The Good News
The verdict was out: I was pregnant. And a working woman.
As much as I was excited, nervousness took over, as I felt uneasy about telling my boss. I didn’t want my role at work to change when everything else was changing too; my body, my stamina, my food habits and hormones. When I finally mustered the courage to tell my boss, he was supportive and happy for me. My colleagues were all excited too. But, this was only the first challenge.
Preparing for Motherhood
After figuring out my maternity leave with HR, I was all set to leave Mumbai to have my baby in my hometown, which is in Antwerp, Belgium. This meant that I was going to be away for 3 months before the baby came and 2 months postpartum. On the flight there I was so excited to have a long break from work. I could finally focus on preparing for the baby without the stress and responsibility of work deliverables. It felt good to disconnect from my responsibilities and spend time focusing on myself instead. Still, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was about to come next.
Labour of Love
At 41 weeks, and after 33 hours of labour later, I finally managed to push my daughter out into the world. Despite all the pain and exhaustion, it was the most beautiful experience. The first month was extremely difficult, from breastfeeding, to getting mastitis to sleep deprivation and adjusting to motherhood. I was exhausted, and most of the time I felt like a cow, either I was feeding the baby or pumping out milk. My life had completely changed and that it would never ever be the same again.
After we came back to Mumbai, the help I had hired for the baby backed out, and all of a sudden my responsibilities increased ten-fold. Not only was I managing my baby, but I had to get back into my role of household errands. Yes, my husband did help out as much as he could, but a lot of the responsibility was pushed back on me. Before having a baby I was extremely organized but post having her, my mind was all over the place. I would be concentrating on something and all of a sudden, I would hear her cry and forget what I was doing. Yes, mommy-brain is a real thing. But the hardest part was dealing with the emotions. So many fears going through my mind ‘am I going to be a good mother?’, ‘am I doing something wrong?’ As if self-doubt wasn’t enough, I was also dealing with a lot of hair loss. At one point I thought I was going to break.
After a few months of being a mother, all I seemed to be doing was taking care of the baby, nurturing her and celebrating her milestones. I loved every bit of it, but somewhere along the way, I felt like I had no other identity anymore. That’s when I decided to re-evaluate my role and figure out what I needed to feel like my old self again. I started exercising, listening to podcasts and meeting friends outside of playdates. Somehow at the end of the day, I still didn’t feel satisfied and felt like something was missing. I needed to find my purpose again after becoming a mom. Restarting work felt like a step in the right direction.
The Mom Guilt
Even though my company allowed me flexible work hours, my decision to restart work when my baby was four months old, was a tough one. I had just added one more responsibility to my bag. Commute time was high, and in the hours that I did spend at the office, I was just trying to get up to speed with everything I missed by being at home for my baby, all the while trying to make sure I didn’t leak milk through my shirt.
I found it extremely difficult to have a work-life balance because when I was at home I would be constantly stressing about work and when I was at work I would be feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the baby. Most friends and colleagues seemed envious that I got to work from home, but in reality, it meant that I was working at all hours just to meet deadlines. The little sleep that I was getting became more interrupted.
Still, the worst of it was the guilt of not being present for my baby. Even when I was physically there, mentally I was often not.
Finding the Balance and the Joy
Ultimately returning to work, despite these challenges, has been worth it. I have figured out a routine (most days) and learnt to be even more organised. Certain times in the day are only for her where she gets uninterrupted mother-daughter time. I have made little rituals for us like morning massages, post breakfast dancing and meeting friends or attending a class in the evenings. Some days, the guilt comes back because social media accounts are constantly sharing all the ways to be a better parent. However, with time I have realized that working makes me feel content and empowered. This, in turn, has made me a more patient, positive and happier mother. Some days are still hard, but on these days I remind myself that I don’t need to be a martyr. As mothers, we need to take care of ourselves to be able to do the same for our children. Mental well-being is key.
If you are a mom returning to work, join our tribe here.