As I head perilously close to my 50th birthday, I take comfort in the fact that, when menopause finally has me by the fallopian tubes, HRT will be my saviour. 

Ha! Not so. I recently found out that I can’t take the wonder drug because a history of breast cancer in my family makes it too risky. So, where does that leave me? Well, there will be years of hot flashes, anxiety, dry skin, reduced sex drive, joint stiffness, thinning hair, palpitations, mood changes, insomnia, night sweats, loss of self-confidence, and memory problems to navigate, armed only with a handful of sage and a couple of aspirin. If any of these symptoms were new, I’d be really worried. 

Once I hit my 40s, my body started to change. No one had warned me about the perimenopause. I didn’t even know what the word meant. And therein lies the rub. I consider myself to be a well-educated woman, in touch with my femininity, and cognisant of the female form. But I found myself googling baffling symptoms and was utterly astonished to learn that I’d become a woman ‘of a certain age’. 

How did this happen? Girls talk. Women talk. Entire TV series are predicated on the undisputed fact that women talk to each other. Why was this new information?

Maybe, perhaps (whisper it), women don’t talk about everything. Is there a moment when we stop sharing? And if we’re no longer talking, what does that mean for us and for society? Where are the films of women who can no longer have children (and perhaps never wanted kids in the first place), the documentaries about females who sweat uncontrollably, the TV shows about barren bodies that no one mentions? Where can I watch women who stop dying their hair, buy that lube tube, and don’t care that everything no longer points up? 

It’s bloody unfair. Older men are deemed sexy silver foxes (George Clooney, anyone?) and, for the most part, any male on a dating site who doesn’t drool is a keeper. If men had to navigate the menopause, I’m certain that not only would a myriad of hard drugs be freely available, they’d have cured it by now. ‘Menopause’ would be an archaic expression and women would no longer dread middle age.

This got me thinking. What other female issues, in particular those surrounding healthcare, are absent from the national (and international) agenda? What else isn’t talked about nearly enough? What is still taboo even though it affects millions of women? In the first of a new series on Northern Soul written by women and for women, we begin with miscarriage and traumatic birth. 


When my sister was pregnant with her first child, she had a miscarriage. It took this dreadful and devastating event for me to realise that every woman I knew who wanted children had experienced at least one miscarriage. Most of my friends had endured more than one. 

But no one talked about it. Statistics suggest that, in the first three months of pregnancy, one in four women miscarry. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that data. I suspect that the true figure is much higher. In a society where miscarrying is seen as a proscribed subject, and support for women who go through it is negligible, why would the reporting of this horrific event be accurate? Look around you, look at your friends and family. It’s much harder to find a mother who hasn’t miscarried than a mum who has. 

Then there’s the treatment of women who lose their babies. When I first started writing this article, I asked women to tell me about their experiences of miscarriage. Without exception, all felt they had been let down by the medical profession. Every story I heard was appalling.

For my younger sister, it was being sent home with a dead baby in her belly because ‘the NHS doesn’t deal with miscarriages at weekends’.

Knowing something wasn’t right, Rachael May and her partner had rushed to A&E on a Friday afternoon, only to be told to come back on Monday. The staff confirmed that the baby had died but that was as far as it went. I will never forget sitting with her at my parents’ house, witnessing her bone-deep distress and being powerless to help. I was so furious that words wouldn’t come. As I type this now, more than a decade later, I feel my heart rate elevate and angry tears prick my eyes. To make matters even worse, when Rachael arrived back at hospital on Monday morning, no one would see her. Instead, she was forced to sit in the waiting room for ten hours before being treated like a human being. 


For Helen Monks Takhar, her experience at the hands of unfeeling medical professionals made her miscarriage even more traumatic. Here, Helen tells her story.

‘I was doubled over and had just watched the floor between my feet flood with my blood and tiny white pieces of the life I could not sustain. But, no, I could not have any pain relief because I was, according to the medical staff, still pregnant.

‘Hours later (much of this time spent writhing in a waiting room filled with still-pregnant women), I was dispatched into a world electrified by my loss and also shock at having been pressurised into a procedure without anaesthetic. Yes, they could prep the theatre and knock me out while they did what they needed to do, but it was presented as an indulgence for me, an inconvenience for them. The procedure was brutalising, the cruelty in the moments afterwards, startling. As I was laid out on the tablea nurse asked me sneeringly why I was crying.  

‘Perhaps it’s the vocabulary involved in the medicine of fertility and reproduction that suggests something mean and belittling coded into the heart of it? I’ve had friends told their wombs are “hostile”, their eggs “inviable”. And my procedure was what is bloodlessly known as the evacuation oretained products of conception (ERPC) or, as a woman, as I would refer to it, my pregnancymy baby.’


Meanwhile, Suzanne** has this to say.

‘PTSD from traumatic childbirth? This I have had. I nearly died giving birth to my second child, and she nearly died too. The immediate care in saving our lives was phenomenal. As soon as I was out of danger, not so much, on the maternity ward anyway. I think there is very little consideration of the physical trauma that new mums have just been through on that ward, even with a normal birth, or rather probably no resources to do it. Imagine the male equivalent of that physical experience, and then imagine asking that man to get on with caring for a newborn overnight without any kind of rest or support beforehand.

‘When I ended up on the Intensive Care Unit, the care was excellent, including joined-up physical and psych follow-up. And that’s because ICU is a ward for a) very sick people usually, but b) not just for new mums.’ 


As a good friend pointed out recently, if men routinely experienced anything approaching what pregnant women go through, they would have built society around it. That’s the difference, she said, we live in a male-centric society in which women have to fit in. Well, I don’t want to ‘fit in’ anymore. What about you?

By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul

If anything in this article has affected you and you would like to share your experience, please send an email, which will be treated in the strictest confidence, to Helen Nugent at


**  Suzanne’s name has been changed