I was plunged into menopause at 27

Ahead of a TG4 documentary tonight on the Menopause, MARTINA O’DONOGHUE talks to a Cork woman who features in the TV show, Jessica Ní Mhaoláin
I was plunged into menopause at 27

Cork woman Jessica Ní Mhaoláin, who contributes to Meanapás: Meon Nua, fronted by Gráinne Seoige on TG4.

CORK woman Jessica Ní Mhaoláin will have a personal interest in watching TV tonight at 9.30pm. However, her contribution to a new TG4 documentary has come about due to unenviable circumstances.

Plunged into menopause at the age of 27, she will be among those featured on Meanapás: Meon Nua, presented by Gráinne Seoige.

Having suffered chronic pain with periods and cysts – frequently requiring hospitalisation - throughout her teens and beyond, a diagnosis of endometriosis finally came in 2018.

This is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, for example the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Some women develop adhesions – ‘sticky’ areas of endometriosis tissue that can join organs together, and unfortunately for Jess, exploratory surgery had shown that she was riddled with such adhesions which had badly damaged her reproductive organs.

By March, 2019, she’d had three endometriosis-related surgeries, one tube and ovary had been removed, and the other ovary and tube remained buried in adhesions. She worried about her fertility and continued to live with debilitating pain, for which she was prescribed strong drugs such as Morphine and Gabapentin.

Having grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress within the Irish health system, she booked a consultation with Dr Peter Barton Smith in London in August, 2019. So severe was her condition, he recommended a full hysterectomy.

It was a devastating word to hear, but she realised it was the only way to escape a life severely compromised by pain. Her surgery took place in London on October 5, 2019, and she left armed with a prescription for HRT to begin immediately.

Now, three years down the track and about to celebrate her 31st birthday next week, she has come to terms with all she has been through and says she is in a better place mentally and physically.

She moved to Dublin from her family home in Leghenamore early last year to take on a new job as political advisor to Martin Kenny, the Sinn Fein TD, working on justice policy.

Cork woman Jessica Ní Mhaoláin, who contributes to Meanapás: Meon Nua, fronted by Gráinne Seoige on TG4.
Cork woman Jessica Ní Mhaoláin, who contributes to Meanapás: Meon Nua, fronted by Gráinne Seoige on TG4.

“My life is so different now”, she says, recalling how debilitating her condition was. “There’s no way I would have been able to go back to work; there’s no way I would have been able to move out of home. The more I think about it – or even looking back at photos – I was basically just existing; that’s all I was doing.”

As well as her new-found independence, the move to Dublin also brought her closer to a wider range of hospitals and clinics, should she need them. Surprisingly though, one is deemed not to be an option for her: Ireland’s first dedicated public menopause clinic which opened at Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital in January.

“That’s where you are supposed to go if you have a complex case,” explains Jess. “I actually don’t fall into their category of complex case. They only take you if you have had cancer or you’ve had clots and because I have had neither, it doesn’t matter that I was 27 going into menopause or anything like that.”

Undeterred, she managed to get help elsewhere with menopause symptoms that ranged from brain fog to fatigue and weight gain.

“I was able to get into a private menopause clinic and they just worked wonders on me. I’ve had tweaks in the HRT since I moved up here, so the only extra drug I’m taking now is a Diabetes drug called Ozempic for my metabolism because I piled on the weight. I would just look at food and it would be on me. It was all around my stomach, I wasn’t carrying it anywhere else. I’ll be on that drug for the rest of my life. It’s easy; I just inject it once a week.

“I’m also on an oestrogen gel and a testosterone gel. I didn’t start taking the testosterone gel until mid-2021; it was the last piece of the jigsaw and I just couldn’t believe the change from it. I only take it a few times a week but it killed off most of the brain fog and the fatigue slowly went away.”

Jess has shed 30lbs since last June and tackling the weight-gain has been very positive for her.

“My clothes look better and I’m happier. I don’t feel as heavy walking around, like I’m carrying something. I’m basically back to the metabolism I had before I got sick. I’m not being funny but I think that’s only fair. I shouldn’t have had all those other things happen to my body. I was considering a tummy tuck for a while; that’s how upset I was about it. But as it turned out, apparently the whole thing was hormonal.”

Jess has already been charting her story on her Surviving Hysterectomy Instagram page and she is pleased that menopause is finally being talked about more openly in the mainstream, so that it sparks conversation and increases knowledge. She recalls seeing Michelle Heaton on an episode of Living With Lucy this time last year and learning things from it, even though she was two years into menopause herself at the time.

“I think the fact that other women are feeling brave enough to talk about what happened to them, it gives a bit of hope to those who may be facing into it,” she says.

“I never thought I’d be sitting down talking to my dad about my hot flushes,” she continues.

“I’m lucky I have a family that’s open to talking about everything. But I’ve also noticed in people who didn’t talk about it before, they’re starting to talk about it now. Even older women who went through it already are saying, ‘I didn’t know this, that and the other’.”

Jess’ other hopes are for more education (she wonders why she never learned about menopause at school), greater awareness campaigns – especially about HRT – more training in menopause care for GPs, shorter waiting times to access menopause hubs, and crucially, that it’s all backed up with a ready supply of medicine for those who need it.

“We’ve been constantly hit with HRT shortages. Understanding the need for HRT is important and to keep an eye on our stocks and make sure we are getting it.”

Presenter Gráinne Seoige. Picture: Owen Behan
Presenter Gráinne Seoige. Picture: Owen Behan

The only reason Jess didn’t run out of hers for too long earlier this year is that her pharmacist sourced a French product for her.

“If the French weren’t short of it, how come we were short of it?” she asks.

Her participation in tonight’s documentary came about when she and her mother attended a Menopause Success Summit run by Wellness Warrior, Catherine O’Keeffe. TG4 were there filming and she got chatting to producers.

Trailers for the programme – for which her parents were also interviewed – have been running for the past few weeks. She was moved to see her father getting choked up on screen.

“Being ill, being in and out of hospital and even the menopause stuff - I never really realised the toll it took on my family until we took part in the documentary and had a conversation about it,” she says.

Her proud and supportive parents will be joining her and her housemates in Dublin for a ‘watch party’ tonight.

“The first time I’m going to see it is when everyone else sees it,” she says. “There’s fierce excitement!”

Meanapás: Meon Nua airs on TG4 tonight at 9.30pm.

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