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Not so long ago, Renu was an ambitious and committed lawyer whose life revolved around her career. Today, she is a mother who has just returned to work after maternity leave. Amid the joys of parenthood, are the anxieties of juggling work and family life. Caught between pacifying a crying baby and briefing a demanding client, Renu’s world is as chaotic as can be. Suddenly, her identity seems to have split – between being a new mother and a working professional.
What Renu is feeling is very normal. In fact, in an article in Psychology Today psychiatrist Dr Alexandra Sacks refers to “matrescence”, a period similar to adolescence. Just like adolescents, new mothers experience changes in their bodies, hormonal levels, relationships, and identities. There is a tug-a-war between caring for your baby and caring for yourself.
Author Lauren Smith Brody’s 2017 book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby explains how while the first three trimesters (and the fourth – the sleep-deprived newborn days) are about the baby, the fifth trimester is when the ‘working mom’ is born.
What to do: As the time comes to return to work, you have to find child care support that you can trust. Whether this support is family based (grandparents), a nanny or a daycare centre, the process of procuring such support will give you back a sense of control over your life.
What to do: Ease yourself into your job. Do not expect too much from yourself for a few weeks. Your colleagues, bosses and team members will be surprisingly understanding. And, do give yourself an occasional treat like going out for coffee with colleagues.
What to do: You need to be patient with yourself. Don’t aim for perfection. Forgive yourself if you throw an occasional tantrum at home. Don’t brood over any blunders you may have made at work. Yes, you have to establish your maternal competence and regain your professional efficacy. But give yourself time.
What to do: Managing your time effectively is not just about being quick and efficient. It is also about prioritising. Among all the tasks the need to get done, there are always some that you can put off for a bit like tidying the baby’s cupboard or sorting out the pantry. Give yourself this flexibility.
What to do: While spontaneity may have gone out of the window, you can reclaim your freedom in small ways. You may not be able to go away on a carefree vacation just yet. But you can get back to some of the activities that used to define the old you. Resume a hobby you were deeply interested in. While trekking may not be possible, painting and singing are.
If you enjoy cooking, dish up something exotic while your baby is being cared for. If reading was your thing, find time to curl up with a book during your baby break.
What to do: Gradually make more time for physical self-care. Join a yoga class or get started on a gym workout. Before you go back to work learn makeup shortcuts and get a new wardrobe. Go to the salon and get yourself a trendy cut. No better way to feel good about yourself.
What to do: Realise that this is a temporary phase. Keep telling yourself that it will all get easier with time. And, don’t hesitate to take help from team members.
What to do: While dining out or going for a movie may not be possible in this phase of your life, you can plan to meet friends when you are taking your baby out for a walk in the park.
Make new friends – sharing with other new mothers will help you vent and feel much better mentally and emotionally. Also, share special moments with your partner, ideally, your best friend, so that you feel like a couple and not just new parents.
What to do: You need some time for yourself every day even if it is just 20 minutes. You should be able to escape both the demands of motherhood and work during these 20 minutes. This regular ‘alone time’ will also help clear your head and help you focus on work better. And, it will enable you to return to the family with renewed love and joy.
Having a baby may have changed you irrevocably in some ways. But that is something you have to accept along with the joys and satisfaction of motherhood. You are getting the best of both worlds in a way – being a mother and a working professional. Just remember that along with your baby, you need to focus on taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
Your core – the person you are within – has not really changed. It is just temporarily lost. And, finding yourself again (while accepting the changes) is a rewarding journey.
I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...
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