How One Woman's Midlife Change Helped Other Women!
A Change for good!
A YES YES Company Ambassador, and passionate advocate of women’s intimate healthcare, we talked to Lavinia Winch about the unexpected direction her career took, midlife! Leaving the world of graphic design, Lavinia joined The YES YES Company, producing organic vaginal lubricant and moisturisers. She used her professional skills, as well as her own challenging gynaecological experiences at different stages in her life, to help other women. A striking example of making a change for good!
PP: What prompted your career change age 56?
LW: In January 2008 I decided to leave the graphic design consultancy where I had been responsible for business development for the previous four years. I loved the job but I felt that I needed a change. It was a liberating feeling and it gave me time to think about the next 10 years and what I wanted to do. At the back of my mind was a concern about retirement and I recognised the importance of having a meaningful connection with people around me, specifically in my local community. As a young mother, I had been passionate about breast-feeding and enjoyed those months with my babies. However, I read that the rates of breast-feeding amongst new mothers had fallen dramatically since 1980 suggesting that there was not enough support for these women. I enquired about training to be a breast-feeding counsellor and signed up to a two year NCT course. This was fascinating and brought me into contact with local mothers, ante-natal teachers and midwives.
Late in 2008 my husband was introduced to Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox, co-founders of The YES YES Company. They had started the company just three miles from my home. He was advising them how to grow their retail business and was excited about their products – certified organic personal lubricants. He also was inspired by their energy, passion and enthusiasm along with entrepreneurism. I saw an opportunity to offer my business development experience. I joined the company in early 2009 and after some months learning about the products, took on the role of new business, helping to grow the retail side of the business but also attending medical conferences to raise awareness of our products amongst women’s health medical professionals. I soon realised that I didn’t have time to continue the breast-feeding training, so I reluctantly resigned from the course. I had no idea at that point what a fantastic opportunity it was to join a young company and to be able to contribute to the growth of a small business into a global brand.
PP: How did your personal and professional experiences help you shape your new career?
LW: My skills in business development helped with both trade customer-facing communication and engagement with doctors and consultants. On a personal level, my own experiences of health challenges including vaginal and vulval conditions relating to post-natal, menopause and an endometrial cancer diagnosis and hysterectomy, have increased my empathy when talking to customers. My interest in how women’s health is addressed in both GP and consultant care as a result of my own journey, has helped me to have a 360◦ view of current practices and guidelines.
PP: How much do you think attitudes and awareness of menopause have changed since you experienced yours?
LW: There has been a huge shift in the interest in menopause since I experienced my own. The publication of the NICE Guidelines for Menopause in 2015, media coverage, celebrity confessions and information-based websites have all helped raise awareness of the symptoms. Vaginal dryness is still a taboo subject though, and the least talked about side-effect of menopause, although it is one of the most debilitating and yet treatable symptoms. There is a danger though, that too many self-claiming experts are now jumping on the menopause bandwagon via social media and blog posts for commercial reasons. Dr Google offers conflicting advice and often with no scientific or evidence-based information. Many specialist menopause clinics have been closed and yet few GPs have received specialist training. There is still much to do.
PP: What advice would you give to anyone tempted to make a midlife career, or life, change?
LW: With the state pension age being shifted, women may need to work for longer, but not necessarily in their main full-time role. Menopause can be a time of anxiety and lack of confidence, but if you do have the chance to make a change, then it can be incredibly rewarding. I would advise anyone to be open to opportunities around interests or passions in life. This might be studying, working or volunteering. Ideally, it should be something that allows you to continue to develop, either personally or professionally. It should be an individual choice. For some it might be looking after grand-children on a regular basis, to help the next generation struggling with childcare but for others it might be necessary to receive income to bridge the gap until their pension is due.
PP: You’re stepping back a little from the company, what’s next?
LW: I am far too passionate to step back completely and there is still so much to do. I am lucky to now have a role as a YES Ambassador, working from home. I give talks, especially to women who have had treatment for breast or gynaecological cancers. Many of these women are on medication that suppresses oestrogen, and they suffer from the full range of menopausal symptoms, even if they are of pre-menopausal age. This can lead to painful sex and relationship tensions. I run small intimate workshops to support women and help guide them in how to ask for help from their GP or oncologist. I also get invited to talk at menopause events, and more recently by organisations supporting women after childbirth when post-natal perineum trauma can lead to painful sex. I currently have dates for cancer support groups including Breast Cancer Haven, Ovarian Cancer support charity, Ovacome, the British Sjögren’s Syndrome Association, The Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, And Breathe Postnatal and PositivePause. Alongside these meetings, I write articles for magazines and blogs.
In my personal life, I am planning a Women’s Health Event covering both reproductive health and post-reproductive health with specialist health care professionals as speakers, in the autumn. This will be a ticketed event and all proceeds will go to The Eve Appeal Gynaecological Cancer Charity.