Between motherhood and career

The growing conflict of choices among women has many aspects to it

May 20, 2018 02:15 am | Updated 01:45 pm IST

A woman who rides the success wave as an underwater photographer or a pilot, financial adviser, management consultant, pearl diver, bartender, bus driver or police officer, is very often suddenly swung back looking for answers after she is delivered of a child.

And there comes a phase when she has to choose between motherhood and a thriving career. The former takes precedence for many as it becomes the purpose for the latter to exist. As C.S. Lewis said, “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only — and that is to support the ultimate career. ” Motherhood surely answers the existential crisis, spurts inner growth, shuns materialistic desires, and above all, is a spiritual discourse with the almighty. But the problem arises when motherhood is chosen over career.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry conducted a survey in 2015 that revealed that a growing number of highly educated women in urban India are abandoning their professional lives to become full-time mothers as raising children side by side with pursuing a career has become too complex a task. Assocham interacted with over 400 mothers in the 25-30 age group in 10 cities to find out about their employment-related decisions after motherhood.

According to a 2013 World Bank study, only 27% of women aged over 15 was found to be working in India. This is the lowest rate of women’s participation in any workforce among the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. The figure is the highest in China, at 64%.

Perennial dilemma of choice

To work or not to work: this Hobson’s choice imposes a high cost on both individual and society. As a result, many professionals reject motherhood entirely. In Switzerland, for instance, 40% of women are childless. Others delay child-bearing for so long that they are forced into the arms of the booming fertility industry. Some choose not to work at all, representing a loss to collective investment in talent. But a choice must be made!

Meena Sharma, a commerce graduate from Dehradun, experienced pangs of her lost career when her son turned one. Her circumstances were such that she had to be on guard for her child lest her husband took him to her in-laws, never to return. “Such was the dynamics of the strained relationship we shared. We were together only for our kid. Battling complications each day to be together was a silent fight in itself,” she said with a solemn look on her face.

“I had to make a choice. And I did. Carrying out routine tasks day in and out without reward flooded me with frustration. Worse, my frustration was a non-issue for my partner. It further added to my woes. Losing a career was the last nail in the coffin. I took refuge in yoga to fulfil myself. At the end, we all want gratification.”

In some cases, the in-laws obstructed, others were dissuaded by their husbands. Reena Parekar (not her real name), a science graduate from Delhi’s Kamla Nehru College, was one. Her husband discouraged her each time she went out looking for work. “He had given me an ultimatum to choose either of the two: marriage or career. The society we live in is crude to single women and I had three sisters to marry back home. Saving my marriage at that time seemed the right thing to do.”

Society stings, always bites

The pain of losing one’s career resurfaces when your maid (unknowingly) says, “Madam, I can come at your place around midday since you’re at home the whole day”. The watchman further tightens the screws, saying with his kittenish smile, “Your wife is always at home, so there won’t be a problem in getting your water purifier repaired.”

The zenith of stupidity for me was the day a neighbour provided free advice that I should get a puppy to fill my time. The gentleman, perhaps, didn’t know that household chores (performed in robotic mode) such as cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing, serving, making purchases and so on squeezes the life out of a woman. Noticeably, each task involves hundreds of sub-tasks. For instance, cooking is impossible without washing, chopping, seasoning vegetables. Puppy? Are you serious? I wanted to ask him.

Not just the money

Many women turn to careers not just for salary but fulfilment. Interestingly, Miss World 2017 Manushi Chillar endorsed publicly the belief that motherhood is a profession that ‘deserves the highest salary’.

To understand motherhood (much revered for bestowing the gift of life) through sacrificial-tinted glasses, therefore, would be a faulty definition. Facebook user and journalist Ashima Kumari questioned in her post: “Why should a mother be ‘highly respected’ only because of her ‘sacrifices’?” She asks: if a mother doesn’t kill her choices then does she become any less a mother?

Conventionally, a mother is seen putting the other before herself. She is known for slaying her own sphere bit by bit to build a new world for her child. Thereupon, motherhood and sacrifice get conjoined in a way that both become inseparable. Perhaps this explains why a mother is often equated with god.

What merits attention is to understand a woman’s struggle of answering the individual within her! Her circumstances post-delivery (over which she hardly has any control) conveniently robs her of the goalpost she fielded half her life, that is, her career. Neither money nor family can restore what is lost when she loses her career.

Empowered & non-empowered

To map the paradigm of this loss-gain conundrum, let’s examine women in the empowered and non-empowered categories. The first lot have financial, ideological, emotional resources to re-create a career. It is the latter that gets sandwiched between their call for motherhood and a slipping career.

Noticeably, education is the least responsible factor for their deplorable situation. Instead, it is the educated bunch who are more frustrated than their uneducated counterparts; the ones who had carefully worked on a skill and climbed up the success ladder, only to embrace identity crises.

After childbirth, the first question that almost everyone asked me wherever I went was about my work-life. “No,” I would sheepishly reply, and dread the question each time it was raised. To say the least, the weight of the two-letter word was heavy. Worse, my answer brought a brief pause on the other side and I was labelled a good for nothing stay-at-home mother. At that moment I felt that slicing away years of my hard work along with the struggle of my parents amounted to a cold-blooded murder. Like many others, I wanted to let the guardians of society know the boom-to-bust story of my career.

Rashmi Banga, mother of two daughters, recalls how she had nurtured her career like a baby. Now her routine is to send kids off to school, receive them at the drop point, and much more. “My life would be better if I could get part-time work that also pays a moderate salary. And Bengaluru is full of such opportunities. However, a smooth transition from motherhood to work is still a dream for many.” Soon, her second child was born and she was left with no choice but to leave her fruitful career.

The story of a qualified teacher, Nirmala Sachdev, is no different. Her in-laws asked her to concentrate on raising children rather than pursuing a career. “My father-in-law clearly said they do not want my income to be the means of their existence. My husband chose silence and I chose family.” Then, two children in two successive years left her stuck in the daily grind, to which she eventually succumbed.

Others more self-righteous, such as Sayali Diwakar, wait to resume work. Sayali had worked at Oracle in Bengaluru. Today when she looks at her baby, she keeps delaying her decision to resume work. She fears that she too may end up like others in the tunnel who couldn’t save their career due to the long gap.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience , the architecture of a pregnant woman’s brain changes during pregnancy and this lasts for at least two years. The study used MRI scans to examine the brains of 25 women who never had children, both before they became pregnant and again from three weeks to a few months after they gave birth.

Research indicates post-partum women also face physiological changes. Thus, in addition to physical changes, long break from work may also adversely affect lateral thinking skills. I experienced this phase when a friend visited me after delivery. I couldn’t talk as swiftly as I used to; my mind was disillusioned. I was perennially at a loss for words, confused.

Ways to fill the void

It is important to close the vacuum of a lost career as soon as it appears. At risk is a woman’s individuality, her self-esteem that constitutes the very purpose of her being. Else, a long hiatus from work can consume even a well-minded woman and push her into depression. In this respect, yoga can provide help by breaking the continuum of doubts. Through its continued practice, inner strength increases, which in turn acts as a guiding force.

To break the monotony of life, many indulge in creative pursuits such as dance, music, art and so on — which surely act as a catalyst. However, happiness out of such means could be short-lived. The secret lies in creation.

To create something out of sheer talent, truly replenishes the soul. Like a meticulous architect, flash conviction, honesty and hard work while carrying out your dream project. Anything from art, a business idea, writing, poetry to recipes, can fit in. But the question remains: how to create?

Each one of us has unique ability to create liberating spaces. Author Anna Pavord, in a moving documentary about living space, says, “Space is our best defence to an increasingly aggressive world.” Create just as you created life out of your womb. Plan and execute: it is indeed that simple! Take time out to work on your dream, preferably before the sun rises. Gradually, things will start showing up.

Constraints, especially financial, may block, but sometimes facing challenges head-on is the only option. Situations or people that may pin a woman down, weaken her inner strength, either by words or actions, are inevitable. One ought to display calmness in those moments to avoid the rut of negativity. Such challenges are better than misery. At least, they sinew will power to succeed. Isn’t it?

To remember that one is here for a significant purpose, further boosts morale. So, choose your battles carefully. Undoubtedly, time is the biggest power; it makes everything better.

Above all, radiate positive energy. In the end, it is all about energy. The universe works on the principle that what goes around comes around. What you radiate comes back to you. Radiate love, and soon you will be living in abundance. Else, negativity waits to drown a mother just as circumstances swallowed her profession.

Abundance inside you

A scene from English Vinglish comes to mind where Sridevi reiterates the essence of a strong woman. She is at her sister’s place in New York to help her plan a family wedding. When her niece asks her if she loved the fellow-student at her English language class, she answers with certainty, “I don’t need love. All I need is respect.”

Sometimes married couples don’t even know how the other half feels. So how will they help the other? Does it mean the marriage is finished? No. That is the time you have to help yourself... Nobody can help you better than you yourself. If you do that, you will return back feeling an equal. Your friendship will return. Your life will be beautiful again.

So, look up, find and shine with purpose; everything you’ve been looking for is inside you!

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