I have had a loving childhood, growing up with a sister who made everything better. So the idea of motherhood was one I embraced quite naturally. But when it came down to it, I realised that it was one of the toughest journeys I had ever taken. And don’t let consumerism fool you, it was a journey taken entirely by me.
The niggling doubts began right at the start. Like most women my age, I was in a solid position at work, in a place I was confident of my talent and skills – when I decided to start a family.
The stress of maybe having to take a sabbatical from work or quit completely, the arrangements that would allow me to return to work soon, kept me up at night. But I shoved these fears under the carpet and quickly geared up for the arrival of the bundle of joy, a happiness much higher on the weighing scale of life when pitted against a career.
The nine months were like a test of patience and will by eating right, staying fit and working through the increasing physical discomfort. But that was a cakewalk in front of the cesarean delivery and recovery I had! Any plans of immediately getting back to work were pretty much quashed as I healed slowly but steadily.
Fortunately, the first three months were great with my entire village helping me raise the infant. But once I decided to return to work, my life seemed to mirror an endless episode of ‘Survivor’.
What My Hours Were Like, After the Baby
As I worked for a newspaper, my hours were from the afternoon to midnight. So obviously my daily routine had to have 25 hours in it – I pumped milk and froze it, I washed and fed the baby, I cleaned up and finally left my baby with a nanny at 4 pm, who took care of him till 8 pm and then handed him over to my husband who came an hour early for those few months.
At work, I pumped milk at regular intervals, worried about leaving my baby with a stranger and worked through sleep-deprived eyes. At 12 in the night, my husband strapped our three-month-old to a baby seat in the car and picked me up from the office.
The rest of the night was divided into five parts of colic, breastfeeding and tears. To add fuel to fire, at one instance, the nanny used pancake batter in place of formula to bottle feed my child while I was at work. Though most of you can tell where this is going, I’ll still lay it out – I eventually quit my job for the sake of sanity.
However, I wasn’t ready to quit writing, so what started next was my life as a mother and a freelancer with both baby and laptop successively claiming my lap at all hours of the day.
When I wasn’t feeding or cooing at my six-month-old, I was emailing editors across the country to accept my story pitches. When I wasn’t cleaning pee and poop from our white tiled floors or getting bit by a baby that was now teething, I was furiously typing away 500-word articles to meet deadlines. I was also meeting relatives, reading up on parenting books and crying abruptly when the baby could walk at nine months.
I couldn’t have it all, I was told. So I overachieved in a manner that took the whole family by surprise. Only, it was no surprise; I was running on ‘new mommy adrenaline’ and giving up on sleep to do all of this. Finally, I collapsed with exertion and was hospitalised for an entire week by the time the baby turned one. All the brave thoughts that had pulled me along in this happy but tiring time came crashing down.
It was at this point that I had to face my anxiety for real. Between writing and the baby, parenting the tiny tot was turning out to be an interesting revelation while the sleep deprived writing was only half as good. So I slowed my pace a little to become better at both.
My husband too tried in earnest to help – he fed the baby and rocked him to sleep on most nights. He came back from work and took over the caregiving, leaving me to my list of ‘not yet watched Oscar nominated films’ or shows. He even cooked on days I opened the door looking like a wild hog.
But still, he could only be a secondary caregiver. Unless men can bring out babies from their bodies, leak from their chests and take a break from their high flying careers to be at home raising the miracle we call ‘our’ children without any complaints from life, I think I will continue wearing the superhero cape in my house.
Mental Workload at its Peak
The feeling of never doing or being enough came and went, but the mental workload was at its peak. To be honest, it had begun when I was pondering over giving birth, of whether I could give birth or not, of possibly losing a soaring career, of meeting the expectations of our parents and in-laws, of being a good mother to a blob of butter who eventually would grow up and give me a three-star rating on the parenting app.
And then there were the micro-worries – of managing the house help or nanny, of figuring the meals and laundry, of taking stock of the vaccinations, guest visits, festivals, vacations, school or day care routines aka the things the men in our lives think happen on their own.
Then, there is the biggest one – the incessant prayers to keep the child safe everyday. While I have physically had lesser to do with each passing year, the mental workload has only increased – so much so that the concern and the work-life imbalance have made me a completely different person now. Depression, what depression? Say hello to the new me!
As a writer, it may have been relatively easier for me to continue my work even from the confines of my home with the occasional outdoor reporting, but I have missed the office environment and the same-aged conversations.
Through the dark and twisty moments of these reclusive years, there have been some revelations too; that of me having persevered. I have worked hard on establishing a freelancing career, authored a book of short stories, have dealt with chronic backache, sleep deficit and constant guilt of not being able to do the fifth thing while multi-tasking four.
All of this while raising a multi-lingual three-year-old who is a joy and one day will be able to overthrow the patriarchy if all goes according to my plan.
In a few years, I may go back to a full-fledged job, knowing how I’ll have to prove my mettle yet again. Maybe the constant fatigue will become a thing of the past as well. But at present, I have got to take each day as it comes, to pat myself on the back for two simultaneous jobs well done.
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh is an independent journalist with several national and international media houses like The Wire, Bust and The Swaddle. She previously reported for the Times of India.