, and at that time, it was years ago, there weren’t many books on menopause or websites on menopause around. So, I really had a difficulty finding solutions to my concerns.
But, again, I felt very very fortunate because during that time I was serving my third term in public office as Selectman, which was the mayor of my town, in Connecticut. And many women knew of my experience, that I was having surgery, and they started calling me with their own questions about menopause, and they started sharing their experiences with me about natural menopause and surgical menopause; and then I was very fortunate as I mentioned to you before, because I then felt that I wasn’t all alone in this newly menopausal world that I was in, because these women were having the same concerns as I was and their needs weren’t being adequately addressed by their healthcare professionals, and it wasn’t necessarily that the health care professionals didn’t have that information, it was that the women weren't asking the right questions of them and there was little time allotted to really explore their needs at menopause.
So I went to the local district nursing association in my local community and I told them I would like to develop a menopause education program. And the rest is history! I named it Red Hot Mamas, and I know you’re wondering how I got that name. And it was my young daughter who saw me having hot flashes, and she always used to say, “Mom you’re a red hot mama.” And we would laugh about it, but I thought the name was appropos and we went to the local district nursing association and that’s why I developed this program called Red Hot Mamas, to provide information and support to women during menopause. We are the largest menopause education program in the country today and I hope that I’ve helped women learn to develop strategies to not only quell their symptoms, but really to prevent age-related diseases so they can live long, healthy lives beyond menopause and to provide them with information and support.
Dr. Barb: And I think what you’ve just encapsulated does suggest that our medical community hasn’t allowed for the proper education or the proper time allotment to really help women navigate that. And I’m curious whether the years you’ve been doing this if you’ve seen what you’d call important progress or changes in what’s available for women now outside of your website or if you feel like we’re still stuck where we were 25 or more years ago?
Karen: Well, you bring up a good point. Because even though there’s been an abundance of new information and lots of books and websites out there, with my talking to thousands of women on a yearly basis, I still think there’s an abundance of women who are still confused about menopause. You know, we know that many women have had a lot of contradictory information, especially when it comes to hormone therapy because of its rocky history in relationship to the studies that have come out. So with this contradictory information it really makes women confused and fearful of any treatments for menopause.
So I think women need more time with their healthcare practitioners, and I strongly believe that they need a health care practitioner that will listen to their specific needs at menopause. Many women feel anxious about asking questions, particularly about sensitive topics that you deal with a lot of times, Dr. DePree, like vaginal dryness and sex and urinary changes. So, you know there is still, even though there’s a lot of information out there, they’re dependent on a healthcare practitioner who has to be a skilled interviewer as well as a skilled listener, and listen to their patients about their concerns and really, that health care provider needs to provide appropriate guidance and support to their patient when it comes to their menopause needs, because again, you know, it’s not a simplistic approach, and we’re all individuals and we all need individualized treatments and options presented to us. There are some changes, but there are still some difficulties in finding information.
Dr. Barb: I would agree and I think as you’ve mentioned, the media has certainly been out front as it is in so many issues, in an effort to help women in their decision-making, I think it’s made some obstacles for us as health care providers. So, I think some health care providers find it easier to just not have the conversation with patients, because it is an individualized journey of understanding risks and benefits, and it’s become a somewhat controversial area of discussion that, because it can take a significant amount of time and effort, sometimes providers are just more satisfied with saying, “Just deal with it.” And that’s always been a huge frustration to me, because as you experienced, the changes that occurred to you physically as a result of menopause (granted surgical menopause is a little different than the natural menopausal transition) but they impacted you in many ways, like they do for many women, that to just tell women, “I’m sorry, you’ll just have to manage through it,” has been one of my biggest frustrations.
At this point, I guess I’m going to put a plug in for NAMS, the North American Menopause Society, which is a resource of clinicians and we both have participated in some of the NAMS endeavors, but I do want to encourage women to find a provider, potentially through the menopause.org website, you can search certified menopause provider through their resource.
Karen: That’s a good point, Dr. DePree. I’ve been a long time member of NAMS—for over twenty years now; and I’ve been to many, many, most of their annual meetings where all the latest research has been presented to clinicians. And those clinicians that are involved with NAMS, that are menopause certified practitioners, are the ones women should really try to look for; it’s very easy to log onto their website, which is menopause.org, and find one in their local communities. That’s very important, because those type of individuals, these clinicians, will be skilled in dealing with menopausal patients, and they will provide the appropriate guidance and information that women need at menopause.
Dr. Barb: What I have found in my practice, addressing these issues, is that women are also somewhat uniquely positioned at this stage of life to make changes for themselves, because they often now have an empty nest, and maybe they are not as engaged in parenting, or maybe they are finding themselves in a different place in their career and are needing to invest in themselves in a variety of ways. So, I’ve found it a really exciting time to engage with women and help them understand, as you mentioned, disease prevention becomes much more important in postmenopausal women and what the implications of hormones mean for other chronic conditions. I’m curious as to whether you’ve experienced the same thing in your vast interaction with menopausal women on their level of engagement in making the necessary changes in their lifestyle to address their symptoms.
Karen: I agree completely; I think that there’s been a lot of negativity that has been associated with menopause over the years. And I think that the women are not viewing menopause, are viewing age, you know, they’re accepting aging positively and are really looking on the brighter side of life so they can live healthier lives and they’re definitely feeling more confident about themselves than in the past, and they want more information. They aren’t going to sit back and settle for not having their answers. I think it’s important that today’s woman—their views about menopause and their views about themselves are entirely different than there was generations ago.
Dr. Barb: Do you feel like we’ve actually experienced some cultural or societal changes regarding menopause, in the time you’ve been involved in interacting with women?
Karen: Yes, I think, again as I mentioned to you before, I think that they are looking at menopause and their aging process, typically the average age of natural menopause is 50. You know, we’ve all heard that 50 is the new 40. They’re viewing the number—50—as merely a number. They’re not blending into the wallpaper at that time, they’re not sitting home in rocking chairs, they’re still rocking out there—going to concerts! They’re viewing aging more positively. And again, they are definitely doing something greater with their lives, as you mentioned, they have more opportunities ahead of them to live healthier lives and they have more opportunities to pursue their quest to maybe change their professions or going back to school; they are viewing life a little bit differently than our mothers’ generations before.
Dr. Barb: Speaking of our mothers’ generation, I’ve noted in your past, you've mentioned that you really didn’t hear about menopause from your mother, and I believe you have daughters. And as you mentioned, your daughter helped you come up with the very appropos name of “Red Hot Mamas.” Do you feel like at least the generation that will follow us will be better informed because of our willingness to speak about it? Have you seen a shift in the conversations that are happening intergenerationally?
Karen: Yes, I do, and yes, I have two daughters who are grown. And they really were very aware of the impact that menopause had on me, due to my surgical menopause and my sharing the information with them, and I was happy to do that. They could witness it, my having hot flashes, me being up in the middle of the night changing my bedclothes. They lived through my menopause.
With the Baby Boomers, the ones that are experiencing menopause, those are the women born between 1946 and 1964 and those women who have had daughters, I believe the Baby Boomers are very vociferous and they really aren’t afraid to talk openly about their symptoms. My mother never talked about her symptoms, but this generation as a result of being more vociferous, these Baby Boomers, I think that their daughters have heard them openly speak about menopause and discuss symptoms and discuss what’s going on in their lives so I think their daughters, as a result, aren’t going to just sit back and accept things.
These young women, like my daughters, they seem to ask a lot of questions, they certainly want to have ways to know what to do when those symptoms arise. They are healthier, they’re jogging more, they’re going to the gym more, than my mother’s generation and all that. I think culturally these younger women, the daughters of the Baby Boomers are not going to just sit back and accept things, they are going to be more open about it and understand it more than I did.
Dr. Barb: And I think, somewhat to that point, I appreciated when you talked about the services Red Hot Mamas provides, you also help families navigate this. And for you, you had children still at home with you; obviously you were somewhat younger. Many women going through natural menopause their kids may be out of the house, but obviously spouses, life partners, are significantly impacted by it. I assume that your educational programs which engage family members have been popular, I would imagine.
Karen: Yes, it’s been very popular, it’s not only the woman who’s affected; everyone that surrounds her is affected by menopause. If you’re having hot flashes at night your husband feels the impact of that because you’re throwing off the covers, you’re turning down the thermostat, you’re doing all those good things, you’re freezing him out. The next morning you wake up again, you know, you might feel fatigued because you’ve been up, all you want to do is jump in your LaZBoy recliner, your moods might change because you’re so tired. If you have young ones around you or you’re in the workforce and you have employees, you might be snapping at them. So it really does affect you completely.
Dr. Barb: One of my patients yesterday and another one earlier today, again it’s not that unusual, but just to demonstrate, both of them are using hormone therapy very successfully, primarily for mood, and both reminded me that the last time they had tried to go off, their spouse was one of the first to identify that something had changed for them. So, it’s impacting those around us, definitely. I just want to re-emphasize that your website as a resource is going to be a very good opportunity for women to more broadly understand menopause. And hot flashes, you know, are the big thing that comes up, but there are so many other layers of it that can involve things from vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse to joint pain to mood and so on. So, your website is a good resource for helping women understand more broadly what the impact of menopause might mean for them.
I’m curious to know what might be next for Red Hot Mamas?
Karen: Well, we’re going to continue our thrust to be advocates for women, certainly, and try to provide them with support and the latest information that is out there. And I personally know how important it is to know your body, to be able to identify the changes that occur during the menopause transition and after, and know the importance of needing to educate yourself about what you can do to help yourself at menopause. So, bottom line, there’s no one answer for every woman, we have individual needs that require individualized treatment options. And Red Hot Mamas is going to be there continuously to provide that information to women and support.
Dr. Barb: And I want to say thank you, too, for your efforts at trying to promote communication of research in this area. Because I do think there can be some lack of trust sometimes, generally to the healthcare community, and I think having women share their perspective and their knowledge and have it be influenced by sound science and evidence—evidence based—and then translating that to our population is very valuable, because leaving it to the popular media, has not always been successful. So having a discerning voice assisting in that, I think, is a great resource. So again, thank you for that, because not too long ago, there was some recent news again about hormone therapy and more postscript to the WHI, and I think every woman should be made aware of that. It didn’t make big headlines, but it should be continued information that women process and use in making their own decisions.
Karen: Yes, and I’m certain, Dr. DePree, that you’ll relay all that great medical information that’s out there and the newest research so that some of those fears that are associated with taking hormones can be eliminated.
Dr. Barb: Yes. I often like to end the time together with just asking a more personal question, and that is: Where do you find richness at this stage of life?
Karen: Well, I do find richness, okay. And I’m postmenopausal now, but I want to celebrate the—my years I’ve had in my life. And I do look at myself, and yes, some of my body parts have moved south, there’s some sagging, you know, that’s occurring. But I always try to, Dr. DePree, maintain a sense of humor; I think that’s key about those kinds of things. And I tell women and myself to “always keep a twinkle in your wrinkle,” okay...
Dr. Barb: [laughs]
Karen: … because a sense of humor is very important and not to let it get you down. And I’ve been lucky; the richness that I’ve experienced staying connected with so many women, Red Hot Mamas programs and our website. And that social support and camaraderie of women friends is very, very important to me, and I hope that other women will find the importance of staying connected with other women. So I try to embrace menopause with spirit, self-discovery about myself and I personally have tried to make good choices about educating myself about menopause, and it’s really helped me take charge of my health and the opportunities and my optimism I have about leading a nice life as I go into my golden years.
Dr. Barb: Well, thanks for sharing, and our listeners obviously can’t know this, because they can’t see you to meet you, but I will speak to whatever you’re doing. I want to do what you’re doing, because you’ve done it beautifully. You are beautiful both outside and inside. Thanks for your work in this field and thanks for your time today, Karen; I appreciate our conversation.
Karen: Thank you so much Dr. DePree, and thank you so much for all you are doing to help women’s lives as well.
Dr. Barb: You’re welcome.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.