For a teenager, it was an unexpected and shocking diagnosis: blood tests and an ultrasound confirmed that, at 13, Hayley Cockman had gone into premature menopause.
Her periods had stopped within a year of starting, and then symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes and poor concentration kicked in.
Hayley’s mother, Julie, took her to the doctor, and after tests, Hayley was put on HRT.
Going through the menopause so young haunted her for years — even when chatting with friends, she often felt ashamed and embarrassed to talk about it.
Now 40, Hayley, who lives in Essex with husband Gavin, 33, a builder, has only recently come to terms with her condition and the fact her best hope of starting a family is to adopt.
When she was first diagnosed, she didn’t really appreciate the impact it would have on both her long-term health and her ability to have a family.
Although women usually go through the menopause — defined as not having a period for at least a year — aged 51, a surprisingly high number experience it prematurely, aged 40 and under.
The menopause occurs when the ovaries stop releasing eggs each month. And because the follicle — the sac in the ovary where the immature egg develops — also produces oestrogen, levels of this hormone drop significantly, too.
Normally, the ovaries stop egg production as part of the ageing process (women are born with an entire reserve of immature eggs) or because they have been damaged or removed.
Scans revealed Hayley had only one ovary and a small womb — but the exact cause has not been found. She believes it may be genetic, as gynaecological issues run in her family. The menopause means an end to natural fertility, but it can have further ramifications, as oestrogen also keeps bones healthy, and has a protective effect on the heart, skin and blood vessels.
She had been advised her only chance of having a baby was through donor eggs and IVF.
It was only when Hayley met Gavin in 2011 that she began to come to terms with her diagnosis. The couple married in 2013 and are trying to adopt a child. Hayley ruled out IVF because ‘I was scared that if it didn’t work, I’d feel like a failure again’.