Tracie Couper on joining the police in midlife

For many women, turning 50 can prove to be a very difficult pill to swallow. And lead to baffled questions. HOW can I be 50? WHERE did the years go? WHAT has happened to my waistline and jawline?

For me, the big 5-0 fell in the eye of the Covid storm. My plans to really celebrate the event with a family trip to New York were well and truly scuppered.

I was 50, without any big, fun and special memories attached to the milestone.

Just a few drinks out in the street with neighbours. Lovely though they are, they’re not match for NYC.

The next day, I woke up and cried.

I was 50. And with it came a feeling of invisibility.

I didn’t get any first looks, never mind second ones any more.

But, I contented myself with my wonderful husband frequently telling me: ‘You’re gorgeous.’

Even though I bear no resemblance to the woman smiling out from the frame wedding photo that hangs above our mantelpiece. A photo taken September 17th, 2006.

I reminded myself that I had so many things be thankful for and look forward to. And told myself that’50 is the new 40 isn’t it?’

As friends in my own age group and a little older bemoaned the hot flushes, night sweats that would leave the sheets drenched, and wild rages sparked by the smallest irritation, I could only sympathise.

I couldn’t empathise because I’d basically been spared all of that. After attempting to get pregnant for 18 months, from the age of 37, tests revealed that wasn’t going to happen. Not naturally, anyway.

I’d had a premature menopause at some point, over those many years I’d been on the pill.

My ovaries had prematurely failed. My body was old before its time. This knowledge made me feel less ‘womanly’ but I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of becoming a mum aged 40, with the help of a donor egg.

As soon as I stopped breast feeding, I was put onto HRT to replace those hormones that my poor, old ovaries had unfortunately stopped producing. Job done. No big deal.

Being made redundant from my Deputy Features Editor’s job with Woman magazine, while on maternity WAS a big deal. But a few months later, I had landed another magazine job.

The latest in a long line of newspaper and magazine jobs since I’d left Uni in 1994 with a BA (Hons) journalism under my leopard-print belt.

I loved my new Features Editor job on a lifestyle and wellbeing title, and had a very happy time of it for nearly 12 years. Until February this year, when the redundancy cleaver struck me again.

This time, it felt different. After so long in the same role, the ‘outside world’ was a fearful place. My confidence was diminished hugely. Two questions spiralled around my panicked mind.

‘What do I do now?’

‘I’m pushing 53 – will people want to employ me at 53?’

When the panic subsided and I was able to think rationally about the first question, the words ‘second career’ started percolating in my thought process.

But as what? I mean, a journalist was all I’d ever been. Ever known. I’m a journalist. That’s WHO I am.

A bit of advice I was given was to ‘remember just HOW much you’ve achieved, and HOW many skills you have’.

I took this on board and thought about how I could use all those skills differently. Apply them to a different kind of job, use them to greater advantage.

This redundancy could be a golden opportunity to do something completely different, rather than get another of the ‘same old’ sort of job.

I decided that now I was out of my comfort zone, I’d use it to do something different. Really change things up.

I started looking into Media Officer jobs with charities. Rewarding, worthwhile jobs that would utilise my writing, communicating, interviewing, news sense skills.

Then one day, in March, one of my job alerts flagged up a ‘communications’ role with the Met Police.

On closer inspection, the role was predominantly answering and triaging 999 and 101 calls. This would involve intensive training and shiftwork.

It excited me though. No two days the same. A job that very much matters. New skills to learn. It sounded an enlivening experience.

Okay, the shift work aspect is a little daunting. But hey, I’m human – humans adapt. I applied. Immediately.

On the face of it, the role is VERY removed from my job as a journalist but there are commonalities.

Both require the ability to be a good listener and pay attention to the details. Because those details could make the difference between it being a highest priority call or not. Between a life saved, or not.

Working to tight deadlines requires a cool head under pressure. Something that’s definitely the same for a 999/101 call handler.

Then there’s the really practical skill of touch typing! A ‘talent’ I’ve honed through typing as I’ve interviewed case histories for stories over many, many years. An essential skill when taking the details of a 999 or 101 call.

While the Met Police is male-dominated, I don’t think that is going to be something that I’m glaringly aware of.

At the assessment day, in May, where I clinched my Conditional Job Officer (subject to vetting procedures and a medical) there were more women there than men.

Women, who like me were all there with the intention of boldly entering new territory, and carving out a second career.

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