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Going through the menopause in our 40s left us without a job and a crumbled marriage, doctors even dismissed symptoms

HAVING worked in retail for 20 years, Donna O’Brien was a confident store manager – but she believes crippling brain fog brought on by the menopause led to her being sacked.

Donna, 49, says: “I was humiliated because no one understood why I couldn’t deliver due to my brain fog.

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Donna O’Brien says a menopause leave policy would have saved her careerCredit: David Cummings

“It was demoralizing, and I just generally felt like I had no ability to be able to manage any more, and I didn’t know why.

“You don’t know when you are going to go into the menopause and because it is such a gradual thing you wake up and go, ‘What has happened to me?’”

A recent report by private health firm Bupa found women suffering menopause symptoms are 43 per cent more likely to be out of a job by the age of 55 because of “shocking” discrimination.

And 900,000 women have left work because of the menopause.

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MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee Last week called for new laws to protect the careers of women going through menopause.

One suggestion is to make the menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, like with pregnancy or maternity.

And the committee is also urging ministers to pilot “menopause leave” to stop women being forced out of the workplace.

Our Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign also calls for every workplace to have a menopause policy.

Mum-of-three Donna, of Sudbury, Suffolk, says this could have saved the career she loved.

She says: “A menopause leave policy would be a lifeline. When I was 40, I was a branch manager running a successful store.

“But after having a hysterectomy in 2013 the hormonal changes from the menopause kicked in.

“I lost all confidence, as I had constant brain fog and couldn’t seem to focus any more.

“As a manager I was used to being organized, and processing things in a priority order. But it would take me so much longer to make a decision, and I didn’t know why.

“I had already taken time off sick following the hysterectomy but then I ended up quitting because my confidence had crashed.

“Luckily my husband at the time was able to support both of us while I wasn’t working — and I later went back to being a part-time retail assistant.

“Two years later, I had another go at being a manager, at a different retail company, but I only lasted three months because I was sacked.

“They said I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, and they told me I couldn’t man-age people.

“I was humiliated, upset, demoralized, and I just generally felt like I had no ability to be able to manage any more.”

menopausal facts

  • 900,000 women have left work due to menopause
  • 19.9% ​​of women in their 50s are earning less than men of the same age
  • 157,000 women over 50 are claiming unemployment benefits

Sadly, as Donna’s career was going down-hill, so was her marriage.

She says: “After losing my career, I also lost my marriage, which could have possibly been saved had I realized I was in the middle of my menopause.

“I got divorced in 2018. Now, I believe how I was feeling and the changes I was going through were contributing factors to our split.

“We went to counseling for a year, but I decided to leave it.”

Initially, Donna had no idea that her brain fog was connected to the change.

She says: “I was 44 when I realized my hormones could be the culprit of losing everything — and I was put on HRT.

“My early menopause was brought on by a hysterectomy that I had in December 2013.”

Donna, who now works as an installations co-ordinator for a double-glazing company, adds: “From then on, I could fully function. I now work in a different area in retail, and there are women who are the same age as me, so we can talk about it.

“If I could have had paid leave when I first started with symptoms, I very much doubt I would be where I am now.

“It is extremely difficult to get back into a management position now, as questions are always raised about why I left.

“I think companies are certainly losing talent due to the menopause.

“It’s crazy how women are expected to continue as normal whilst going through the most challenging experience of their life.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is still the menopause — at the age of 48, I feel robbed.”

The Women and Equalities Committee pointed out in their report that menopause symptoms — which can include difficulty sleeping, anxiety and memory problems — sometimes have a “debilitating impact” on women.

This is something mum-of-two Kas Meghani, 54, can relate to.

She left her job in the City four years ago due to the humiliation of hot sweats and surges of anxiety.

Kas says she first thought her menopause symptoms were flu

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Kas says she first thought her menopause symptoms were fluCredit: David Cummings

Kas, who lives with husband Dee, 54, a builder, in Ilford, Essex, says: “I was contracted to work with the big boys in the City for over 20 years as an IT consultant.

“I remember getting my first menopause symptom just before my 40th birthday.

“It was a hot flush whilst on the Tube, on a freezing winter’s day. I just thought it was the flu.

“Looking back, I realized that was the start of it.

“I would end up sitting in meetings at work and I would have to walk out because I was soaking wet, like I had just got out of the shower.

“I was the only female IT worker on the trading floor among male traders and I would get jibes from the men saying, ‘Oh, it’s the menopause of something’.

“I would dread going into work. The sweats were embarrassing and I was just expected to get on with it.

‘MOODS ALL OVER THE PLACE’

“Coming from an Indian background, menopause is not openly discussed, a bit like periods — so you cannot speak to your seniors about it.”

Kas did seek help but felt that her symptoms were dismissed.

She says: “I went to the doctor’s but was told I was too young for the menopause.

“At the time I had a coil in, and had a phase of having my period for six months straight.

“Eventually they discovered that my body was trying to flush it away, which is a sign of the menopause.

“Throughout all of this, I was working, which was awkward. I would be running to the toilet every minute. Then things like anxiety would start to kick in.

“And that’s why I left. I couldn’t deal with constantly having to fight the men.

“I was once quite fiery, I would take on any challenge that you would throw at me.

“But I thought, ‘Why is it always easy for you but hard for me? And why do I have to work twice as hard to prove myself?’

“As I was coming towards 50, I thought that was enough for me.

“Something had to give.” Kas now works in hospitality.

She says: “I still live with the menopause and work but it is on my own terms.

“Even if I was given menopause leave, I still would’ve preferred to leave.

“I feel like men in the City, and their mentality, will never change.

“I got to the point where I realized life is too short and felt, ‘Why am I torturing myself like this?’”

Debs Wallbank, 48, blames the menopause for her losing her senior corporate job after 25 years in the oil and gas industry — and for ending her marriage of four years.

She says: “I was 39 when I first started getting symptoms. My life was already in a turmoil because I have suffered from depression for many years on and off, and I figured it was another wave of depression coming.

Debs says her menopause led fights with her husband and a divorce

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Debs says her menopause led fights with her husband and a divorceCredit: David Cummings

“My moods were all over the place, which meant I was constantly fighting with my husband.

“It never entered my head that it could be menopause — and we ended up getting a divorce when I was 42.

“Throughout this time, I also lost my two jobs in office admin, and a senior manager role, because I couldn’t function.

“I felt the simple tasks were really making my brain work hard, when normally I could’ve done things with my eyes closed.

“I couldn’t understand why I was being so crap at my job. I just kept putting it down to the situation at home, and being ill with my mental health.

“My symptoms included hot flushes, fatigue and mood swings. And I didn’t fight it, I gave in.

“It was awful, because I had a good career of 25 years.

“I hated losing my job, I felt embarrassed, a failure and useless. I was forced to go on benefits, as I literally had no option, and there was no way I could go on and get a regular job. I just couldn’t face it.”

Debs eventually had blood tests, which showed her hormone levels had changed.

She says: “The results were crystal clear, that I was menopausal. I ended up getting put on HRT patches.

“It all made sense, but at this time I had no job, no car, no house, I had nothing — I was living with my mum and on benefits, life was pretty s**t.

“I was depressed in 2019 and Christmas Day was the lowest point of my life — at 45, I had nothing. But not long after my birthday in February, I told myself to get a grip.”

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Debs has since become a confidence coach, helping other women going through the menopause.

She says: “I absolutely love working for myself, I can’t imagine anything else now. It gives me complete control over my life.”

Our Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign calls for every workplace to have a menopause policy.

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Our Fabulous Menopause Matters campaign calls for every workplace to have a menopause policy.Credit:

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