Motherhood and work
I was recently traveling for work and looking for books to read on the flight. As I browsed through the biographies on display I realized that none of the books showcased women leaders, forget talking about mothers as leaders. I am glad that Sheryl Sandberg wrote her story but then that is just one story in between so many other stories that only talk about the world from the eyes of a man. Reflecting on it later with my girl friends I realized that we as women leaders in different spheres of our life have to do a better job of getting our stories out there so we have multiple narratives instead of just one.
I am a new mom of a lovely 10 month old daughter and it has been an absolutely amazing ride so far. Motherhood has brought some interesting challenges at work though. In technical speak it has required us to do some refactoring of our lives. I want to share some of the learnings here that I have had along the way.
Taking up new opportunities at work
I got assigned a new project right at the time that I got pregnant. Traditional wisdom suggests to take it slow when you get pregnant, but I decided to follow Sandberg’s advice — Lean In. So, I took the new project and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had to ramp up a completely new team from scratch which meant starting with a really small team. So physically speaking it was less taxing which worked out perfectly. I always joke that the size of the team aligned with my trimesters 🙂
Demanding fully paid maternity leave
Right at the time that I got pregnant I realized that our company did not support fully paid maternity leave. My immediate reaction was that this is not fair. I give it my all when I do work for the company and so it is only fair that they should compensate me fairly for a life changing event. Digging deeper I realized that this was not a problem with my company, this was problem with the United States in general. I fail to understand how a developed country has failed to understand the importance of supporting new parents as they go through this life changing transition. Much to my surprise, I also realized that so many people have accepted this as OK. I want everyone to understand that this is NOT OK. Look at most European countries, you will understand why parents are much more happier in those countries. Fortunately for me I have a very supportive manager who asked me to fight for it for myself and for all the women in the company. Our HR was willing enough to oblige and take on a transformation in the company
Also Read: After Maternity Leaves are Over
Taking time off
I have seen other women colleagues come back to work in 6 weeks time after having the baby. Knowing nothing about having a baby, I expected that to be fairly easy until I had my own. My world turned upside down and it took me a good 3 months to feel anywhere close to being physically ok. Again not rushing back to work because of peer pressure or the dread of what might happen if I stayed out too long helped.
Pumping with pride
Pumping at work was a entirely new world that I could not even comprehend. I felt embarrassed talking about it to my mostly male peer group. And then one of my male friends told me — Pump with pride. It is a honorable thing to be able to feed your daughter and you should not be shy about calling it out.
Another thing that scared me about going back to work was having to travel. I did not want to spend too much time away from my little one as I continued to feed her and also spend some healthy bonding time with her. I was scared of bringing this up as I might be perceived as slacking. But instead when I mentioned this to colleagues, I realized that there were so many other options that opened up. People were willing to travel to accommodate me. My manager gave me additional duties on site so I got to compensate.
It takes a village
And finally it takes a village to raise a kid. I am fortunate that our Indian parents are more than willing to spend 5 to 6 months with us helping us transition to this new phase of life. I have talked to several colleagues who find it amazing that we can bear to live with our parents for that long. Maybe I am just fortunate that I have an amazing set of parents and parents-in-law but one thing I strongly believe is that getting over the tiny foibles for the greater good is something that is worth doing for longer term benefits.
Also Read: Why I left my son with his Grandmother
Building a network at work
When I was younger I used to never pay any attention to the moms at work discussing their challenges. I wish I had. So coming back to work the first thing I did was to figure out how to create a network of moms at work to learn from. We started Women in Tech lunches where I got to hear how other women were dealing with motherhood and work. Gaining the tidbits of insight from other women at work has helped me get over occasional guilt about either working too much or working too little. It has also given me ideas about how to build different support systems to help you get through work. Finally, it has given me the hope in some of those dire days that this can be done as others around me are doing it.
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