By Nikki Watson
50…the age when you should recoup all the fruits of your labour.
Yet here I am jobless, partnerless and childless, not to mention peri menopausal.
This is not what I imagined. I guess I had hoped by 50 I’d have a handsome George Clooney look- a- like husband and a few teenage daughters doing well at school and said husband would be whisking me away to the Amalfi coast for a surprise 50th Birthday celebration with family & friends in a luxurious villa by the coast, so how did I end up here?
I always had a very close relationship with my mother who had me at 23 and was unmarried and Catholic, which 50 years ago in the UK was still scandalous. She worked really hard to give us a good life. Whilst we did lead that humble life she often worked 2 jobs to afford the extras like summer holidays and nice clothes and whilst my Dad was around from time to time, he spent most of my childhood working and living in Dubai so I didn’t get to see him often. They eventually married when I was 4 but were divorced when I was 12.
My Mum encouraged me to be independent and as an only child and a latch key kid I didn’t really have much choice, often taking several buses to school on my own, usually reaching home each day before my Mum finished work, afterschool would often include chores around the house and helping to prepare dinner before homework.
Having been a teenager of the 60’s she came from the first generation of women who were taught about “free love” and that women could have it all in a post-war society, with the birth of feminism and the invention of the contraceptive pill, women were not wholly reliant on a husband anymore to provide an income for them. They were able to decide when and if they had kids. Could they though? Despite this, her generation was still having children and marrying in their 20’s, but their kids, like me, were encouraged to get an education, travel, be independent financially and go to university and get on the career ladder before having kids. Who knew then about the ticking time clock of your fertility? I certainly didn’t even start to even think about having kids until I was 30. I just thought I had time.
I think because of my early independence and the circumstances of my family environment I had never imagined for myself a big white wedding like many of my friends or thought about what dress I might buy. However, whilst the wedding was never important to me, I had always thought that I would be a mother and have that same bond as myself and my mother as they grew up.
I didn’t consciously make a choice to not have kids, I guess I was just never with the right person at the right time in my life, and then before I knew it my fertility was “an issue”. I was unable to freeze my eggs, have IVF or adopt as a single woman in Dubai. Some of these laws thankfully are since updated and changed and although the process is still not easy at least there are some options now for single unmarried women.
Even though I’m 50 I still have that sense of dread in social situations or even in job interviews when I get asked if I have children or if I’m married. Do men get asked this as much as women? The sense of embarrassment I feel is always palpable, my palms start to sweat, my vocal cords tighten and then there’s the awkward silence from the questioner that follows wondering what’s wrong with me…why did I choose not to be a mother or a wife? Then there are the well-intentioned comments such as “how can someone as pretty as you not have a husband? I guess you’re just too fussy” or “too busy with your career” or “You’re better off on your own anyway”!
As I said, it wasn’t a choice I made with intent. I never really wanted to go it alone, although hindsight is a great thing and perhaps there were ways I could have made children happen and different choices I could have made.
I often think about who will be there to look after me when I’m old and infirm and there are no kids and grandchildren to come and visit on the holidays.
I started to research my family tree some years back on one of those genealogy websites and then the thought occurred to me… ”what’s the point? Who will care where I’ve come from?” with no kids to share that history with.
I moved out of my family home at 17 and from then on worked to support myself through college, and then later fell into working in Fashion Retail and worked my way up the ladder in Managerial roles in top London stores.
It wasn’t my first choice for a career, I wanted to be an actor, but Fashion really became a passion of mine.
I’ve supported myself ever since financially and never relied on anyone else to provide for me.
In 2005 I moved to Dubai, looking for a tax-free lifestyle in the sunshine and spent the years since working for Fashion Brands and frequently travelling to some of the best cities in the world London, Paris, Milan, New Yok and Amsterdam. I loved every minute of it, often my married friends would comment that they wished they had my freedom and were able to travel and go to all the glamourous Fashion events and parties that I was fortunate enough to be invited to. Inside though there was still the loneliness and also the imposter syndrome, whilst I knew I was good at my job and confident in what I was doing I’d often marvel at how I’d gotten here. I would dread turning up alone to these events but after a drink or two or a friendly face my nerves would be calmed.
I worked hard to save money and buy my own apartment in Dubai and to be able to travel to beautiful destinations like Bali, Vietnam, and the Maldives on holiday. However, what always gave me the most joy was being able to spoil family and friends and treat them to nice things and holidays too.
Then along came Covid…all our ways of working changed, we were stuck at home and businesses all looked to save money. It was clearly a stressful and difficult time for so many people globally and I felt extremely fortunate to be in Dubai with a government that took swift action to control the spread of Covid-19 and to get people vaccinated quickly. We had it better here than many.
It definitely took its toll on my mental health and wellbeing; I suffered many bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. However, Dubai recovered quickly and the Fashion Brands I worked with started to re-open, customers and tourists started to return to spending in the malls again. It was at this point that my company decided to make me redundant.
I felt bitter, I had worked to successfully grow their business and profits for 11 years and now I was of no further use to them.
“It’s ok” I thought, “something better will come along. I have years of professional experience on my side and I’m sure it will not be long before I find something new.
Around the same time my periods started to get irregular, I was having trouble sleeping at night, often getting night sweats and this feeling of absolute lethargy and brain fog. After visiting the doctor for a few tests, she confirmed that I was peri-menopausal and described many of the symptoms above to me which also included the anxiety and panic attacks that I’d been experiencing.
I hadn’t really heard much about peri-menopause, all I had heard from my mother and others was that menopause means your periods stop. What I hadn’t realized is that many of the symptoms of peri-menopause can last for several years before the actual menopause occurs, these are often caused by hormonal imbalances ,lower oestrogen and testosterone in the body, many of the symptoms can treated effectively by your doctor with HRT (Hormone replacement therapy) I’m still on my journey with that but my advice if you’re feeling any of those symptoms along with weight gain around your middle and loss of libido, it may be time to consult the doctor.
My career journey is also at an impasse, after being made redundant and applying for several jobs, feedback from recruiters is often that my age is an issue. Too old. What? Isn’t that exactly the reason why you should be hiring me, my years of valuable professional experience. I can’t imagine anyone telling a male c-suite executive or CEO/VP of 50 years of age that he’s too old to do his job.
There’s always been a glass ceiling here in Dubai for Female executives but after 50 it seems you just become invisible.
We all know Dubai is a very youthful city, that’s exactly why I’m here because I have a youthful spirit and mindset and want to be a part of the energetic and vibrant business community here. Life is great here, it’s been my home for 17 years and I’d really love to stay.
This led me to start thinking about my own business, willing to work really hard and wanting to make profits for myself and my business instead of the conglomerates I worked with before. I’ve always had the ideas but was comfortable in what I was doing so it wasn’t necessary to take the risks involved with running your own business.
Currently I’m at the stage of raising investment after working on my business plan and idea for the last year. I know I have the skills and experience to be a CEO, to be my own boss and hopefully offer employment to others.
I’m very grateful for the life I’ve been able to live here, it’s been full of adventures. Just because I turned 50 it doesn’t mean I can’t continue to grow personally and professionally.
Hopefully you’ll see me soon in Entrepreneur Magazine featured as a successful female CEO over 50.
Watch this space.