Meet Samantha Frankel, the Chief Strategy Officer at Bloom UK, a professional network of women whose mission is to promote equal opportunity within the communications industry.
In this episode, Samantha details her push for a menopausal policy in the workplace. She also speaks with Robin & Christine about her unexpected intro to perimenopause, how menorrhagia (heavy bleeding) sent her to the ER, and how discussing menopause made her feel like she was in the Illuminati. Tune in to hear how listening to other people's menopause experiences validated her own and why she believes stories are more important than facts and figures.
Learn more about the nonprofit Let’s Talk Menopause: www.letstalkmenopause.org.
Thank you to Always Discreet for sponsoring this episode of Hello Menopause. Always Discreet because we deserve better.
Christine Maginnis (00:00):
Hey friends, the views of our guests do not necessarily reflect the views of Let's Talk Menopause. Let's Talk Menopause does not provide medical advice. The content in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions that you may have.
Robin Gelfenbien (00:23):
What does it feel like to be irritable?
Speaker 6 (00:27):
Speaker 7 (00:29):
My skin is crawling.
Speaker 8 (00:30):
When I don't get enough sleep.
Speaker 9 (00:32):
Everything has a problem at that point.
Speaker 10 (00:34):
It's smaller in comparison to rage. Rage, I would describe it as just seeing red, red in the face.
Speaker 7 (00:40):
Speaker 6 (00:41):
Out of control.
Speaker 12 (00:42):
Full on blinders.
Speaker 8 (00:43):
Your whole body's on fire.
Robin Gelfenbien (00:44):
How do you feel after losing your temper?
Speaker 13 (00:46):
A sense of shame.
Speaker 7 (00:47):
I say the worst things.
Speaker 6 (00:49):
Speaker 14 (00:50):
I just black out, honestly.
Speaker 15 (00:51):
I don't lose my temper as much, post-menopause.
Robin Gelfenbien (00:54):
What do you know about the connection between menopause and recurring UTIs?
Speaker 6 (00:59):
What is UTI?
Speaker 17 (01:00):
Women tend to have it earlier in their sexual career.
Speaker 16 (01:02):
Post-menopausal, I believe have more frequent UTIs.
Speaker 18 (01:06):
Is that a thing?
Christine Maginnis (01:11):
This is Hello, Menopause. A podcast where you'll hear real menopause stories from real people.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:16):
Whispering behind closed doors? Not here.
Christine Maginnis (01:19):
And we promise it is not just in your head.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:21):
And you are not alone.
Christine Maginnis (01:23):
I'm your host, Christine McGinnis.
Robin Gelfenbien (01:25):
And I'm your other host, Robin Gelfenbien. Let's Talk Menopause.
Hey everyone. At the top of the episode, you heard our Menopause on the Street segment. Now, for those of you who don't know, this is where I go out on the streets of New York City and ask people all kinds of questions about, you guessed it, menopause.
Christine Maginnis (01:57):
I love the first voice. You said, what is it to be irritable? And she was like, "Ah, Tuesday?"
Robin Gelfenbien (02:05):
Christine Maginnis (02:07):
You don't have to be in menopause to know what it's like to be irritable.
Robin Gelfenbien (02:10):
Absolutely not. I think I started out saying, "What does it feel like when you're angry?" And then I just scale it up from there. It's like, irritable, rage. And people were like, oh, this is media. They wanted to get in on it.
Christine Maginnis (02:26):
Yeah. I felt like as I listened to it, irritability is a big feeling and rage is an even bigger feeling. And I noticed as people were talking, they were bigger in their language. They talked a little bit louder, and they used graphics such as, "I'm seeing red, my face is red, your body's on fire." And then when he came in with, "I'm physically violent," you almost feel the progression from irritated to rage.
Robin Gelfenbien (02:51):
Christine Maginnis (02:52):
And then it kind of hurts when people say, "How does it feel after you lose your temper?" Because that is such a walk of shame, so to speak, the shame and disappointment. And the person who said, "I say the worst things."
Robin Gelfenbien (03:06):
Totally. Yeah. I remember the guy, it was funny to hear it back was, "I just black out, honestly." Which sounds like it's total denial. How does that even happen in your body? You're like, that was an out-of-body experience. I take no responsibility.
Christine Maginnis (03:25):
If he has a partner, I don't think that partner would appreciate, "I don't know. I wasn't there."
Robin Gelfenbien (03:29):
Yeah. Could you imagine? He's like, "I'm sorry, I just checked out for the last couple minutes." What about the UTI stuff? That was pretty funny too.
Christine Maginnis (03:37):
Yeah. I think most people don't make the connection between menopause and urinary issues. And I think maybe a handful of people know what genito-urinary syndrome of menopause is. It's a huge word, but it's an umbrella term for genital issues, urinary issues and sexual issues. Things like low libido, painful sex, incontinence and leaks, which we attribute to just getting older. But it really is because you don't have enough estrogen in your urethra and your vagina, for your skin to stay fluid enough. And it makes me a little sad because people are resigned to, that's just part of old age, and I have to deal with it. That actually isn't the case. I don't know, it made me sad. And for someone to say, "What is a UTI?" I thought, you are among the lucky to not know what that is.
Robin Gelfenbien (04:35):
Yeah. This might be TMI, but I know what it is, but thankfully I've never experienced one.
Christine Maginnis (04:43):
What? Wow. Wow.
Robin Gelfenbien (04:45):
That's because I've never had sex.
Christine Maginnis (04:46):
Yeah. That reminded me of the person who said, "I think that comes earlier in their sexual career."
Robin Gelfenbien (04:54):
The career was hilarious to me.
Christine Maginnis (04:58):
Yeah. It's easy to laugh, but irritability is the primary symptom for people entering perimenopause. Over 70% of women who are perimenopausal experience more irritability than usual, and often rage. And what isn't a good time can become a good story, but it is a lot to endure. Okay Robin, let's get onto the show.
Robin Gelfenbien (05:25):
All right. Let's talk turkey about today's guest. We are so excited to have the one and only Bloom UK's Chief Strategy Officer, Samantha Frankel. Samantha is both a member and mentor at Bloom UK, a professional network of women whose mission is to promote equal opportunity within the communications industry. She's also the founder of Bloom Mpower, a group dedicated to supporting and empowering women in midlife and beyond. With 20 years of leadership and creative communications experience, Samantha leverages her experience to create equal opportunity and support for women. Please join us as we speak with the amazing, and absolutely empowering Samantha Frankel.
Thank you for joining us on the podcast today, Samantha, we are so excited to have you.
Samantha Frankel (06:24):
Of course. Well, thank you so much for having me.
Christine Maginnis (06:28):
Okay, I have to give you a little background, is that I'm one of the co-founders of this new national nonprofit called Let's Talk Menopause, which was founded with two friends. We've been friends for 35 years, Donna Klassen and Samara Daly. And we were immersed in getting the legal things done to become this nonprofit, just so deep in all things menopause. And that is when I saw your article in LinkedIn called, Hi, I'm Sam and I'm Perimenopausal. And it made my heart sore, it really did. Because I thought, yes, yes, yes, yes. She's saying all the things that we intend to say. Thank you for coming on the show.
Okay. I was really struck by how you were able to address a serious issue, but in gorgeous writing. You take the spoonful of sugar approach to getting the information down. And especially by making it your story, it made me maybe not laugh out loud, but I smiled throughout reading it. And I'm going to share a bit of it with our listeners just to get us started. Here we go: "I didn't know what perimenopause was until I was deep into it, scrambling to find myself under a deluge of unpredictable symptoms and wondering daily what the actual fuck was going on?" Dot, dot, dot. "Nobody told me and no one talked about it." Let's start there.
Samantha Frankel (07:54):
Well yeah, it's mad to think that I wrote that back in 2020 actually. I had literally just emerged from said deluge of perimenopausal symptoms, and had started to get handle on what had just hit me, and also the terrible injustice of it all. And I was quite angry, really. It was a real gasp moment as well actually, it was a real, take a deep breath and hit post. Because I work in advertising, marketing, communications, and it worships at the font of youth. And then it felt like, dare I do this? Because literally it's like stamping a sell by date across my forehead. And is anyone ever going to talk to me again? Or they'll go, "No, that's Sam, she's perimenopausal." Nobody talks about that.
And it was quite interesting actually, because I had a lot of support from that article from a lot of women, but a lot of it... well, most of it, I'd say about 80% of it was into DMs. "I'm supporting you on this. I think it's great, but I can't actually possibly come out and say this out loud, because people might think I'm this ancient perimenopausal woman as well." And I think that's it really. I keep saying perimenopause, by the way. And I have to say that when I wrote that article, and I still find this pretty constantly in a lot of the conversations I have with younger women, that that phrase alone is quite a surprise. Most people, I'd never even heard of it. I'd only heard of the menopause. And I literally thought the menopause was something that was way off in the distance, and it's basically what you did before you retired.
Christine Maginnis (09:55):
One of the messages we want women to hear is that yes, the average age of menopause is 51. It's not a light switch moment like boom, okay, now I'm no longer getting my periods. What we really want to convey, which you've alluded to, is that perimenopause takes years. It's a transition that if you're lucky, it's only four years. It can go longer than 10, it can go 12 years. So women in their early forties need to pay attention to the symptoms, because that's if they are left unaddressed, there's needless suffering. You're suffering because you're not putting the right name on it.
Samantha Frankel (10:28):
I was literally clueless myself. And I suppose that's what made me angry. Because I thought, hang on, what has just happened? And why did nobody tell me about this? Hearing other people's stories was what really helped me when I was utterly losing the plot, which is why I was more than happy to come and talk to you today. Because I just think it is the best way to have other people understand. Listening to real stories is really very important. Because you can read whatever ever statistic you like, but if you are hearing it from another woman, a lived experience, then that's what makes the difference.
Robin Gelfenbien (11:09):
Yeah. You were talking about storytelling, so your story, you have also coined as the Texas Chainsaw Incident. Could you share your story with us?
Samantha Frankel (11:24):
Well, okay. Basically, I call it the Texas Chainsaw Massacre moment, because it was a horrific, quite dramatic bleeding incident that happened to me. And it happens to women when they're in perimenopause. And it has, I think it's called Hyper-Menorrhagia, and it's very, very heavy bleeding. And that will happen, that can happen occasionally or it can happen continuously as it did in my case, and be quite shocking. And the reason it was quite shocking for me, was that I was actually traveling between two countries. I was on my way back from a holiday in Spain, and it did result in me being carted off to A and E, or the ER as you would call it, and promptly put on a drip because my blood count had gone very, very low.
But from that point on, I would say that's when my symptoms really stepped up a gear. And I've often termed it PMT or PMS, premenstrual syndrome times a thousand. It was coming at me from all directions. And I think that's when I got into the eye of the storm of menopause symptoms. And I just thought to myself, where are my sisters in arms? Why are they not talking about this? Why has nobody given me the heads up? It's the stigma that is keeping women silent about it, and it's the silence that's keeping women suffering. A friend of mine actually said, it's like being welcomed into the Illuminati or something. As soon as you actually mention that you've had some kind of perimenopause or symptom, then it's suddenly a few other women will pop their heads up and go, "Oh, come over here and join our secret WhatsApp group where we discuss all these terrible things."
Robin Gelfenbien (13:12):
Absolutely. And thankfully in the UK, you are miles ahead of the states when it comes to broaching this topic, so thank you. And we're very grateful for that, it's very inspiring. Some progressive companies now even have menopause policies at work. So first of all, what does it look like? What kind of elements are part of it?
Samantha Frankel (13:36):
In the very basics, it should include the physical attributes. It might be simple things like access to opening windows near your desk, because hot flashes are a thing. They're not the only thing, but they are a thing. So it's very easy, physical, tick box things that can be introduced. But I think it's more the support developments around having nominated people that women can talk to in safety. So women can feel that they are understood, and that this is not... it's de-stigmatizing. I think there are elements around having regular discussions around this at work, as we do about so many other areas of representation. And I think we're getting much, much better at that in the UK in terms of diversity and inclusion. And I think that being able to talk, and changing the narrative around this, and making it commonplace, having women like yourselves for instance, come in to speak to an organization. Or myself as I have done, and talk to organizations about their own experiences.
Training managers, that's so important. Because the thing is something like this doesn't affect just the woman who's going through. It affects people she works with, people she works for, people who work for her. So aside from very simple physical elements, making sure that there are access to sanitary pads in the toilets. Because for those moments that take you completely by surprise, that's what happens in perimenopause. Your monthly period is not regular as clockwork anymore, and anything can happen. It's a mixture of practicalities around the physical symptoms, and then practicalities around understanding it's normalizing something that is actually normal. It's always been there. And if you want to keep your talent, and if you don't want women reducing hours or leaving work, because they don't feel heard, or welcome, or listened to, or frankly too scared to talk to anyone in the workplace, then you will lose the talent that you've invested a lot of money in over the years. Some organizations are actually linking in with healthcare policies, but the bare minimum is information, awareness, narrative changing, and let's make the windows open.
Christine Maginnis (16:04):
Oh my gosh, Sam, that is a wealth of information. And I'm going to quote you quoting someone else. Because again, in your article that made me so happy, you quoted Times journalist India Knight, and I thought this was such a good way of saying what the problem is with menopause in the workplace. So I'm going to read this: "Times journalist India Knight wrote, quote, 'You can tell your manager or boss you're tired because you were up all night with your baby, or period pains, or your mental health is especially precarious today. And chances are they'll be sympathetic. There will be a supportive policy and guidelines in place. Say you're unusually forgetful, or you're having trouble sleeping because you're going through the menopause, and you'll get an awkward wince, and maybe a joke about going to sit in the fridge for a bit,'" end quote.
Samantha Frankel (16:57):
I loved that quote. She just, "Oh, go and sit in the fridge, Love." It's just so demeaning, and it also reduces what's happening. A, it makes it embarrassing immediately. And B, there's many different suggestions on how many symptoms are associated with menopause. And I think it's because it's only really now being very looked at and investigated. And that reduces it completely down to one kind of giggly... and it's just, it's demeaning.
Christine Maginnis (17:30):
You become the brunt of the office joke. People joke about menopause, like, "Oh, what are you hot flashing?" And there's so much more to menopause than having a hot flash. All right, I want to go back to bleeding, because bleeding changes is a very common symptom during perimenopause that a lot of people don't know. And I think before you reach perimenopause, women would guess, oh, your period gets lighter and lighter. And that can often be true, but I love that you're sharing that for a lot of women, and I am also one of them, I had Menorrhagia, they get very, very, very heavy, heavy bleeding. And for me, I had both. In the early stages of perimenopause, I kept skipping my period. And I was newly married and trying to get pregnant, so I just kept thinking every missed period, I was taking pregnancy test after pregnancy test. But then as I went further along in the transition, then my bleeding got quite heavy. And I saw that you referred to them, I don't know if this is a British word, as flutters?
Samantha Frankel (18:34):
Christine Maginnis (18:34):
But when I read that, I thought, yes. And I would call them gushers, where it's not a normal amount of blood loss.
Samantha Frankel (18:44):
I've been in meetings and thought, I don't want to stand up. I don't want to stand up. I want everyone to leave the room before I stand up.
Christine Maginnis (18:53):
Can you imagine?
Samantha Frankel (18:54):
Yes. Yeah, holding your bag in front or behind. I always think to myself, if that was happening to men, we wouldn't even be having this podcast, because there would be so be so many support systems and ways of working around it. It's shocking that this has happened for so long. And I think the way I always term it is that the rave generation grew up, and there's this very bolshy, outspoken generation of women who are in the workplace, we are in all in our workplaces, but some of them are working in the media and they're actually on screen. And so, we're quite lucky over here because we have people like Davina McCall, who's a big voice, and she's literally just done another program around menopause.
I have to say the problem with our new high awareness is that we have now have a terrible HRT shortage, and we have women swapping HRT in car parks, like they're doing some kind of dark drug deal. I heard a story the other day of a woman who'd gone to Spain, and she literally pharmacy surfed to get as much HRT to take back with her, because our government just didn't even think about it. And so the awareness is excellent, but the government need to catch up and get enough stock into the country. And literally last week, we had the government have appointed an HRT czar. It takes a woman. If you need it doing, get a woman to do it.
Christine Maginnis (20:36):
Well, it takes a woman to help a woman, apparently.
Robin Gelfenbien (20:40):
Well, that's true. And that actually makes me think of, you and I, actually the three of us are huge believers in sharing our stories. And I actually have worked in the ad industry, Sam, so I can relate to a lot of what you're sharing. But I also tell true stories from my life on stage all the time. And I absolutely love how you can just connect with other human beings in the most authentic way. There's something literally in your brain, that you can learn more from hearing a story than remembering stats. I wanted to know, how did hearing other women's stories about perimenopause and menopause help you?
Samantha Frankel (21:23):
It saved me. It absolutely saved me. Because I read a story that was so similar to my experience, I just cried.
Christine Maginnis (21:35):
That's how I felt reading yours.
Samantha Frankel (21:37):
Oh, really? Oh, that's good to... not that I want you to cry, but I'm pleased it affected you because-
Christine Maginnis (21:43):
I'm sorry that I interrupted you, but it was so personal.
Samantha Frankel (21:47):
Yeah, because more than anything, Christine, doesn't it? It basically validates you. And it validates what you are going through, and it validates that you're not losing your mind. I think stories are absolutely essential to passing on this information. Because as you rightly say, Robin, you can talk about facts and figures until the cows come home. But if you talk about a real life lived experience, that is what moves people. And if you can identify with that experience, it validates how you're feeling, it validates that you exist and that you're not alone. There's an ad that I am going to share with you, a film I'm going to share with you that's just literally been released in the UK, and the hashtag at the end of it is, "No more lonely menopause."
Christine Maginnis (22:39):
Oh, I love it.
Samantha Frankel (22:39):
That's what it is. That's what it was like for me. That's what it would've been like for so many women like me. And I perish to think what it was like for the women before me. We had the added burden, I suppose, of experiencing this in the workplace and historically. You probably just suffered on your own at home, and you know weren't necessarily working. And maybe you did have more of a community around you, because those were the times. But I honestly think with most of these things, it's a business case that we'll actually see things change. And the value of women in the workplace staying in the workplace. We have something since the pandemic called the Great Resignation in the UK. I'm not sure whether you're experiencing it over there. We've got a huge talent shortage. There's been a real kind of reassessment of what work is about.
And I think it was a McKinsey report actually, a recent McKinsey report that said the biggest reason for leaving was nothing to do with pay, it's 10 times more than pay. It's a toxic workplace culture that is causing people to leave their jobs in the light of the pandemic. And within that, it's a refusal to take on diversity and inclusion, to take it seriously. And I would put this firmly within the diversity and inclusion and belonging agenda, because it's about being comfortable in your workplace and being able to do the role that you're there to do.
Christine Maginnis (24:13):
Yeah. All right Sam, before we part, where can our listeners find out more about you or learn about your work?
Samantha Frankel (24:19):
Well, the best place to get me from Bloom Mpower is the Bloom Network, but that is bloomnetwork.uk. So if you look that up, you'll find everything about us there. And within that is Bloom Mpower. Then your listeners can find me on LinkedIn if they want to, and they can read that article.
Robin Gelfenbien (24:39):
Definitely. I also look forward to the spinoffs of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because of all the people who are going to be experiencing, unfortunately, their own version of flooding and-
Christine Maginnis (24:51):
Robin Gelfenbien (24:52):
Yes, all the things. But thank you so much for being with us.
Samantha Frankel (24:56):
It was an absolute pleasure.
Robin Gelfenbien (25:04):
Well, Sam is clearly this endless well of amazing menopause information, and I just love what they're doing in the UK, and how it's so inspiring and hopefully motivating for us organizations and human beings to take the lead on. What did you think?
Christine Maginnis (25:22):
Right. They're a good five to eight years ahead of us in beginning to put in place these menopause policies, have it part of HR, have posters widely displayed, have a designated person within HR who is there to answer just those issues, that you can go to, to speak to that person about menopause. And so I think the idea of a menopause policy is still quite new in the United States, and I'm hoping that will change.
Robin Gelfenbien (25:49):
I love how you said they're a good five to eight years. It makes me think of perimenopause for menopause policies.
Christine Maginnis (25:57):
Yes. The gateway to getting to, the time it takes to transition to being a country that actually treats women's healthcare.
Robin Gelfenbien (26:04):
That's right. Embrace it.
Christine Maginnis (26:06):
Yeah. I think it's interesting to note, it's not a sacrifice for companies to put these policies in place. It actually saves money. And we're a capitalist society, it's a good way for us to look at it. It will cost you less if you put these policies in place, because healthcare costs are significantly reduced. What also happens when a woman is experiencing these symptoms, but feeling the need to show up for work, the research shows that work performance, your employees are not producing in the same way they used to. They're also missing work and taking sick days. And if you have the woman who decides it's too much, and she leaves the workforce, it furthers a gender imbalance in the upper echelon within companies. It would really behoove companies to take a serious look at, okay, how can we take these women who have produced so much for us and keep them here? Because you don't want to lose that corporate knowledge.
Robin Gelfenbien (27:04):
Absolutely. And she talked about the business case, and sadly, I think that's what it takes in order for any change to really happen. I think it's a combination of that. It's recognizing the bottom line, losing this incredible legacy that these women have with an organization, in addition to sharing our stories. I think that's the perfect storm of what needs to happen in order for any kind of movement to happen in this area.
Christine Maginnis (27:32):
And I love that this all stemmed from her having the bravery to share her story. To put that vulnerable article about being a perimenopause on LinkedIn was so brave. And I have to believe that I am not the only one, that I'm among tens of thousands of people who read it, and boy did it speak to me. I love the power of women speaking openly and sharing their stories, which is what this podcast is.
Robin Gelfenbien (27:58):
Absolutely. And that's one of the huge keys to any good story, is the vulnerability piece. Because it just makes you that much more relatable, and it broadens it and makes it so universal. And clearly what she shared resonated with so many people, and they were DMing her and probably privately texting her. And at some point, hopefully there will be live comments on LinkedIn when you're sharing something like that. So baby steps, but she's certainly done an incredible job galvanizing a whole industry and the conversation.
Christine Maginnis (28:36):
Yeah, she's pioneering the power of telling our stories.
Robin Gelfenbien (28:40):
Amen to that. You know what? I feel like we can just leave it right there. Thank you all so much for joining us today. We hope you got as much out of this episode as we did, and we'll see you next time.
Christine Maginnis (28:56):
Hey listeners, if you enjoy this podcast as much as we enjoy recording it, we'd love it if you could help us out.
Robin Gelfenbien (29:02):
All you have to do is rate and review the show, and it will help us reach more listeners. It only takes a minute and it makes a huge difference.
Christine Maginnis (29:11):
It really does. And if you want to follow the show while you're at it, we won't mind.
Robin Gelfenbien (29:16):
No, we won't. And don't forget to tell your friends to check it out too.
Christine Maginnis (29:21):
Our mission at Let's Talk Menopause is to give people the information they need so they can get the healthcare they deserve. Please visit our website at letstalkmenopause.org, for a wealth of menopause information, including a symptoms checklist, information about long-term health risks, how to navigate menopause at work, interviews with health experts and so much more.
Robin Gelfenbien (29:43):
A big thank you to Always Discreet for sponsoring this episode of Hello, Menopause. Always Discreet, because we deserve better.
Christine Maginnis (29:51):
Hello, Menopause is a production from Let's Talk Menopause, made in partnership with Frequency Media. I'm your host, Christine McGinnis.
Robin Gelfenbien (29:58):
And I'm your host Robin Gelfenbien.
Christine Maginnis (30:00):
Ina Garcousha is our supervising producer, and Alana Hurlins is our producer. Laura Boyman and Catherine Divine are our associate producers.
Robin Gelfenbien (30:09):
Sydney Evans is our dialogue editor. And Claire Bidigare-Curtis is our sound designer. Hello Menopause was concepted by Jessica Olivier, Jill Bisheznik, and Becca Godwin.
Christine Maginnis (30:20):
This podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, and wherever podcasts are found.
Robin Gelfenbien (30:28):
So, check it out.