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Mothers of invention

Not all mothers’ return to work is as awe-inspiring as Kim Clijsters’, but most agree it is gruelling, with or without the Williams sisters, report Lina Choudhury-Mahajan & Shriya Ghate.

mumbai Updated: Sep 20, 2009 01:09 IST

Not all mothers’ return to work is as awe-inspiring as Kim Clijsters’, but most agree it is gruelling, with or without the Williams sisters. Clijsters beat both Venus and Serena to clinch the US Open last week following a long break during which she became a mother.

Ask Dr Gandhali Deorukhkar-Pillai, a gynaecologist who had her son, Nahush, six years ago, when she was studying to be a doctor. She returned to work in 20 days despite having a C-section. “I was not entitled to any more leave,” she said.

Ronitaa Italia-Dhanu, editor of the Ideal Home and Garden magazine, returned to work in 40 days. “I had to get back as soon as possible because I shoulder a lot of responsibility,” she said.

The challenges are many: logistical, including making baby-sitting arrangements; intellectual, such as having to stop thinking about home when you are work; emotional, namely dealing with the guilt of having to leave children with other caretakers; and physical, because there is so much more to do.

Dr. Vidita Vaidya, a neurobiologist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, in south Mumbai, found it particularly hard to stop thinking about work once she was home. As a result, two months after she delivered Alina, her daughter, she was effectively running her lab again, via remote control.

“I stayed in constant touch with my team via email and phone,” said Vaidya, who studies the neuro-circuitry of emotion. She physically went back to work at the lab within four-and-a-half months.

Harmeet Chadha, a senior manager with a leading bank, found that the biggest challenge was physical — the feeding and the sleepless nights.

“I rejoined office after 84 days, but that disturbed my baby’s feeding patterns,” said Chadha, whose son will soon be six months old. So Chadha took another month off before resuming work.

Although she expressed milk so her son, Ekveer, could have his quota during the day, stress at work hindered her lactation. “The first two months were hard, but now we have settled into a pattern,” said Chadha, whose job calls for extensive travel.

Italia-Dhanu also found the physical demands the most daunting. As a result, she cut down on travel, late events and meetings.

What is the ideal time for a new mother to take off for work?

“One year,” said Dr Arshi Khan, a pediatrician. “But three months is adequate as long as the baby is cared for properly. Ideally, the child should be at home with a family member, not at a crèche.”

Most mothers agree. “I realised Ekveer would have been too small for a crèche so we employed a trustworthy maid,” said Chadha.

What makes all this manageable is family support. Italia-Dhanu and her husband take turns to take care of eight-and-a-half month Sharan.

For Deorukhkar-Pillai, staying with her in-laws was a boon. “They were really helpful. Also, my husband Ajit was awaiting his MD exam results, so he was able to pitch in too,” said Deorukhkar-Pillai, who had to reach the hospital by 8 am to do the rounds, work in the out-patient department till 2 pm and deliver babies in-between.

“If I was on call, I would end up spending 24 hours at the hospital,” she said.

Chadha agrees that it is crucial for fathers to pitch in. “Thankfully, Santosh is a hands-on dad,” she said.

Despite their best efforts, however, new mothers still carry a certain amount of guilt about missing out on those “oh-my-god” moments. “That can really tear you up,” said Italia-Dhanu.

Dr Vaidya, who has stopped taking work home, says Alina, now four, has helped her manage her time better, but says she still feels like she misses out on a lot.

“It’s always an emotional challenge.”

Whether you are a world-beater in tennis or not.