The year was 2011, I was 49 and wide awake at 2am. Again. A pattern was definitely setting in.
I’d fall asleep easily at my usual bedtime, then find myself literally wrenched into furious consciousness in the early hours and spend the rest of the night fretting about everything from world conflicts to historical slights.
Then came the brain fog, which meant that my once-sharp memory became so sluggish and unreliable, I had to post lists all over the house to remind me about work deadlines and dental appointments.
Then came the (mostly) irrational rage, and I found myself horribly anxious for the most trivial reasons or – worse – no reason at all.
I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me. The idea that it might be related to the menopause just didn’t occur to me. I hadn’t even experienced the slightest hot flush.
Two years later, I found myself sobbing, exhausted, in the office of a London gynaecologist where it was gently explained to me that I was, in fact, in the early stages of the menopause.
After being prescribed a cocktail of pills and gels – which I am still taking today – I finally felt like ‘me’ again. But I was left shocked at my own ignorance of my biology, and the lack of information available to women suffering as I did.
It led to me recording a documentary for BBC1, called The Truth About The Menopause, which was broadcast last autumn. I spent eight weeks speaking to menopause experts and exploring taboos and myths as well as the new treatments being developed.
During my research I met a young lady who had successfully had a version of this pioneering surgery through the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They have a treatment programme which uses ovarian tissue cryopreservation to reverse the early menopause caused by chemotherapy.
Now, I am delighted to learn this sort of procedure might one day be offered to women under the age of 40 to delay the onset of the menopause by up to 20 years. I can honestly say, I would have happily given up a bit of an ovary in my 20s in return for a couple more decades of vitality and good health in my 50s and 60s.
In fact, knowing what I know now, I would have grabbed the opportunity with both hands, and I speak as a woman whose suffering was mild compared to others I met during my research.
Although it’s currently only going to be available privately, I’d hope that it’s just a matter of time until NICE decides that it’s an appropriate alternative to the current solutions. In reality, I suspect it’s likely to take decades before it’s considered as standard a procedure as – for example – a vasectomy. We are all living longer than ever, and for women to be able to do so in good health is an absolute bonus for mankind.
Let’s face it, we are already fighting the effects of our declining fertility and subsequent fluctuating hormones with every weapon at our disposal. At the same time, many women have elective surgery such as face lifts, tummy tucks and breast enhancement surgery without a second thought to preserve the outward appearance of youth.
But this is helping to preserve the health of youth, not just its physical qualities, which is far more important. To the inevitable criticism – that it’s playing God to extend fertility way beyond our natural cut-off point – I’d argue that this isn’t about grannies having babies.
It’s about women enjoying the benefits of medical advances as we do in so many other areas, from treatment for cancer to osteoporosis. Most women, like me, will be glad not to have to be mothering, but to be able to enjoy their autumn years in good health, and without the many extreme symptoms of menopause that make mid-life a struggle for so many.