As the participation of women in the workplace has grown, so too has the need to live through menopause in a more public way. Previously managed in private, many women now experience (often visible) menopausal changes at work, frequently in front of others. Even though it will affect most women at some point in their lives, menopause is still not widely spoken about. This lack of open discourse has allowed negative narratives around body image, ageing, emotional stability and competence in the workplace to linger unchallenged.
With a predominantly female workforce, a large proportion of whom are aged between 45 and 55 years (the timespan commonly associated with menopause), there was little known about the experience of menopause within the health sector in New Zealand. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore how these women experienced menopause. Eleven nurses working at Christchurch Hospital shared their lived experiences of menopause in semi-structured, in-depth interviews. A thematic analysis revealed that due to the continued stigma around menopause, the participants feared being outed as a menopausal woman, particularly in the workplace where professionalism and pride in “being a nurse” was important to them.
Feelings of embarrassment and shame, especially where the women were unable to conceal the outward bodily signs of menopause, challenged them to redefine not only their own sense of self, but also to understand that others may view them differently because of this. Relationships with colleagues changed through this period as both the women and their co-workers learned to navigate what is, to many, considered a taboo subject. Outside of work, responsibilities for ageing parents, partners and children with varying levels of dependence competed with the effects of menopause, testing the coping skills of women already under stress. Unsurprisingly this resulted in many of the women questioning the gendered expectations of others while exploring strategies to improve their own situation, both within their workplace and the wider social context within which they lived.
Kathryn Goodyear, MPH October 2018