Coronado resident pens girlfriends guide to menopause
By Leigh Ann Dewey
What is a “shmirshky?”
People of all ages and genders are quickly finding out, thanks to a new book by Ellen Sarver Dolgen.
She calls the volume “a small book with a big story.” Under the pen name, “E,” Dolgen combines humor, personal experience and meticulously researched facts to bring what she calls the nearly taboo subject of menopause to light. The book, “Shmirshky: Think Inside the Box,” is published by Dolgen’s company, Shmirshky International, and is her first published work. In it, she playfully substitutes the word “shmirshky” for vagina.
“Vagina is such an awkward medical term,” Dolgen said. “All the women I know have a pet name for it.”
She said the word was created by a friend, who also coined the word “erlich,” for penises. In her book, Dolgen uses both. She also refers to women as “shmirshkies” and men as “erlichs.” She said it’s her way of making an often uncomfortable and dismissed subject “way more fun.”
“Mothers don’t talk about (menopause) with their daughters,” said Dolgen, or what perimenopause and menopause symptoms can do to a woman, mentally, physically and emotionally.
In the book she calls the perimenopause and postmenopause part of a woman’s life PP&M. She said symptoms (such as hot flashes, weight gain, forgetfulness, irregular periods, insomnia, irritability and depression) vary, “but if they are severe enough, some women literally think they are going insane.”
Dolgen began writing the book more than two years ago to pass on as a journal to her grown daughter, Sarah. At the time, Dolgen was going through menopause herself, with early experiences — such as mood swings and physical changes — that were not easy. Not counseled early on about what to expect, Dolgen said she wanted to do better by her daughter.
“As a mother, you’re all about wanting your children to not go through the negative things you have ... so I started writing all these notes about what I was experiencing.” Gradually, the journal morphed into a book.
Expanding on her own experiences, Dolgen began asking friends about their PP&M, “and I found that no one really wanted to talk about it,” she said. “I found it puzzling, because they talked about everything else. I think people associate it with getting old, so they don’t want to talk about it because they have to admit they’re in it.
“Most women I talked to had no idea what they were going through,” said Dolgen, and since they didn’t talk about it, they thought they were the only one experiencing it. “I realized that so many people were in the same situation I was.”
When she began researching her topic, “I found that most books were written by scientists and doctors,” she said, which was very dry reading and contained confusing medical terms. In penning her book, said Dolgen, “I just simplified it.”
“Shmirshky” is the first menopause book of its kind, written with honesty, and sense of humor and intimacy with the reader. It is also full of facts about menopause, including how to choose a doctor, definitions of related medical terms, and a primer on hormone replacement therapy. It also contains a “shmirshky journal” at the end, where women can begin to express their own PP&M thoughts and experiences.
When describing PP&M, Dolgen writes that women “may feel like an alien swooped down, took over your body, and jumbled up your mind and personality — not to mention your hips, your boobs and your waist.”
“Shmirshky: Think Inside the Box,” was a family affair. Along with support from her husband, David, her son Jack, 27, edited the book. Daughter Sarah photographed Dolgen for the jacket. Through the writing process, she sought input from people of different age groups, sexual orientations and both genders. As to why she refers to herself as “E” on the cover, “E represents everyone,” she said. “It’s not just my story.”
Although a new author, Dolgen has long promoted health and wellness. A Coronado resident, she currently serves on the Community Advisory Board of Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She was a founding member of the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, and served on the founding board of Angel Charity for Children, and on the San Diego Hospice board. She has served on boards and committees, and chaired numerous events for organizations including Brandeis University, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Handmaker Home for the Aging.
Dolgen will launch her book at an invitation-only party Friday night in La Jolla.
As for her future as an author, “I hope they’ll be another book,” she said, “maybe one for the men — the Erlichs.”
The book is available for $25 on