It’s Ok To Be An Ordinary Woman, To Refuse The ‘Superwoman’ Label!

This was the first time her mother had spoken at length about her post-partum days to Sheila. Everyone knew her mother as a strong woman, an achiever, a dedicated teacher and a good mother.

“Leaving already, Mrs. Verma?” Ashok Gupta quipped from behind his desk, looking pointedly at his watch. It was 6.00 pm. Then under his breath, “Some people have all the luck!”

“Yes, my ayah has to leave early today, and Sanjay is out of station,” Sheila explained apologetically. The next moment she chided herself for offering an explanation so glibly. She wasn’t answerable to the likes of Gupta and Rao, who stood winking at the former slyly. The boys club at office, and a few ladies too, had their jeers at her expense at every available opportunity.

“Don’t worry, Sheila. Go ahead. I am there in office for another hour. Any urgent work – I will handle”, Varun offered helpfully. Sheila smiled gratefully and exited the office.

She had had a tiring day, juggling conflicting demands on her time. Her project wasn’t going too well, and the client brief kept on changing. As it is, things had been crazy since she joined office a month back, when her maternity leave ended.

One of her trusted juniors had resigned a month back, and a replacement hadn’t yet been found. A lot of paperwork found its way to her table, so she was doing more of clerical jobs too. Her back was acting up, and she had to prop her feet on a stool frequently to avoid numbness.

Once a stunner, she felt she looked like an overweight ghost these days. Months had passed since she had got herself a beauty treatment.

At home, she could manage little rest. Sleep was elusive, as her four-month-old Aarav kept waking up through the night. Sanjay was away on tour almost half of the month, so it was just she and her son at night. As many as three night-ayahs had left in the short span of two months. They all slept through the baby’s whimpers, or even if they woke up, were surly and did the barest minimum. Sheila wished a stroke of luck gifted her a diligent ayah who could really be of help at night.

Thankfully, there was Fatima to help through the day, or she would have gone mad by now, Sheila thought. Fatima had her own children to look after, and her aged, cranky mother-in-law wouldn’t allow her to stay away at night, so Fatima couldn’t stay beyond 7.30 -8 at night.

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Switching on the ignition of her car, Sheila smiled wryly. If this was what she experienced – as a fairly well-placed, educated, financially stable and skilled person, what happened to lesser educated or lesser fortunate women who had to cling to their jobs for survival? Her own mother had once offered to come over to help, but Sheila didn’t want her to leave her ailing father alone.

“You are here, finally, didi!” Fatima shrieked, with her foot in the door of the lift just as it opened. “The doctor will leave if I don’t reach in time, you know.” Saying this she quickly appraised Sheila of what she had cooked for dinner and where the clean diapers were kept.

Almost pushing Sheila out of the lift, Fatima pulled the doors together impatiently and clicked on the ground floor button maniacally. Getting an autorickshaw at this busy hour would be another struggle.

Sheila felt a tinge of guilt on having kept Fatima waiting. She knew the latter’s rheumatism had really been troubling her, and she need to see a doctor immediately.

As soon as she walked into the apartment, her son’s shrieks jolted her. Rushing in, she saw Aarav crying his lungs out and kicking his legs impatiently. Sanitizing her hands quickly, she rushed to her son. She put the bottle to his mouth, but he turned his face away and screamed even more. Taking him in her arms, she realized his diaper was dirty.

“How can Fatima be so casual!” Sheila immediately thought. Leaving behind the poor baby in a soiled diaper! She could have at least cleaned him before leaving. Then she saw that the deed had just occurred.

Aarav couldn’t stay in a wet diaper for more than a second because of his nappy rashes. She saw his blistered bottom and a huge wave of guilt washed over her. Her poor baby, so much in pain because of the rashes! She was supposed to take him to the paediatrician this week, but it had somehow slipped from her mind.

She felt weak and had to sit down immediately. And then the tears started flowing. Quickly putting him in a fresh diaper and laying him back into the crib, Sheila howled in frustration and guilt. She just couldn’t stop the tears.

Now she was regretting joining work so soon after childbirth. It turned out to be doubly stressful for her.

But in this uncertain job market, Sheila couldn’t just chuck her well-paying job as Brand Manager at the prestigious firm she worked in. Her repeated requests for being allowed to work from home had been turned down as their CEO liked all employees to be physically present in office. Team building wasn’t possible through working remotely, according to him.

Sheila herself used to enjoy coming to office before pregnancy. She was the go-getter, the achiever of their team. But now, the excruciating routine got to her.

Why had she opted for motherhood at all, she thought suddenly. They were quite happy in their cocoon, she and Sanjay. This little human demanded too much from her; it was killing her literally.

Then she saw her son gurgling by himself at the crib trimmings, and felt ashamed immediately. What kind of mother was she? The person who gave her the greatest joy and had blessed her with motherhood – she was blaming this angel?

Another round of tears and self-accusation followed.

She suddenly realized her mobile was throbbing. She kept it at silent mode for fear of waking up her son, in case he was sleeping when she came home.

6 missed calls! Her mother must be really worried.

“Yes, Ma….Hello..” She answered, her voice quivering.

“Beta, I was calling to…..wait, what’s wrong? You, you are crying?” (Trust mothers to know everything!)

“No, mom, it’s just…I have a sniffle”. Sheila lied.

“I am your mother, don’t lie to me beta. I can sense when you are upset.”

“It’s okay, mom, I just had a hard day at office. Listen, mom, I was thinking of leaving this job.”

“Why? You enjoy your job, don’t you? It’s what you wanted to do, after all.”

“But mom, I can’t manage with Aarav at home. I feel so guilty all the time. And I have to keep rushing from home to office and back. It’s like I am working double duty, round the clock…I can’t take this anymore…” Sheila couldn’t hold herself any more. Her brave front collapsed like a pack of cards.

Her mother was soothing her with comforting assurances, and telling her what a great job she was doing as a mother.

“Beta, these first months after childbirth are the toughest in a mother’s life. You have gone through a lot. Give yourself some slack, beta, don’t be so harsh on yourself. It’s not easy, what you are managing. Taking care of house, nurturing a little human, managing work, it’s the work of a superwoman!”

“But I am not a superwoman, Ma. I am an ordinary woman, I fail, I make mistakes, I shout and accuse. I just can’t take it anymore. This guilt, this constant feeling of not being adequate, it’s eating into me, mom.”

“I know, Pinki beta, I know. I have been there. People judged me too when I went back to my school job, leaving you alone with your grandma. And your father was posted in Assam at that time, remember? He left when you were just a month old. I had to earn to support his meagre income, and I couldn’t risk losing my job! You think it was easy for me, leaving a suckling baby and rushing to work? Most days I was late, and my pay got cut. The Headmistress gave me hell at school. Colleagues were somewhat helpful, but how could they take away the feeling of guilt that I felt on being away from my tiny baby? And I went hungry most days, as I couldn’t carry any lunch to work. Then rushing back home, taking over kitchen duties, cleaning and feeding you, playing with you, I didn’t have a moment for myself.”

Tears having stopped, Sheila listened to her mother in awe.

“You think I didn’t regret motherhood? I did, beta. Everyone does. All mothers have this moment of doubt when they think they have made a terrible mistake. When they feel guilty of birthing a human only to fail in looking after it decently.”

This was the first time her mother had spoken at length about her post-partum days to Sheila. Everyone knew her mother as a strong woman, an achiever, a dedicated teacher and a good mother. This vulnerable side of hers was kept carefully concealed, even to her close ones.

Yes, Sheila had heard her mother talk of “those difficult days”, but not so much of what had actually happened. And in the long run, what mattered was her mother did manage motherhood, a job and her household beautifully.

But Sheila couldn’t take the pressure any longer.

Just as she started to speak, her mother gently reminded her, “Beta, do you think stay-at-home moms have it easy? You can at least get away for a few hours. Home-bound mothers are stuck in the same drudgery throughout the day. Imagine their frustration, when people expect them to gush over their baby and be model moms, when all they want is to get away from their offspring even for a little while. The non-stop cycle of child rearing and managing house – how overwhelming it is for them! It is not for nothing that mothers are next to God.”

“I am not God, mom, and neither do I aspire to be. I am quitting this 9-5 job. But yes, I will take up freelance assignments as per my convenience. I have already sounded my associates and ex-clients, and some of them trust me enough to work with me even in this arrangement.

I am an ordinary girl, ma, a girl who wants to see her child grow and be with him when he takes his first steps. Or when he babbles first. A girl who needs rest and self-care. Some me-time. I can’t miss these for a job, ma. Yes, I am definitely more privileged than you were, as I have my savings to fall back on. Besides, Sanjay has a thriving practice, touch wood. I don’t want to regret becoming a mother, not more than I have already done. Maybe, I will feel more miserable at home, but I will take that chance.”

“Beta, whatever decision you take, we are there to support you. Your father is slightly better now, and he suggested we go over to your place for a couple of months. You need a little pampering child, and I will do the needful. And we are so excited to see our little Bunty again. Tell me, has he started…….”

Dear old mom. Trust her to brighten Sheila’s mood whenever she called. This was the best thing she had heard. Now she would take her time winding up from her workplace, and setting up a work station at home. What a blessing her parents would be around, so she could catch up on some much needed rest too! And maybe get an appointment for a full body massage fixed? For both herself and her mom!

And yes, learn some easy-to-prepare one-pot meals from her expert mother. Sheila hugged her son with relief and joy.

She was relieved she wouldn’t have to be supermom any longer. It was okay to be an ordinary woman. An unsure mother, a bad employee, a failing homemaker, all these labels didn’t matter. What mattered was her mother understood her, felt her pain, and was coming to support her. And Sheila could soak in her mother’s love and pampering.

Which  in turn, she would lavish on the little human who depended on her.

Mothers made magic, despite being ordinary women, after all.


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Image source: pixabay

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About the Author

Barnali Roy

I left a successful corporate career in HR and teaching, to focus on my first love - writing. My first book of short stories - Pebbles in the Sand, is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.in/ read more...

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