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Life of a Working Mother

I am a corporate lawyer based in Mumbai and I have a 16-month old baby boy. Neither set of grandparents is in Mumbai, and since my husband and I both have full-time jobs, we rely heavily on our nanny.

There was never a doubt in my mind that I would return to work post-baby. So at least that was one major decision that wasn’t on the list of dilemmas.

But I had several career-related concerns both during my maternity leave and once I resumed work. I’ve tried to list some of the thoughts I struggled with.

During my maternity leave:

• Three months or six? This was the first issue I had to grapple with and, even though no one was putting a gun to my head to decide, I was restless until I knew if I was going to be gone for three months or six. I needed that certainty as soon as possible, but it took me a while to get there.

• My initial instinct was to return to work almost immediately as I felt bored, underutilized, insufficiently challenged and, after a high-pressure job, being home 24×7 was an anti-climax. The best way to describe how I felt is like a deflated balloon. The baby wasn’t a great deal of fun in the initial few weeks, yet I had to be home all the time and available to breastfeed.

• But since I wasn’t getting much sleep at night, going to the office in the morning was not practically possible. By the time I even started getting over my exhaustion, we were already two months in. And that’s when I turned a corner – the baby was suddenly smiling and doing different things each day (also, the initial challenges of being a new parent were becoming less daunting).

• That’s when it really sank in that I’m never again going to get six months of time with my baby, and what is six months (or even a couple of years) in an entire career? I do not regret this decision even on my bad days.

The other decision I struggled with was how to get back to work.

• I considered whether, in order to ease back into work, I should start doing a couple of hours a week from home even during my maternity leave and then start out with half days at work or a day or two from home. This was a comparatively simpler decision for me – I instinctively felt that I’d be happier spending all of my maternity leave focused completely on the baby (isn’t that the whole point?) and then going back to work full-time (no half days or working from home, except in an emergency, as with anyone else). I felt that this would make it easier for me to adjust to being back at work in a manner as close as possible to “what it used to be”.

• Even after I had decided to take off the whole six months, I kept torturing myself with a few thoughts — how would I be viewed compared to other colleagues who only took three months? Would I be able to pick up where I left off and how hard would it be to catch up? If the child doesn’t sleep through the night by the time I return to work, would I be a zombie the next day? Would I need to wean the child much sooner than the six months I had planned to breastfeed so as to have him get used to formula? I also spent the last month of my maternity leave worrying about the separation pangs I’d experience in the first few weeks.

I am glad to report that the build-up to it was actually far worse.

Once I got back to work:

Is the nanny going to show up the next day? We ended up getting a 24×7 nanny so at least I didn’t have to go to bed wondering if the nanny would bail and I’d have to stay home.

Are my colleagues and peers judging me for leaving work at 6.30 pm every day? Probably, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I work like a machine when I’m at the office and my efficiency is probably way higher than someone who spends 14 hours there.

Am I not going to get any high-profile transactions because I’m not available 100% of the time? Probably. This continues to trouble me, but the alternative (being available 24×7) is not an option. So that’s life.

Will I be paid less than others at my level? Probably, and that’s fair. I made a choice to have a child. That other person is simply able to do more work than me and should be compensated accordingly.

Should I not take any vacation since I need to overcompensate for my lack of face-time?

Will my child love the nanny more? This is just base human jealousy, but it’s bothered me ever since the day I came home from work, put my arms out to take my baby from the nanny, and my baby hugged the nanny instead.

Will my child be sufficiently engaged when I’m at work? Will the nanny actively play with him and read to him or will she constantly be trying to put him down for a nap?

• Will he speak ungrammatically, will he have strange pronunciation and accents or will he not learn any language properly?

This is enough to drive anyone crazy so I decided to take a deep breath and take it one day at a time.

A few other decisions I made:

Being ok with quality over quantity in terms of time with the baby on weekdays.

Not comparing myself to others. In that vein (and, ironically, despite having shared my experiences in this article), I actually did not find it helpful to read about or talk to other working parents about their experiences, as each person’s priorities and circumstances are different.

Making peace with everything not being perfect and doing the best I can with 24 hours in a day and two hands (read muddling along). It’s truly harder to meet one’s own expectations as compared to other people’s.

Dr. Rachael Israel

Consultant - Obstetrics and Gynecology

Panchsheel Park