With the M word (Menopause) in the media more and more - and World Menopause Day approaching on October 18th – we spoke to Catherine O’Keffee ahead of the inaugural Menopause Success Summit in partnership with Cleanmarine MenoMin taking place online on September 25th from Fuel Studios in Dublin. Catherine, Ireland’s leading menopause coach and CEO of the event, talks all things perimenopause, menopause in the workplace and gives an insight into the panel of experts taking part in the Menopause Success Summit. (Tickets for this online event can be purchased here).
A relatively new word, now more commonplace but yet so misunderstood - perimenopause. Those years leading up to menopause, when the key symptoms of menopause start to appear in a woman's life. The hormonal rollercoaster that is perimenopause starts on average at the age of 45 (and younger for early menopause), with the symptoms creeping in ever so gradually that often women miss the connection with menopause. ‘Surely menopause happens to older women’, it’s what I thought myself when I first started getting symptoms. Perimenopause is the start of that journey, it can be the sudden change in moods, creeping anxiety, loss of confidence, that feeling of ‘just not feeling yourself’. That’s perimenopause in a nutshell.
With over 40 symptoms of menopause, thankfully not all women will experience all the symptoms through these years but they will start in the perimenopause years before a woman reaches menopause - which is the culmination, the anniversary of 12 months without a period. While 51 is the average age of menopause it is important to know that you may experience the symptoms in the years leading up to this and those are the perimenopause years.
I often say ‘it’s all about the perimenopause’ and simply this is because I see first hand how women are thrown by the symptoms, not expecting hot flushes, insomnia, brain fog, heavy periods and more to happen in their forties. And so it is crucial that you begin to prepare your body, mind and soul now so that you are ready for the changes you will experience. The time old phrase 'A good beginning is half the work' really applies here and you can arm yourself with the right information if you know where to look. The symptoms of menopause are a direct result of the hormonal changes that are happening in a woman’s body - the decline of progesterone, the erratic nature of oestrogen, the reduction in testosterone all create this myriad of symptoms. And as we are all unique (thankfully) our experience of menopause will be different and this is where understanding what the symptoms are, how you can thrive through these years and what supports you can put in place is imperative. Knowledge is power.
Menopause in the workplace
I'm not one for regrets but it's true when I say I wish I knew then what I know now. Having worked for over twenty years building a successful corporate career, not once did perimenopause or menopause ever come onto my radar. I was climbing the ladder, the stereotypical career mom, juggling work and family as many of us do. I remember the day cold dread hit me.
Senior officials were visiting, we were all on our toes, I was presenting updates on my area and just like that….everything flew from my head right out the window. I sank in the chair, I felt like a rabbit in headlights, frozen with the knowledge all my stats and figures had dramatically left the building. I couldn't remember anything I had prepared and I couldn't even talk my way through it. Thankfully my colleague took over which was a blessing, as soon as the meeting was over I fled the room hit by a wall of faltering confidence and anxiety. It was the second wake up call for me to start listening to my body. Having previously returned to college to study natural medicine I had some idea of the hormonal upheaval that can happen but when the symptoms hit the text book classics fall out the window. Bit by bit, I started to piece everything together and realised I was experiencing symptoms of perimenopause. It would have been so helpful if my workplace, and indeed society in general were more supportive of women with menopause (not that my colleagues were not supportive! but that I couldn't explain what had happened to me). The event shattered my confidence and the more I started researching the more I realised how important it is for workplaces to recognise what women go through before, during and after menopause - not just for emotional support but also to help with productivity and absenteeism.
‘Menopause is one of the strongest and most discriminatory taboos still existing in the workplace. The mental and physical symptoms and their negative effects on women’s productivity are needlessly exacerbated by poor policies and persistent, outdated gender and age-related assumptions’ (Harvard Business review Feb, 2020)
Women aged 40 to 50 tend to be at the prime of their career when the menopause chapter starts. Years of wisdom and knowledge gained from working makes these women instrumental in the workplace. However many of these women are faced with the unknown experience that is menopause. Add to this the daily stress of juggling several aspects of a woman's life, the stress of this can become unmanageable. The symptoms of menopause have no boundaries - they don’t recede during the working day and in face can be exacerbated in the workplace. Ongoing night sweats and insomnia will lead to brain fog, increased anxiety and loss of confidence in your daily role.
We have a road to go yet on this front, while attitudes are changing we need this to continue for permanent change. Employers are eager to understand what menopause is and how best they can support their employees.Working with a wide variety of workplace I see this daily - the key is ongoing change, menopause needs to be embedded within workplace policies and procedures with committed education to all employees and managers. The workplace support of menopause cannot be a ‘flash in the pan’ - full organisational, workplace wide support is the way forward - from senior management, to line manager to implemented policy changes.
Employees feel supported and acknowledged by their employers for the transition that is menopause and how that transition impacts their working life period when it is supported in the workplace. We know menopause impacts all aspects of a woman's life and the entire family unit. Surely this should be a community project within all workplaces.
The Menopause Success Summit
What began 6 years ago as fact-finding mission to help myself survive through menopause, I have now made it my life's mission to help others to not only survive but thrive before, during and after menopause.
The Menopause Success Summit was born from my desire to provide practical, easy to absorb, research based information to women so they feel excitement about the perimenopause years as opposed to a cold dread.
Do you remember sitting the Leaving Cert? I can vividly remember sitting at the desk, churning stomach while you write your name on the front page and turn the paper. That mix of excitement and anxiety - excited to see the questions yet nervous I didn’t have the answers. The Menopause Success Summit is my answer to an A+ Leaving Cert paper.
Providing all the answers to your menopause. No matter what stage you are at, if you just want to know and prepare or whether you are right in the middle of this rollercoaster ride - your questions will be answered. We will have 16 international guest speakers, most of whom are medical and scientific experts on the day covering the key aspects of menopause with the latest hot off the press research and information to ensure you thrive through these years and are armed and empowered with the essentials for your menopause.
Knowing the importance of taking time out for yourself, I wanted to create a day that would give women an opportunity to meet and connect with others and also learn from experts. I am inviting women to take the driving seat, to nab a day for themselves and commit to gaining as much knowledge as they can to sit back and cruise through the rocket ride of menopause.
An added bonus is that you can tune into the Fuel Studio from home. This is not your regular zoom call! This is a live interactive event broadcast from studios in Dublin with global and national experts throughout the day - think of it like your own personal TV channel where you can log-in, interact and engage with experts, have your say on the platform. Most importantly, you can connect with like-minded women who are on the same path as you!
Buy your tickets today to the Menopause Success Summit and give yourself the power of knowledge.