Lately, Facebook newsfeeds have been awash with stay-at- home- mum write- ups and blog posts. They call themselves SAHMs. Great. I love short hand. Sticking to the norms of nomenclature, I am therefore a sometimes-out- of- the- home- mum or SOOTHM. I don’t say “working mum” because all mothers definitely work!
The articles say such cool and wonderful things. They talk about the merits of being a “full- time mum”. They talk about how peaceful their lives are. How rounded and accomplished their kids turn out to be. And for the briefest of brief moments, I feel guilty, a tad jealous even. Then I go down the familiar path that most mums and women travel down whenever they are presented with a new situation- second guessing oneself.
Most mums (and dads!) are generally just trying to do the best they can. It is not our place to judge or belittle another parent. I shall therefore not speak for or to the SAHMs, they do a fabulous job holding down fort at the domestic end and kudos to them. Bravo! I would however like to share the tale of a working mum. And how and why we roll the way we do.
I was a SAHM too you know, albeit for a brief period. I loved it. And hated it. In equal measure. I loved every moment with my fresh- into- this- world bub, but I hated the feeling of being “stuck”. Stuck at home. Stuck in my PJs. Stuck in life. Stuck in a rut.
My decision to take a year off, was a highly debated/ deliberated decision. Debated within. Deliberated outside. Endlessly. Finally, I made the decision without any (absolutely none) regards or opinions sought from outsiders. Even The Mister was not to have a say in this one. It was my decision, and mine alone. And in the first few months, destiny proved; that I had made the right decision.
We had a rough beginning; the sort of beginning that all new parents dread. We ended up being the anxious, harassed couple who were perpetually at the paediatric ICU and the emergency room. The Hubster had to manage both work and worry. I had only my little one to think of. I had no leave applications or deadlines to distract or annoy me. Work and career suddenly became inconsequential- this for a woman who is borderline maniacal about her work. She once called it the air that sustains her and keeps her sane. Life is definitely bizarre.
Slowly routines and wonts crept in. I settled into the role of being a mother and the sole caretaker of a tiny human. Though I occasionally flipped through surgical journals, my daughter was now the crux of my universe. I spent about 10 hours a day, alone with her at home. I knew more about her than was normal or necessary. I knew the rate and depth of her breathing, the colour and quantity of every pee and the consistency and odour of her every bowel movement. My life revolved round her naptimes, I maitained a nursing- journal and whenever she slept I researched everything (on PubMed no less) from ABO incompatibility outcomes to parenting styles to sleep cycles.
Everybody had an opinion on everything. Every mother was an expert. And everything was complicated to the point of being beyond comprehension, most times utterly unnecessarily. We after all live in an era of “helicopter parenting”. I was being sucked into the crazy vortex of over parenting.
I’m sure even Mr H must have thought to himself “Where is my crazy, impulsive, full- of- life wife ? Who is this zombie like momzilla who hovers over my daughter?” I was a new and not entirely pleasant person. The sleep deprivation made matters worse.
Back home, having a baby is a communal affair. Postpartum, there is a veritable army of elderly, experienced women who descend upon the home of the recently birthed. They pamper the mother and coddle the baby. The mother can rest and recuperate, whilst basking in all the care and attention. Massages, oil baths, herbal concoctions for healing, special diets- all are part of the postpartum package. But the downside of being part of a nomad couple who called several alien cities their “home”, I unfortunately had none of that.
Even so, life was great for a while. The post-delivery blues quickly gave way to all the lovely things that accompany the experience of being a first time mum . But ever so often, an ex- colleague or friend would call to inquire about the little one’s health and we would end up discussing the previous day’s cases and OR lists. Other times, I would hear of someone getting into a prestigious fellowship or receive an email with the most recent publication by a not- so- talented peer. And slowly but surely, cracks started to form in my carefully structured, blissfully- free, stay-at-home- mother bubble.
I missed the OR. I missed being someone other than a mother. I missed getting up in the morning and heading somewhere. I missed feeling important. I missed workplace interactions. I missed adult conversations. I missed my work so bad that I started practicing hand ties while nursing. The worse part of it was, I wasn’t sure where to direct the growing frustration. I doted on my little one though. and was an over- involved parent. An intense, restless person is asked to pull away from her very full, very hectic life and is given one and only one thing to take care of. No prizes for guessing what the consequences would be.
I vented most (okay all) of my unpleasantness on my poor, unprepared husband. He is a stoic, balanced man. And therefore, he took it on the chin and never flinched. As days wore on, I turned into a spiteful wife and a resentful woman. A wonderful mother still, I was told; but an unpleasant, morose human being. Also, I had no friends and no social life in the new town that I was forced to call home. And ‘my time’ did not exist anymore.
I resented the neighbour lady who woke up at the crack of dawn, put on a pair of stylish leggings and trainers and went for her run while I sat on the armchair with a fully awake, nocturnal bub on a nurse-athon.
I resented my husband for getting out of the house. For wearing a spiffy suit and shiny shoes and going to work, while I languished at home in unflattering , spit-up riddled pyjamas. He wore after shave, spritzed perfume and had board meetings while I barely managed a shower a day.
I resented my colleagues and friends who were busy learning and perfecting new surgical techniques and getting ahead of me, while the uber- competitive me was itching to just ‘get back into the race’.
I stuck through though. I fought hard and sought happiness in mundane everyday matters. The first babble, the momentous “roll- over”, the day she sat up unsupported…aah! I still remember those moments vividly. A little too vividly perhaps. I even found solace in posting inane, meaningless posts online every night at ungodly hours and called it blogging. And before I knew it, my one year sabbatical was over. And I went back to work.
The adult conversations returned. The feel of self- importance was back. I was busier than I ever thought could be possible. And I revelled in my new role as a working mum. I missed serval precious moments with Zoe every day, but the moment I was back from work – I was BACK. I was right there with her, every second; not lost and mourning and thinking other things. I am no less involved, but the few hours of separation every day makes our time together in the evening that much more special. I have more patience to deal with all her toddler shenanigans, and I smile at almost every mess she creates, even when I’m bone tired. Every morning, as I head to work, I have time to step back and recall the previous night’s antics in the bath, and the capers in the crib and I smile to myself, amazed at the depth of my love for the little munchkin. When I was stuck at home the whole time, I did not have this luxury of stepping back and looking at the picture from afar.
Mothers continue to work outside the home for several reasons. Some for the independence and sense of self- worth, some for financial reasons; many for a mix of both. The problem with my generation of women is that we are brought up in a gender neutral environment. My education was given the same importance as my brother’s. Even more possibly, since I was the nerdy one. I was encouraged to think for myself and was involved in all the family decisions. I spent my entire adult life training for my work and my career is of vital importance to me and my parents. Basically, I was brought up just like any man, in terms of education and career choices.
Suddenly though, I had to travel back to the days of my foremothers and turn into this docile, domestic nurturer. And to be honest, I was blindsided for a while. Life turned upside down. That is the root of my problem (and probably many other SOOTHMs). Even though instinctively, I love my little one to death, and would like to spend my every moment with her, it goes against everything else I want as an adult. In short, I HAVE to be a working mum, for my sanity and for that of my loved ones. It probably sounds all wrong, but “just being a Mum” isn’t enough for me. I was so much more before, and being a mum has only enriched my life further (like nothing else probably could have).
My grandmother knew what her role in life was even as a young girl. Get married, have babies, take care of them. She was married at 14 and had my mum at 15. Most girls around her had the same life. She was happy with her life because she did not know any other life. She had five beautiful children, and she found peace and contentment in domestic life. It’s easy to live a life that you are trained for from an early age. But we live in different times. And so arise the legendary work-home- balance conundrums that millions of women face.
Of course, there are many who chose to devote themselves entirely to their families even today, and I look up to those domestic goddesses with awe. Alas, I am not one of them and though I sometimes begrudge that; I have found peace in my standing in life (well, almost!). My laundry basket may not always be empty, my dishes aren’t always clean, I skip meals sometimes, I don’t cook elaborate delicacies for my husband each day, and I sometimes have to let my one year old watch Little Baby Bum on the iPad to get stuff done in the morning. I also don’t have free time to lounge about and paint my nails or do my hair. I have not visited a salon in ages and I read with the little one sleeping on me. I am definitely not a domestic goddess 😦
But the sense of accomplishment, of somehow getting through each day at work and home keeps me going. I feel like I’m utilizing and ‘putting to work’ all part of me (and the decade of training I have).
And the “separate” bank balance helps too!
Till next time..