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I write this while my five-month-old snoozes away, only to be wide awake in the next few hours with a mood somewhere between being super cranky and being chatty.
My maternity leave began a lot earlier than I had expected it to, in June 2020. This meant I had to stop doing what I loved — work. As a self-proclaimed workaholic, it felt like my life had come to a standstill, and I had lost the one thing that defined my being. With lines blurred between work and personal life, I had never considered what I did for a living as a “job”, and for it to have come to a screeching halt meant that I was forced to take a backseat. However, there was something wonderful waiting for me — motherhood. And little did I imagine that my workaholic-self would be beaten hands down as a new mum.
I must admit that my transition from being a fiercely independent person with no strings attached, to becoming a mum was very rocky (and still is, at times). While it was my choice to take up the latter role, my former demeanour did kick in once in a while, questioning my ability to be a “good enough” caregiver to my daughter while I yearned to be my old self. My hankering for the daily grind only grew; from dabbling between multiple calls, email and documents, to endless calls brainstorming with my team to curate the best campaigns for my clients, I simply wanted to go back in time — back to December 2019.
Believe it or not — even feeling this way makes you feel guilty. You wonder if you don’t love your baby enough and are looking for something more gratifying from the outside. With wisdom pouring in from any and everyone on how you NEED to be around your baby every second of every day of your life, makes you wonder if you actually are fit to be a mum in the first place!
While the urge to get back to work increased as days and weeks went by, the fear of being “judged” for far greater.
What would people think if I chose to go back to work earlier than scheduled while my baby needed 100% of my attention?
Am I not allowed to NOT make a choice between my baby and my work?
More importantly, the mother of all questions — Was I being a “bad mom” for making the choice of redeeming my old self?
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why I was adding this immense pressure on myself to make a choice between the two roles. (Quite likely that my hormones were having a field day, but it certainly didn’t feel good to be in a confused state of mind!)
That’s when it struck me — every mother who chooses to go back to work must be feeling this way at some point in her life.
You may have a supportive partner and/ or a supportive family who is probably sharing the load, but a mother is always seen as the primary caregiver whether you like it or not, and somehow the weight is always on her shoulders; of taking care of the house, the children and the family, while trying to chase her dreams and COVID-19 has not made this any easier. A report by The Mavericks — COVID-19 and Beyond, based on a survey that was conducted with 700+ respondents from across the country, suggests that the overall impact of COVID-19 on mental health is much higher in women than in men. Men continue to use distractions to manage the situation and contain the average impact to 2.65 out of 5, vis-a-vis women, who suffer a 17% higher impact at 3.09. With lines blurring between work and home, women seem to be working round the clock and this clearly has had an adverse effect.
Despite the elephant in the room, I resumed work starting with half days on 1st November 2020, a few days before my daughter completed four months. While I did have occasional bouts of feeling the guilt of supposedly choosing to work on a document while my mother stepped in to take care of my baby, I eventually got over it; I remember crying my eyes out when my mum bottle-fed my baby for the first time while I attended my first call in five whole months. Three weeks later, I found my rhythm. And here I am today, thriving while trying to balance between the two things I love the most — my baby and my passion.
Some people did point out to me that it was far too early to expose myself to the pressure of being a working mother. On the other hand, I was praised for getting back to the grind earlier than expected, and this didn’t make me feel any better either. Described as a Wonder Woman who balances it all out and while making it “look” effortless from the outside is not what one wants to hear when you are trying to run between the baby and the laptop, multiple times a day. It was my choice to get back to work and it was my mother’s choice to support my decision.
Whether you choose to go back when you feel like it or be that “Wonder Woman” or you decide to take it slow and get into the grind at your own pace, is your choice. There is no “right place, at the right time” for this choice that you make. In short, never doubt yourself for the choices you make, especially those that make you happy and feel whole again. Because believe it or not, motherhood does change you; how you navigate through the challenges, is your choice, getting back to work (or not), is your choice and finally HOW you do it, is in fact, your choice.
This article was originally published on Medium and has been re-published here with the author’s permission
About the Author
Smriti Raghunandan is a Business Director at The Mavericks India, a reputation advisory. She has close to 10 years of experience in the field of public relations. She is a proud mum to her 6-month-old daughter, Vinaya, while she tries to figure out her own definition of work-life integration. Smriti has completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Stella Maris College in Chennai and her Master’s in Communication Studies from Christ University, Bangalore. She is currently based in Chennai.