When I got pregnant, I was no less than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in my head. Though I never pictured myself as a stay-at-home mom, “reality hits only after the contractions”, I was told.
I laughed my heart out back then. I was still a whole month away from D day. And although I had a planned caesarean delivery (thanks to a nasty old fibroid), motherhood hit me just as hard. "Relax! No mother has it easy” is the irritated response I repeatedly get from the world around me.
But, is that supposed to help me feel supported? That’s like telling someone with depression – “You have to stop feeling dull”. It doesn’t help.
Oh, by the way, we’re as nuclear as it gets – just the hubby, bubby and I in our suburban Mumbai shack. Our bai and nanny (both!) went MIA just a few days before I was to join full time. That F*CK IT moment was followed by a teary settling-in phase at the creche.
Now, after eight months of exclusive baby-ness, as I plonk myself back at my work desk, my foggy head is having a hard time switching between a live CCTV feed of the bub’s every move (creepy but essential) and my first blog, that’s three weeks too late already.
I’m ecstatic about being back among adult conversations and having the freedom to pee without being rushed by a mischievous crawler. But this ‘fifth trimester’ seems to have brought more challenges than relief.
Wait... There’s a Whole Fifth Trimester?
Yup! Getting back to work (even after six months of maternity leave) feels like hitting reality after an exotic holiday. Only, it wasn’t a holiday... and what I actually hit was the glass door on my way into the office. Ouch! That hurt, but now I’m awake :P
The ‘fourth trimester’ was really an unforgiving feed-poop-sleep loop. And my ‘reality’ is the tiring attempt to be both – a good employee and a good mother. Ha! Even Superwoman is super at her job because she ain’t got no bubba bouncing at her hip.
Sure, women feel physically and emotionally better by the end of the new-born haze. But that’s mostly because our brains and bodies have no option but to ‘get with it’.
A working mom = sleep deprivation X [baby + career + guilt + unrealistic expectation from self + responsibility + body issues]
So, a month into my fifth trimester, I’m a paranoid zombie with leaky boobs, insatiable hunger and a full-time job.
Fingers crossed... it’ll get better...
Getting Back in the Zone
“Didn’t you just have a baby? And you’re going back to work already?” “She’s tooooooo little for daycare… How sad.” “Why don’t you ask your mom, or your mother-in-law, to move in with you?” “Oh you can always work from home and take care of the baby. Bosses are flexible nowadays.”
I’m working two jobs and I’m only getting paid for one. But it’s really not about the money anymore. Sleep is what drives every decision now. Just one sound, long, deep night’s sleep can change my life.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here. If getting some more shuteye was my priority, then what am I doing at my desk in office? Maternity leave, aka the fourth trimester, is a b*tch, no doubt.
But I’ve got to admit, it also has its ‘what’s not to love’ moments – noon naps, hot meals, middle of the day baths, postnatal yoga, Netflix and all the baby bonding time you’d want.
Maybe I should’ve delayed the fifth trimester – getting back to full-time work with an 8-month-old baby in a daycare.
Butt… (pun intended because my ass is getting bigger from all the exercise I’m not doing anymore) I feel like this is a ‘now or never’ kinda deal. So I decided to reward myself for my post-labour labour, with some professional ‘getting my ass kicked’. Here I am, 10 days into my ‘comeback’.
But I am still struggling.
Why Does He Get to Have It All and I Don’t?
I’ve moved quite swiftly from Anne Marie Slaughter’s ‘women can’t have it all’ to Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘women don’t need to do it all’ theories.
I have to admit, the feminist in me stands realistically realigned. While I sat at home on baby duty, I couldn’t help but feel resentment towards my husband’s freedom to work, network and live life on his own terms. Why does he get to have it all and I don’t?
The solution (and the problem) was finding a good daycare. (Dealing with the sugar coated “your baby needs you and not a compromise” remarks, is a separate challenge.)
“Join kar ke dekh lo, nahin hua toh chhod dena” (Rejoin work and see. If you can’t cope, you can always quit) was something else I heard.
Frankly, a priority I can no longer afford is kicking ass at work. Because the second ambition clashes with baby duty, I will have no choice left. So I focus on just getting by, one day at a time.
Also, here’s where I have luck on my side – I’m married to someone who makes it easier for me to strike a work-life balance, however mythical a notion that might be.
He does his best with baby duty and doesn’t thrust the onus of parenting and housework on my shoulders alone. This, in my opinion, is absolutely essential for any woman to get back to doing what she loves.
She’s Better Off Without Me
She was crawling in reverse till yesterday. But a bunch of infants at her daycare, equally wobbly on their knees, inspired her to move ahead I guess. It was hilarious, but sad too. If it wasn’t for the CCTV feed, I would’ve missed it.
Honestly, I felt numb. I wasn’t there to see her eyes light up the way they do when she realises she’s done something amazing. But I guess I’ll be missing out on a lot more while I’m at work. So I should just get used to this, too. She’s just nine months old and already she’s having a blast without me.
Mornings are still heavy with the anxiety of separation – but evenings are hard only on me. When I pick her up at 6 pm every day, she’s reluctant to leave her toys and her new friends, for me.
The ‘art’ of keeping a kid busy.
Photo Courtesy: Megha Mathur
Dhaani learns about colours at her play school.
Photo Courtesy: Megha Mathur
But it’s good for her, I really do believe that. A rich and active curriculum – involving other kids – is an environment much more constructive than the one I’ll manage to provide at home, feeling torn between chores, pending work and baby time.
Thus continues the cycle of double guilt.
(This is Part I in a series of stories about India’s working women. The Quint is trying to investigate what makes it easier or harder for women to be at the workplace. Can she return to work after a maternity leave with equal support from office and home? Does she carry the guilt of being away from her children while at work, and vice-versa? Even with or without baby, does the family share household responsibilities with her? Share your story, if you have one to tell, and we’ll publish it.)