With a growing sense of dread, I stepped out of the car and looked up at the Playschool and Daycare board. Looking at my frown, my husband coaxed me to look at all the places positively. All I could do was resist the urge of running away from that place and take my baby to the safety and comfort of my home. For nine months, I had been the sole caretaker of my daughter, how could I just hand her over to some strangers and resume work.
How could I subject the little one to a rigorous lifestyle of getting up on time, and going to daycare be it winter or summer? She was too little, I protested to my husband. Yet somewhere inside logic spoke up and assured me that was to be done, if not now a few months later. We dismissed many daycares before stumbling upon this one.
Most daycares were wary of taking in a child of 9 months and others that accepted, we did not like. This one we saw had an impressive look to it and we sauntered in thinking no harm trying. We were greeted by a middle aged, very well dressed lady who immediately took my daughter and started playing with her. She showed us around and I must admit, I couldn’t find much fault.
Seeing a couple of 3-4-month-old babies added to my confidence. The place was clean and the staff looked loving and affectionate. More so, this daycare was swarmed with children. After a detailed discussion we left telling them we would let them know but we had already made up our minds.
Hence I started my journey back to work with my 9 month old in tow. The school principal made a very valid point that kind of put my fears away. She had said, “If you do intend to avail child care facilities for your baby, try to do so when they are less than a year. Babies between the age of 9 – 12 months do not have a track of time, adjust faster than older children.” It was only when I started dropping my daughter there everyday I realized the truth in her statement. There were a couple of 2-3 year old children who took more than a month to settle. Every day I used to see them standing at the door and crying for their parents. My daughter did not cry even once. I was so thankful to that bit of advice and my husband’s push to start early. While one part of the battle was won, my starting work again was another herculean task. Being out of touch for almost a year, I started with very little confidence. I made mistakes, learnt from them and with baby steps in finally got back full-fledged. When recently a cousin of mine was doing the same, she called me for advice and this is what I told her:
Most of my colleagues, men and women were my age and had children. Each of them had their own struggles. So don’t think you are the only one who has to rush in the morning, bear separation pangs from your baby and feel sorry for yourself. I used to go to her daycare during the day to feed her, sometimes only check on her.
When I stepped out of the office I observed many women doing the same. In fact, my boss would never join us for lunch as he had to pick his son from school and drop him at his daycare. Recently I was cribbing about not getting enough time with my daughter to play when a slightly older colleague complained about her daughter’s studies. I realized that children small or big, need us around and each of us at work was fighting their own battles.
In the excitement of getting back to work and arranging for childcare, I had kind of assumed that I could start off work from where I left off. I was horribly wrong and in the first few days, I realized that I was so out of practice. I was asking very basic questions and struggling to complete tasks that a year ago I could do with my eyes closed.
After my first week, I broke down before my husband and said I could not do this. I was so low on confidence and seeing newcomers perform better than me was not helping. Although I got back to the same team and project I was in before my leave, I was struggling to come to terms with the work. Thanks to my understanding manager and colleagues, I got enough time to get back in the groove. But everyone might not be so lucky.
So before joining back, invest some time in learning and preparing yourself. Anyways, managers are wary of taking on new mothers as they feel that they might be distracted. Don’t give them a chance to point at your shortcomings. If you are well prepared it will add to your confidence and make the transition less stressful.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” they say. So make sure you aren’t trying to do everything yourself. Trying to be superwoman will not help you or others and there are chances you might burn out. So ask for help and delegate tasks whenever possible. Be it at work or at home, make sure you aren’t overburdened.
While as a mother you will remain the primary caretaker of your child, make sure that the father contributes equally. In case you live with family, you can enlist their help too. If you feel that the house work is too much, invest in house help. Don’t look at it as an additional expense, as you can use that valuable time to play with your child, or talk to your husband or even pursue a hobby. A couple of hours of your day are far more worth than a few thousand rupees that you may spend in a month on house help.
In an interview, Indra Nooyi, President of PepsiCo stated, “Women can never have it all. We only pretend we have it all. Several times during the day women have to make a decision whether to be a professional, a mother or a wife”. Having worked for 12 years now, I can relate to what she says. Hence prioritizing your tasks each day is extremely important and you and only you can decide what is important to you at that moment.
Never doubt what you have chosen and stand by it. When I got back to work, I started in a mess. I can’t claim to be the most organized person, hence each day I started off with multiple tasks, tried to do them all at once and often ended by day dissatisfied with the outcome. I worked very hard but got minimal results. Then I started noting down my tasks which helped me prioritize. Seeing tick marks on my tasks gave me a sense of accomplishment. It may not have worked out well every day, but on most days I slept happily. Even then there were many tasks that kept getting pushed behind, but for my own sanity I didn’t obsess over the badly arranged closet for once.
If you go to work leaving your child in daycare, you need nerves of steel, not only to counter your self-inflicted guilt but also harsh words you might hear from nosy neighbors, relatives and sometimes even friends. Hence, as a mother, you would have a tendency to rush work, not take breaks so that you get to spend time with your little one.
I remember, when I started my second innings, I used to avoid going for tea breaks, would miss lunch time just in order to scamper off work and leave early to pick my daughter. Every minute I saved meant an extra minute with my baby. But what I was doing was wearing myself out completely. After a lot of coaxing from my office friends I started going for small breaks with them and I a realized I accomplished more when I was relaxed. I took my meals on time which meant I wasn’t exhausted at the end of the day due to lack of nourishment. The time I spent with my daughter was also better as I was relaxed and not irritable.
After futile attempts to lose my pregnancy weight during my break, I was ecstatic when I saw the weighing scale a month after my getting back to work. I was actually thinner than pre-pregnancy time and had to redo my entire wardrobe as everything was loose. When I met some old friends I expected them to compliment me but was shocked when they said, “You look so sick. Are you well?”
That is when I realized that I had lost an enormous amount of weight not because of exercising but due to undue stress and lack of healthy eating. A friend reminded me that I was still feeding my daughter and it was important for her to have good quality milk which I meant I had to continue to eat well and healthy. My husband coaxed me to continue exercising and reminded me that I could take care of everything only if I was well and with work and baby, my falling ill would be catastrophic.
Offering extended Maternity Benefits is not enough to welcome mothers returning to work. Women battle guilt, postpartum depression and many other things when they return. Let us all make it a little easier for them until they can return to their groove.