Many women find their late forties and fifties a challenging time of life. This may be due to the huge changes that take place during menopause, but also because this can be a time when children are leaving home, elderly parents might need care and support and perhaps our energy levels and feeling of wellbeing are just beginning to decline. If we are lucky enough to have a career that is still in ascendancy, then we may be able to sail on through this period for many years to come. Every one of us will experience menopause in our own unique way, some feeling optimistic about the future and others facing real periods of anxiety and depression. Likewise our physical symptoms will vary tremendously and the quality of care we receive from health care professionals will have an impact on how we find our way through the maze but hopefully, we will emerge at the other end wiser, more liberated and ready to take on the ‘third age’.
Every one of us will experience menopause in our own unique way, some feeling optimistic about the future and others facing real periods of anxiety and depression.
I knew absolutely nothing about menopause as I approached my fiftieth birthday. I vaguely remember my mother on a USA trip when I was in my early twenties, complaining of feeling hot and dashing into air-conditioned shops in New York. She euphemistically mentioned ‘The Change’ in much the same hushed tones as she had talked about ‘The Curse’ but there was no further explanation. We didn’t have that sort of relationship and thinking about it now, I doubt she would have known about any of the symptoms other than the hot flushes she was experiencing.
In fact, I never did have hot flushes. My earliest symptoms of urinary discomfort, an ultra-sensitive bladder, were investigated by a urologist and a cystoscopy was carried out. There was apparently nothing wrong, but the symptoms continued and it was only after about two years and some research on the menopause that I learned from a uro-gynaecologist that these symptoms can be due to oestrogen depletion. The bladder, urethra, vagina, and vulva all have oestrogen receptors so they can be affected by the loss of oestrogen. At last, a logical explanation and diagnosis which could be treated with topical oestrogen along with some progesterone to protect the lining of the womb.
I had married in the late seventies after really interesting jobs in photography and film production. We had three children and I was incredibly privileged to be able to stay at home and look after my kids as a full-time Mum. My previous work in the film industry would not have been conducive to family life and I didn’t want to share their care with anyone else. I got involved with local organisations such as the NCT, helped at play-groups and school but absolutely loved parenting on a full-time basis.
In 1990, we moved to Hampshire and when our youngest was 14 and old enough to get the bus back from school (the others were already at university) I was lucky enough to find some part-time work. I enjoyed the challenge of being back at work looking after business development for an architectural practice. This was followed by four years of new business for a graphic design consultancy. Both these jobs gave me the satisfaction of winning new clients and helped me to gain confidence in reaching out for new opportunities. At the same time, I did voluntary work in PR and Marketing for a dynamic local Youth Theatre which widened my skill set and brought me into contact with many local people supporting the arts in my community. Life was good and I was now 56 and beginning to wonder what lay ahead. I thought about how I could continue to be out in the community as I got older rather than retiring to a life of gardening, dog walking, tennis playing and Pilates all of which I love. Of course, if you have worked non-stop for more than thirty years, you may indeed be delighted to do that but I wasn’t ready for that just yet. I had always had an interest in childbirth and aware of the importance of breastfeeding but was amazed to find that breastfeeding rates had declined since my first child was born in 1980. So I applied to train as a breastfeeding counsellor with the NCT as I thought this would be a great way to get out and about in the community supporting young mums during this difficult time. The training was fascinating and I loved it, but at the same time, I met a couple of women who were to change my life forever in more ways than one.
Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox were good friends and in 2003 were both working as consultants in Petrochemicals. They had also worked in the Pharmaceutical industry and Sarah with a background in chemistry worked for Pfizer in Pharmacovigilance. She was responsible for researching the side effects of drugs. While she was at Pfizer, Viagra was developed and Sarah realised that just as men were getting their mojo back with a little blue pill, their partners were likely to be going through menopause. With vaginal dryness and low libido as very common side effects of menopause, Sarah and Susi began to think about the formulation of lubricants and were surprised to find that many standard lubricants were full of chemicals and could be detrimental to vaginal health.
The two friends felt the time had come to move towards more ethical working lives. They sold their homes, headed to Bali for six weeks for inspiration and there the idea for a certified organic lubricant was born. After three years of research, The YES YES Company was launched as an online business in 2006 and just a few years later, I met them through friends. My background in business development came in handy as they were looking for someone to help them grow the retail side of the business. What Sarah and Susi didn’t know was that I had suffered from dryness and severe vulval irritation for about 25 years, which I didn’t realise in my case, was due to using standard lubricants such as KY. I joined the tiny company and as soon as I started using YES products all my symptoms disappeared and I realised for the first time that it is crucial to read the label of personal care products and choose natural organic ingredients in order to avoid allergies and irritations. However, this was just the dawning of a new horizon for me. It was becoming clear that organic was the way to go, not just with lubricants but with a vaginal moisturiser and intimate wash too because so many customers were writing in to say they had a medical condition for which YES was proving to be a life-saver. We then started to focus on raising awareness of YES with health professionals and our application to the NHS to have YES water-based lubricant and YES vaginal moisturiser available on prescription was successful. In 2014 I took on the role of Medical Liaison, which involved attending conferences nationally and internationally to exhibit the YES range. As an exhibitor, we are allowed to sit in on lectures and so I have had the enormous privilege of listening to and learning from, some of the leading medical professionals from all over the world talking about women’s health and menopause. It has helped me to understand my own symptoms and to offer support to others who may be experiencing similar symptoms and side-effects. I am passionate about helping to lift the taboo around intimate health, and helping women and their partners to find the pathway to the best evidence-based treatments. By talking about these issues in the open, we can help to prevent women suffering in silence, self-diagnosing, reading misleading articles online or using products which can do more harm than good.
I am hugely grateful to Susi and Sarah for giving me the opportunity to develop and grow both personally and professionally. During these years I have had further health issues to cope with, most recently a diagnosis of endometrial (womb) cancer and a total laparoscopic hysterectomy. YES products have continued to help me deal with the side effects of cancer and surgery, and my job kept me busy and active instead of thinking about the illness on a day to day basis.
So after ten years, I am now stepping back a little. The company has grown substantially with customers worldwide in more than 90 countries. YES is now stocked in leading UK multiple retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Holland & Barrett and Ocado.
There are not many opportunities to start a new career at 56, but if you are open to adventure and not ready to retire, there is still plenty of time to continue to grow and find fulfilment and satisfaction in your working life. So stay open to the chance to build on your previous skills and experience, you never know where it may lead. There is definitely life to be lived after menopause and I certainly didn’t expect to be the first ever Ambassador of Lube at the ripe old age of 66!
YES Certified Organic plant-based moisturisers, lubricants and intimate washes.