Having gone through both pregnancy and menopause at work myself, I can’t help but reflect on the differences between the two experiences.
Apart from the fleeting shadow of terror that passes across your boss’s face when you break the news, signalling their mind has already leapt to the challenges of maternity leave and cover (!), the overwhelming response to becoming pregnant while at work is one of joy.
It’s like the whole office wants to be part of the journey, from the first chorus of “congratulations, how wonderful”, right through to the prerequisite baby shower, gifts and morning tea.
Once into your second trimester, there is no hiding your condition. You wear your baby bump with pride and are bombarded daily by the concerned, the caring and the curious – “oh, how many weeks are you now?”, “do you know if you are you having a boy or a girl?”, “how are you feeling?”, “now remember to get plenty of rest”. And if you are not feeling great and need to take sick leave or time off work to go to doctor’s appointments – no problem – the workplace is (for the most part) sympathetic and accommodating.
Contrast that with going through menopause at work. This is definitely not worthy of a workplace announcement. There is no sense of joy in your heart – or your workmates’. Compared to the public celebration that is pregnancy, menopause feels like you own dirty little secret.
Even if you are aware that the huge emotional and physical shift playing out in your life is the first sign of menopause, you will definitely not talk about it, especially to your boss. There may be the outward signs of hot flushes but these will not be obvious to many, and those who do notice are generally too sensitive (or is that embarrassed?) to make comment. And if your health is feeling compromised with your particular combination of menopause signs, you certainly are not going to ask for time off – even if your need is greater than that of your pregnant work colleague. And yet your signs can go on for much longer than 9 months and severely affect your quality of life if not treated.
The two experiences couldn’t be more different – but should they be?
Pregnancy and menopause are two completely natural life stages for women. Both signal a shift in hormonal balance that requires the same response – compassion from others and huge doses of self-care from yourself. These are two times in your life when you need to be kind to yourself. Understand and accept your physical limitations. Recognise your emotional roller coaster for what it is. Rest and reflect often. Ask for advice from those who have gone before you. Eat well. Exercise regularly. And enjoy.