I had my whole life planned out.
Graduate, work for a couple of years, get an MBA, work as a consultant, travel far and wide, write, practice photography, work abroad for a few years, then come back home to India. Marriage and family would fit in wherever there would be space but without any compromises to my plans. My parents had always been supportive, albeit a little skeptical, seeing that I had little or no time allotted for my domestic affairs. My husband, whom I had been dating since the first year of my graduation, was more interested in settling down, having kids and leading a comfortable life. We were the perfect match! I needed his pedantic approach to sometimes reign in my enthusiasm. He needed my zeal to shake him out of his comfort zone. Even though we were evenly matched, I was still the long-term planner in the team and I had the next, at least, five years mapped out in my head for both of us. And it did not figure in a baby anytime soon.
The news of Baby Girl R was the biggest shock of my life! When the news hit me, my first thought was NO, this is not something I can handle right now. What would happen to my career? I didn’t want to slow down while my peers raced ahead. Maybe it would be better to not go forward with this now, and think about it in a couple of years. But then, it’s not like this was something that you can go and get in the supermarket. What if things did not go according to plan in a couple of years and then I am left with the prospect of no children, expensive medical treatment and a lifetime of ‘if only’. I will not lie when I say that this was the hardest decision that I have ever taken. My heart was saying ‘You don’t want this’ and my mind was saying ‘Maybe it won’t be so bad’. My husband wanted to go forward with it but he would be supportive of any decision that I would take.
Long story short, we welcomed Baby Girl R into our lives after 9 months. The couple of months post her arrival, were extremely tough. I was not prepared mentally for the amount of strain a mother goes through especially if the delivery is through a C-section. The only happy thought I had was ‘Thank God I get 6 months of paid maternity leave!’ It was hard to imagine how women were, till now, expected to join back after only 3 months of paid leave. And there is still no policy on paternity leaves in place. No wonder our female workforce participation has such a poor record in our country.
We have seen our mothers stay at home to look after us while our fathers have gone on to doing their daily jobs. A woman is expected to stop working or at the least take the first few years off work to focus on raising the child and running the household. For our society, a working mother symbolizes time away from her child, her family, her chores and her duties. What is invisible to the society at large is the fact that if both parents are working, it means more financial independence and a thriving family. How is it fair to burden the father to be the sole breadwinner and to pressure a mother to be the primary care giver of the family? Isn’t sharing the responsibility a far more constructive approach to managing a family? Co-parenting, sharing the responsibility evenly is what makes sense today.
Unfortunately, I had almost no examples to take as inspiration. But I was determined to do it differently.
I was not going to give up my job or tone down my ambitions just because I am a woman, and it was expected of me. Just as household chores are not the sole responsibility of a woman, neither is raising a baby. I had the option of a support system – an extended family of parents, in-laws and house help. A full-time nanny and a day care would solve a lot of my problems, though there would still be a nagging voice at the back of my mind - the voice of the many relatives who have asked me – What would your child do when you go to office? How will she stay away from you? The strange thing is no one ever asks the father the same questions. He is expected to be more involved in his work, and to have limited time for his child and family, thanks to his demanding office schedule. And that is never questioned!
Luckily for me, it was different. My husband was there for me throughout. We had decided early on that we would take help from the support system that was available to us and switch jobs to become part of organizations with parenting friendly policies like working from home. We would both plan our work schedules so that Baby Girl R would get the best care and attention and love from everyone around her. She would grow up to be a strong and independent woman who would hopefully grow up in a society free from gender biased stigmas and notions.
To become a mother is a choice. To work or not to work after becoming a mother is a choice. And choosing either option is okay. What is not okay is the social stigma attached to the situation which burdens the new mother by making her feel guilty for thinking of herself along with what’s best for her family.
It is, at the end of day, your life. Only you can mould it, shape it and live it. The generations of expectations that could weigh down on your mind are there to only slow you down. Having a baby and raising a child are not easy but how you do it is entirely up to you. You could leave your job and give the baby all your time or you could continue working, invest in building a trusted support system and know that things would fall into place never the less. Whichever path you wish to take, the choice is YOURS and yours only! Your child will love you just as much, no matter what!
Modhura Roy (Author)