The maternity law in India has been increased to 6 months and new mums can now avail the much needed rest for a full 26 weeks. Till last year the maternity leave provided by law was only 3 months. Why do women need a longer maternity break and what does it mean for a breast feeding working mother?

I had joined back work after 3 months of maternity break, here below is a piece which I had written a year back. The law only provided for a 3 month break till last year. Given that  breastfeeding week is coming up in few moths I felt like sharing this once again.

In recent times many companies in the private sector have come up with a lot of women friendly policies. Companies like PWC, EnY, Deloitte and KPMG have announced 26 weeks of maternity leave.
Really glad to see India Inc is taking these major steps, albeit very few are currently taking them, towards retaining and creating women’s talent at the workplace. Even if the process and acceptance is really slow but a change is in the wake and ultimately this will hugely help in the advancement of women, both career wise and emotionally.

Women are equally good performers and are passionate about their careers.They are equally responsible as caregivers for their family. Therefore it is really wrong to ask a woman, which one is she ready to compromise with? Her life and happiness or her career and passion.

Today I want to discuss my experience with the 3 months maternity break. Is it enough? Is a mom ready to go back to work post that? Was I ready? And do you know that there are countries which have even lesser paid maternity leave laws?

So the first question here is, why is a woman considered to be a burden when she gets pregnant?

And yes it is considered so, don’t pretend that this view is not prevalent. The moment she becomes pregnant she is an added cost, because  she will now go on a break.
While I can understand the fact that during the period that a woman is on break, the company has to bear her costs and not have the productivity in return. But then is there any other alternative?

Fact check; women are the only ones that can give birth, the male counterparts of our species have not as yet developed this skill. Yes I will call it a skill, I have done it and can very well say that it is a SKILL. It is the toughest thing I have done in my life.

So when a woman chooses to have a baby, why does an organisation treat her like a burden?

Trust me, If it was so, that nature intended that men could give birth too, Maternity laws will not be challenged so much. Taking a break post a baby would not have meant that you loose out on your professional life. If men were doing it, we would not be having this discussion, because then maternity laws would have been a totally different scene. Do I sound like a feminist? Well I am one and am bloody proud of it. And no I don’t hate men, but yes, there is no denying that where rights are considered men and women have it very different.

And equality? there is a whole lot of inequality, lying just inches outside the safe bubble, that some of us lucky few live in. But I digress here.

There are many women who want to take a break post a baby because that is what their wish is and that is what they want to do. There are some women who want to work post a baby and their career is not something they want to give up and they choose to handle both. I fall in this particular category. And then there is another woman, who does want to have a baby and doesn’t want to give up her career either, but, she has to  give it up anyway, because of either family pressure, lack of support or any other situation that life may have thrown at her.

So being the woman that chose to have a career post baby too and had the privilege of being able to do that, here is what my experience was.

Frankly having to join back in just 3 months post maternity leave was a great pain in the … Lets say a lot of places, both literally and figuratively.

I had a normal delivery and a fairly easy pregnancy. I was in office till 11:00PM, on the day before my baby was born. Apart from some general discomforts, I thankfully did not have any major health issues. But I had to undergo an operation, just a few hours after my baby was born. During the birth, it seems, I had had some bruises inside which led to bleeding and clots inside.

6 hours post my baby was born, I was taken to the OT and my stitches were removed to remove the clots. The end result was that I lost a major amount of blood and my hemoglobin levels dropped to 6.
My stitches (episiotomy) were also opened and done again. So basically a perfectly healthy normal delivery (painful though, it is bloody painful, don’t trust what all they say. It is painful but doable, I will give you that) was followed by a painful operation; an unforeseen complication. I had not been given an epidural during the birth but ended up being put under full anesthesia for the following operation.

So yes, like me, every pregnancy story is different and there can be many health issues that crop up either for the mother or the baby. And getting your health back does take some time and effort and most importantly it takes a lot of rest.

Thankfully, I had plenty of rest. My husband kept appearing by my side with glasses of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in hand, every three hours. I had to take a lot of supplements and also lots of proteins in my diet to recover the lost hemoglobin count.

A new mother is happy, confused, exhilarated, afraid but most of all she is tired.

And I remember being tired all the time. A new born baby does not have a set schedule, and the constant cycle of feeding, burping, changing, napping is on a loop throughout the days and nights. They say, that sleep when the baby sleeps,(a) It is not possible (b) the constant waking up during the nights, every two /three hours does not give a rested sleep. So whatever you do, you will feel tired and exhausted the whole day till the time the baby starts sleeping through the night. And for me, it continued till baby was 13 months old. My son started sleeping through the night, only after his first birthday, and truthfully, that was when I started getting some semblance of my former life and self back.

Then there is your own recovery, having a baby is a huge change for your body and every woman undergoes this. The levels are different for each though.

There are hormonal shifts and changes, bodily changes. In some cases, the added results of any complication that may have developed during the pregnancy.

Your digestive system goes for a toss: it will be a long time till you will be able to eat normal food again.

It will be a long time till the various pains all over your body, will go away.

It will be a long time before you will be able to sneeze or cough or LAUGH without peeing (yeah yeah! TMI, but truth).

Some women are back on their feet the next day, some may take longer, but I any case every woman will need some time to fully recover and feel like her former self. For me too it was normal, though the exhaustion levels were probably higher due to my blood levels and the pain from the stitches took many months to fully heal.

I was busy learning the new life of being a mom, spending every moment of my life watching this beautiful wonder that I had in my arms. It is truly blissful, overwhelming yes, but beautiful too. And I was also trying in soak in the glow of being a new mother, watching my tiny bundle’s every move. In between all this my ML got over and I joined back office.

Apart from the fact that I had to be away from my 4 month old for 8-9 hours and it was the most painful thing to leave him and go every single morning, My own body was not fully recovered at all. And emotionally and physically I was not ready to be separated from my tot. I was an emotional wreck who missed her baby every single second and went through bouts of dread, guilt, depression and anxiety.

I was not a rested, calm, healthy woman going back to work. And I was breast feeding my son so then started the entire cycle of pumping, storing and feeding for the baby. Till 6 months of age, a baby is only fed breast milk or formula milk. That is his only source of food. Which means that if you miss to pump the required amount and times then your baby will go hungry (if you are exclusively breastfeeding)

For new moms, what does this mean? So you work, you are empowered, you are handling both. But if you are away for 8-10 hours from the baby then that means that you should have that much milk in store for him. Young babies feed every 2-3 hours, thus it meant that I needed to have at least 4 /5 feeds of Breast milk ready for him for the next day. This meant that I spent 2/3 breaks at work pumping and also will put in a couple of pumping sessions while I was at home. The time that I would get after feeding and being with my baby once I was back.

Women who pump, know how important it is for them to not miss a single pumping session. And don’t ask a mother how it feels if in one such session the output is lower than expected. The guilt I tell you! you will feel like you are a failure as a mother as you can’t even produce enough food for the baby. You will rush to stuff yourself with all the galactagogues you know of. A pumping mother has to follow her schedule no matter what; it is the question of food for her baby. Thankfully I had the proper facilities at work to be able to pump in peace. I am scared when I think about women who have to pump in wash rooms.

Will you eat in the washroom? Then why ask a woman to MAKE her baby’s food in there?

Also it was a whole system of storing milk, freezing, thawing, Labelling and Washing. Washing umpteen number of bottles and then sterilizing them, somewhere in between all those bottles and nappies and missed sleep, me and my baby turned one year old. We managed to do that, was it easy no, was it doable, yes. Would I have liked to have a longer break? ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY yes.

Sometimes during that exhausting, blissful year, I had days when while coming back from office, I will just stop my car and cry. Cry my heart out. Call it hormones, Call it exhaustion, Call it new mom blues
(They exist), Call it being overwhelmed but I did it. I cried. Then I would restart my car and go back home where my mom and dad were waiting (they were the reason I could pull this off). There were days when I was just mad, mad at my husband (for being away; though he couldn’t help it), mad at my mom (God knows why), mad at myself (for having a baby). There were days, when I really contemplated if I should run away. I am not lying, I would think whether I could run away from it all. I have always said I am not a super woman, I am plenty average and there are so many time when I feel like I could not do this.
Mom journey has not been easy peasy for me, but then it is not that bad either, Truth.

But coming back to the question of flexibility for women and the dreaded maternity break. Is it too much if a woman is asking for a longer break? Is 3 months enough? Not for me it was not.

And no, a woman is not asking for any special or unfair advantage if is she demands equal opportunity and also flexibility, both at the same time. Women are born to be able to give birth, and sometimes they choose to do that. That doesn’t make them less efficient in any way. Rather if anything a mother is much more organized and has already mastered the skills of multi tasking. And how an employee is performance wise or integrity wise does not depend on whether she has had a baby or not.

Organisations are slowly realising that it is the person’s responsibility and passion towards their work that matters. Be it a man or a woman, if they have that, then they are not gonna be a liability to the company.

Yes we get married, yes we reproduce, It doesn’t mean we can’t handle the added responsibility.
Yes we need help, yes we need support, we are not super women. But we are not soft, abla and irresponsible beings either, who will become dunderheads and goof up everything just because they produced an offspring. Believe me my faculties are still about me, rather they are a bit more sharpened now as now I have to be one step ahead of a toddler.

So just being a woman doesn’t make a person any less qualified to be what she wants, she ain’t any lesser of an asset to any organization.

Just like just being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean she is a bad driver. I am a woman and a very good driver, no doubt on either of those points. A bad driver is a bad driver, be it a man or a woman. There I said it. Period.

#Breastfeeding #Workingwomen #Maternityleave #MaternityAct #MaternityBenefit