The WomenHood is the brainchild of the phenomenal Jess Rad. At its heart it is an inclusive community committed to supporting women through the unspoken issues that impact so many of us as we navigate womanhood. From closing the confidence gap in women, to understanding our hormones. From searingly honest conversations about the loneliness of miscarriage, to empowering women to achieve equality at home and at work; Jess brings a curious mind and an optimistic, practical perspective with virtual experiences designed to connect women and achieve bite-sized but transformational change.
We loved our conversation with her as part of this series. And we know you’re going to enjoy the read too.
With love, the MPowder Team.
First, tell us a little bit about you. What motivated you to start your business?
There’s three parts to this story..
‘Firstly, I’m the eldest of six, there’s five girls, one boy, and I feel lucky to be part of this really close knit family, who still today are always there for me. However, as I grew older, and the rollercoaster of life really began, I realised I was encountering my own challenges, which despite this amazing support network, could still leave me feeling really lonely and isolated. Simply because those around me weren’t experiencing the same issues at the same time.
To combat that sense of isolation, I ended up creating a network of women in my neighbourhood, which has become an important part of my local community. What began as a nine people in the pub has become an active hive mind of almost 200 women online. However, I wanted the conversations to become deeper and more meaningful. So wanted to find a more purposeful reason to bring women together..
Secondly, my miscarriage in 2012 was my one of my first ever experiences of a real unspoken topic. The loneliness I felt at this dark time, began to lift when I started to share it with others and learned it wasn’t just me. Yet despite that gratitude I felt furious at how prevalent this was, but how society didn’t allow us to share it and kept us all suffering alone.
And lastly, my period stopped during summer 2019.
I had a cycle that was around 26 days, it became a little irregular but then suddenly I went to 45 days. I thought I was pregnant. I thought they’d stopped for good. I felt really worried that my body wasn’t working properly.
At the time I was very unhappy in my life. A friend helped me see that I felt in limbo at work and in my marriage; and now my body was in limbo too! It was terrifying! It was like the universe had gone to the extreme of stopping my body working to force me to wake up and change something! This was not how my life was meant to be!
I knew I had to do something radical. So, with the support of my husband, I quit my job with nothing to go to;
‘I found the balls..no, the ovaries to do it. And that gave me the headspace to create The Unspoken Sessions’
At the same time, I went to my GP, got my FSH levels checked, which prompted me to ask my Mum and Grandma about their menopause (the latter went into early menopause at 40). I was also referred to gynaecology, who ruled out any ovarian cysts, and made it clear that genetically I could go into premature menopause, but it was still 50/50.
Then lockdown happened! Home schooling two children, my husband had huge work commitments and I was still trying to work.
The symptoms became extreme, yet somehow creeped up on me and I realise now I put up with them for too long. I had terrible brain fog, immense fatigue, rage like never before (my poor family!), I had heart palpitations and almost had my first panic attack (convinced that this was my husband’s fault!), 10 hot flashes a day, hot at night…. Wow!! This is why I’m determined to share my experience and educate other women about the perimenopause because I don’t want ANYONE to go through what I did (and I know they are, everyday, all over the world).
I got my FSH levels checked again and got the diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI), because I’m under 40. And I felt… so happy! To finally understand what was wrong with me. (I’d begun to think it was just my personality….!)
A few hours after that call from the doctor, I was live on Instagram with a nutritionist as part of my Unspoken Women Live series. I decided to share it publicly. There’s no doubt it felt really uncomfortable to begin with. The stigma of menopause felt huge. But I forced that discomfort away, refusing to feel shame about a natural transition, and also knowing how important it was to share my story with other women. It’s through this process that I’ve really found my voice.
When I began The WomenHood, sat on the floor of my living room with some like-minded women, I didn’t know what I was creating to begin with. It started with the idea of connecting women in my neighbourhood. Then, I allowed myself to dream bigger.. now it’s about connecting women as we navigate ‘womanhood’.
The plural, ‘women’, is important. This is about us coming together and supporting one another.
Today, it is a platform with a purpose.
How has midlife influenced your outlook towards work and life?
‘I don’t feel I’m in midlife. At 38, it doesn’t resonate with me. However, I do have a sense of time passing more quickly. I have a deep desire to have an impact on the world and to fulfil my potential.’
But what influenced this pivotal moment in my life was my period stopping. It really was the catalyst for change.
What correlation, if any, do you see between age and ambition?
I was ambitious in my 20s but, somehow, my options felt more limited than they do today. I was stuck conforming to what I thought was expected of me. Looking back, I was held back by fear. I think I’ve been trying to change my career since it started! But, with age, has come self-discovery. Then, with motherhood, I lost myself. I’ve faced the greatest challenges in my life during this time. But I’ve realised without them I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
This new found resilience, has helped me to see myself in a different light. I feel more confident in taking risks. I’m finally beginning to invest in myself. To allow myself to dream (my coach has been instrumental in this). To get the support, to rediscover my ambition. It was always there - just hidden under the perceived expectation of others and ‘to-do lists’.
To take that leap, to trust that something would be there, actually helped me think creatively. And actually, the idea behind The WomenHood had been percolating in my head for years. But limited headspace meant I couldn’t really explore it. I remember talking through the idea with my friend Linz and thinking, ‘this feels really familiar’, and returning to the front of my notebook only to realise I’d had the same idea a year before! I realised ‘I’ve done enough thinking, now is the time for action’.
With the support of seven other incredible women, plus so many other supportive voices, I got into action. And the real game-changer this time, was setting myself a short deadline that meant I had no choice but to make quick, instinctive decisions. No more procrastination! The Unspoken Sessions were born - informative and empowering events designed to connect women on the issues that matter. I decided to commit to a date to run my first event and gave us six weeks to do it. We had to build a brand (my amazing friend, Emily, was the creative brain behind this), find a venue, sell tickets and make it happen!
One of my favourite books is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert - I love her philosophy of ‘bringing fear along for the ride’. She talks about how you bring fear on the journey with you, but it has to ride in the back seat, it can’t touch the radio and definitely not the sat nav! It made me realise the fear will never go away, so I should waiting for that.
What are your aspirations for your business over the next 24 months?
Oh, some really tiny goals over here.
- To change the world one woman at a time.
- To close the confidence gap in women.
- To start a global movement of women talking about the unspoken topics that challenge so many of us as we navigate our way through womanhood.
- To connect 100,000s of women in meaningful ways that change their lives.
- To help women shift their priorities to themselves, which not only changes their lives but those of the girls and next generation around them.
- To change the conversations women are having with themselves.
See? teeny tiny.
OK on a more practical level:
- Create monthly Unspoken Sessions to regularly empower more women with the knowledge, mindset and toolkit to make small changes in their lives
- Create an Unspoken Women Live podcast so more women can benefit from the wise words of my guests
- To create a safe space for The WomenHood community to connect and converse.
- To create impactful blended virtual/physical events again (when we’re allowed!) across the country, uniting women during womanhood.
What do you wish your younger self had known about:
Life: It’s not straightforward, but everything you go through is there to teach you something. Look for the learnings.
Love: No one is perfect. Try not to look for it or expect it. Love is about accepting each other as we are and seeing the beauty in our differences.
Health: There’s nothing more important than your health. It’s multi-faceted. Don’t leave it until last, prioritise it every day, in different ways. Your future self will thank you for it.
Work: Don’t wait until you’re older to do what you really want. Life is short. Listen to your instinct. Make it happen.
What would be your key advice to women transitioning through menopause today based on your own experience to date? What practical steps have worked for you?
Don’t be scared! It happens to every single women. It’s happening to 850 million women worldwide right now. You’re in good company.
Use this as a time to prioritise yourself.
Use that ‘F*&k You’ energy to put yourself first.
Find your voice.
In terms of practical steps, talk about it. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t suffer alone. Get educated. Go to trusted sources. Seek out the different options and don’t put up with the symptoms. Invest the time in yourself. Your body and mind will thank you - and so will those around you! For this doesn’t just affect us, it has a ripple effect across our families and loved ones too.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the MPowder community about our second spring?
I like to think that the menopause transition has been sent to us as the wake up call we all need in this busy life to put ourselves at the top of our list for once.
As Glennon Doyle so eloquently puts it:
“When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world's expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves.”
Women are the brilliant nurturers and carers of the world. We are the backbone of society as a friend put it recently! However, let’s
In terms of what has worked for me, cold water swimming has been game changing. I’m not a strong swimmer. I really feel the cold. And there is no reason I should get in the sea at 6.30 in the morning. It makes zero sense. I remember driving in London and seeing people across the field - and thinking, ‘.they looked like outdoors people’. And it made me think about what kind of person I was and what I wanted to be.
We can get stuck in what is comfortable. But, we get to choose what we do in this life. I’ve lived by the sea for 8 years. I had decided I wasn’t an ‘outdoors person’. But during lockdown we considered moving and I thought, ‘how will I feel if we leave and I never took advantage of living by the sea?’.
‘The catalyst for trying it was the fear of regret. I now swim in the sea at least twice a week. It’s now bitterly cold. But it proves to me that I can do things I didn’t think I could. And that confidence ripples into the rest of my life. It empowers me.’
I often now try and look ahead and ask what my future self will thank me for.
I do this in the WomenHood events too. I ask all guests at the end of the Session, ‘What does your future self want you to remember?’ It is about committing to just a 1% change. Big chance isn’t sustainable, but those micro changes set you on a different path and life.
Finally, we're living through unprecedented times. What has supported you during this period ?
Four things; movement, exercise, nature, connection.
I’m not a morning person, or an outdoorsy person. I’m not a ‘gym gal’. But I’ve done 40 group PT classes over Zoom since lockdown. I’ve swam in the sea, in the dark, at 6.30am for the last 3 months and it has changed my life. I also make sure I get out every day, even if I just walk around the block.
Working from home doesn’t suit me at all, so I make sure I always have a Zoom or phone call with at least one person, a new connection or an old friend, every day so I get that human connection and energy.
And, after drinking at 12pm on a Monday due to the stress of the first lockdown, I’ve gave up alcohol in November and I feel great! It’s not just the mental and physical impact of not drinking but setting myself a target and sticking to it. It gives me power. And it reminds me of what I’m capable of.
Oh, and if all else fails, kitchen dancing with my kids looking on in horror really sorts me out!
You can find out more about The WomenHood by following Jess’ instagram feed here. And you can sign up for her newsletter here. Then, keep a watch out for the The Unspoken Sessions (the virtual events) and Unspoken Women Lives (30 min conversations on Instagram) - informative, uplifting, game-changing stuff.