It’s all so quiet

The joy of being on holiday is guilt free daytime telly viewing.  I have watched all kinds of rubbish this week but one thing that caught my eye was on Lorraine Kelly’s show

‘Does your workplace offer any support for women going through menopause?’

Apparently Lorraine is running a series called the ‘M Word’. Now admittedly my original intention was to catch up on high street fashion but I was intrigued to see where the discussion would go.

I’ve shared my own experience in a couple of blogs but it’s something that I continue to learn about and hence want to write about.

So back to the question – I haven’t a clue but my feeling is no.  In the NHS if you are pregnant, had a needle stick injury or are stressed then yes, there is support and very good it is too.

However when I went to my local Occupational Health department a few years ago shortly after my diagnosis they didn’t seem to know quite what to do with me.  Now don’t get me wrong they were lovely and very sympathetic but that’s as far as it went.

‘Could we tie it into your migraines?  That would work as migraine is on our list?’

‘How would that help?  I’ve not had a migraine in ages’

‘You know they say that happens with the menopause so that’s good news!’

‘Right………Well, thanks for that. Bye!’

I didn’t really give it anymore thought until this week so I began looking around the internet to see if things had changed.

It’s worth noting that the NHS is 77% female and while the average age of menopause in the UK is 51 there is an increasing number of women under the age of 40 being diagnosed – 750,000. So it’s pretty common.

There are an array of symptoms associated with menopause but the one that stands out is mental health.  Many women are so debilitated with depression and anxiety that they’ve had to take time off work with some even leaving altogether.  What I found most shocking is that according to the 2014 Nuffield Health survey about a quarter of them thought their mental health problems were simply due to stress.

With that in mind I wonder how much our Occ Health colleagues ask about other menopausal symptoms in women referred with ‘stress’? Perhaps as it doesn’t fit neatly into a list I wouldn’t have thought it’s even considered.

What I have found over the past few years is a total lack of awareness never mind education or discussion.  Anything that has been done seems very stop, start.

Now I do admire those who are trying to break this cycle (pardon the pun).  Our nursing colleagues seem to have acknowledged it with the Royal College of Nursing and Midwives producing guidance.

Even the Police are taking it seriously – there’s a National Police Menopause Action group with a clearly defined processes and information for managers.

Despite all my searching I couldn’t find anything from the BMA or any other national guidance for that matter.  Last week I wrote about a workforce of ghosts and I’m reminded of this again when I think about all the women I encounter on a daily basis.

So on my return to work this week I plan to pop into my Occ Health department to ask them what our local guidance is. If we have none then I will be suggesting that one is developed or consideration given to organising some drop in sessions.

It would be nice to think that working women wouldn’t have to rely on daytime telly as their only resource. If so the only cycle that will continue is that of ignorance….


health, Uncategorized

This girl is on fire….


I’m going to make a big assumption that many reading this didn’t watch ‘The Insider’s Guide to the Menopause’ this week…. Am I wrong?  Well I hope that by the end of this blog I can persuade some of you to watch it on iplayer.  It was excellent.

I like Kirsty Wark. I like her straight forward, matter of factness way in dealing with a subject that still has a bit of an ‘ick’ factor to it.

It is this ‘ick’ that has prevented little in the way of conversation about something that every woman will face at some point in their life. I previously wrote about my experience of being diagnosed with ‘Primary ovarian failure’ at 38:

I was amazed at just how many woman got in touch to say thank you for writing it.  As much as I was deeply touched that some wanted to share their story, I felt quite sad that they couldn’t talk about it more openly.

Trying to get people to ‘talk about menopause’ is a monumental task.  Having heard some of the stories I began to see that for some menopause is this huge, invisible load that is dragged around all day, everyday.  It seems to be in our DNA that while it happens you don’t discuss it and you move on with your life.

Kirsty Wark talks about a film where basically the woman turns to dust and dies.  Very rarely is this stereotype of older women challenged.

Until recently I’m ashamed to admit that my own perception of women’s health wasn’t all that great either.  To my mind you grow up, have kids, sort of disappear for a bit then come back as an old person – possibly with grandkids but definitely with arthritis.

The invisible woman is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot since I had my diagnosis.  This is a time when women should be taking back control not losing it.  Goodness knows you cant control any of the wonderful symptoms that comes along with menopause but you can be a voice.

I also wonder at what age women should be educated about menopause?  We have sex education for our children with the focus on sexual health and pregnancy but there is very little in the way of education about women’s health as you age.  Why is this?  Even though I’m a doctor and we did obs & gynae at medical school I had little clue.  This made me feel even more stupid at a time I wasn’t exactly feeling fantastic in the first place.

I should say that in my opinion education shouldn’t be limited to just women. All men have some kind of relationship with women whether it be family, personal or professional.  I think it’s really important that they are educated as well.

My only quibble with the program was that it was a stand alone, 1 hour documentary.  There was so much in it that any one of the topics could’ve been an episode in their own right.  I don’t know if there are plans to make a series from this but I sincerely hope they do. In doing so we can really start a proper conversation…..



We have all the time in the world….


It was my birthday this week. Whoo-hoo!! In recent years I’ve tended to kick the backside out of a week long celebration.  Last year I excelled myself and turned it into a year long event (it was a significant birthday so I figured that was ok).

Birthdays are a sensitive topic for some people.  I’ve never really understood why to be honest.  I’ve also not been able to pin point the exact age that it becomes an issue.  As a kid you look forward to birthdays and getting older is exciting.  There is an allure to being ‘grown up’.  For some though it stops and the pursuit of youth becomes all consuming.

I remember watching TV when Natalie Imbruglia was advertising a well know skin care product.  I became enraged when she said ‘facing your thirties?’ She was 28 at the time.  ‘Are you kidding me?  I’m still in my twenties and you’re saying I should be stressing about turning 30! P*** off Natalie!

At the time I only really thought of age in superficial terms.  I had no real reason to think about it in any other way.  I may or may not get married.  I was pretty sure I wanted to have children but that could wait until I was ready.  Being ready was loosely defined as finishing my Registrar training, getting a Consultant post and generally being settled.  I was also pretty confident I would know when the right time would be.

What I would not know was that time would have other plans.

So I continued on – I got married, had a beautiful daughter and took up my Consultant post.  I was 35.

Now anyone who has started a new job, especially at a higher level of seniority will know how stressful it can be.  Every minor ailment gets put down to stress – headaches, insomnia, mood swings, an inability to conceive.  This is what I believed and so I blindly continued with my personal mantra of ‘what will be will be’.

At age 38 I found myself crying uncontrollably at my desk at work over the most ridiculously insignificant thing.  Feeling a mixture of embarrassment, frustration and lack of control I frogmarched myself to my GP.

I was diagnosed with Primary Ovarian Failure or Premature Menopause (honestly the mere mention of the phrase makes me shamefully recoil in horror).

After repeating the bloods my GP phoned me with the results to confirm the diagnosis.  I went into all out fixing mode.  I wanted referred to someone.  I didn’t know exactly who or why but still, I should see someone about this surely?

I was told that there wasn’t any point and did I want to start HRT?

Eh, no – thank you very much!  I want to have another baby. I want to know why this has happened.  I want to know was it my fault?  I want to know how to fix this.  And no I do not want bloody HRT!

I was eventually referred to an amazing female Consultant in Glasgow.  There was no changing the fact that I had shut up shop – I was technically the same age as a woman in her mid 50s physiologically speaking.  This woman listened to me and answered my questions with enormous sensitivity.

Over the next year I made my peace with it.  It  turns out there is virtually no information out there for women <40yrs dealing with POI so I started a journal.  While it was more for my own personal sanity I also wanted  something I could refer back to for my friends in the future.  Most importantly though I want to make future conversations with my daughter easier.

I did find the Daisy Network (@thedaisynet) very useful.  I was however quite taken aback by the reaction Kirstie Allsopp received in this article.  She came under fire a couple of years ago for her ‘anti feminist’ views on fertility.

I absolutely agree with her that these conversations are hard.  However we need to be honest and educate young women about their own health and fertility.

So as I turn another year older I will continue to celebrate ageing in all its wonderful, wrinkly glory.  Beyond the superficial however is a knowledge to be shared so that my daughter can make decisions like she has all the time in the world……