Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Hardest Decision For Mothers

After your first baby is born comes the decision of whether to return to work or to stay at home and look after your precious arrival.Of course, for some, finances mean that there is no debate as to whether or not to return to work, so this is a non-question for some. For many though, myself included, this has to be one of the toughest decisions to be made as a mother as a decision in either direction has such life altering implications for your entire family and its future. 

Having been on both sides of the fence, I have decided to share my story.

My Story:
When I was pregnant with Noodle, I had a high flying professional career at a large corporate. A and I had not been married very long and we had debts to pay. The selfish part of me was reminded that I had studied for many years and put in many hours of blood, sweat and tears to get where I was, so the thought of giving it up seemed counter-intuitive. Besides, I worked for a company that gave a generous six months of paid maternity leave (well generous by South African standards anyway). I had a boss who, being a mother of young children herself, was supportive of my role as a mother.

I had heard horror stories about nannies, but there was a great creche just meters away from our office block that colleagues raved about. Their babies seemed happy enough and it was just downstairs- surely I could pop in at lunch every day, I thought. I went for a tour of the creche, where they boasted state of the art facilities, hi-tech equipment, a pristine playground and even a full time nurse on duty for the baby class. They had a good schedule and a low staff to child ratio. Heck, they even had a certified Halaal kitchen providing all meals and snacks for the day. 

So, it seemed like I had all my ducks in a row and the decision was made to take six months maternity leave and then return to the trenches.

Then Noodle was born and the reality of what it means to be a mother and just how much a baby of just a few months old needs her mommy set in. 

The day I left Noodle at creche for the first time was the hardest of my life and her helpless  cries will forever haunt me. On day one, a trial run a week before I was to return to work, I spent an hour at the creche with her before detaching myself. I went to my car and spent half an hour sobbing uncontrollably. I was only going to leave her there for an hour or less that day, so rather than returning home, I stopped at some nearby shops. I bumped into an old friend whom I had not seen since university. She had her baby with her and looking at her baby sent me back into tears. She probably still thinks I belong in a psych ward. 

I could not do this, I thought. What was I doing, leaving my baby who could not even sit properly unassisted, let alone communicate properly if something is wrong, with strangers?  Of course, large corporate made me sign a lock-in contract before I had left, with insane penalties for breach, so leaving now was not an option at this point, even if I so chose.

The next few months were excruciatingly tough. Noodle cried her eyes out every morning, clinging to me for dear life. I would phone several times a day to find out if she was okay and they reassured me that she was, but I was convinced that the cries that I heard in the background were hers. A corporate re-shuffle also meant that I was twice as busy as ever before at work and usually did not even have a chance for that lunchtime visit, which the creche discouraged in any event. 

For these few months, I felt guilty that I was missing so many pivotal firsts in the life of my precious angel, with even more guilt when I read articles about the adverse psychological effects seen later in life in infants left in day care at an early age. Noodle would go to bed very late at night, probably trying to make up for missed time with mommy, and would wake up several times a night. Evenings were spent seeing to baby, doing household chores and everything else that goes with running a household and it would often be midnight before I got through the list of essential chores (yes, I have a very helpful and supportive husband but he was exhausted too). I was severely sleep deprived and my work suffered because of it.

By the time my 'lock-in' period had passed, things had gradually gotten better. Noodle had adapted to life at creche and life carried on and I stayed on at the company for the next two years.  Working full time also had its perks. I had the luxury of buying whatever I wanted or desired for me and my family without checking my bank balance each time. I could interact with colleagues on an intellectual and social level and during the day time go to the bathroom unaccompanied and even have the occasional coffee break (luxuries that stay-at-home moms do not have).

By the time Squish was on his way, I knew that I did not want to go through that experience again. After much deliberation, the decision was made to become a stay- at-home/ work-from-home mom. I spent the first eight months or so after Squish was born completely focused on being a good mommy and wife, seeing to baby and learning to perfect the art of round rotis and soft burfee as expected of any good Indian housewife. I also  used this time to plan my business empire (which has not yet become an empire) as I knew that I needed intellectual stimulation (and some form of income). Then, slowly since, I have been incorporating my work from home plan.

 I do not regret my decision the second time around, although anyone who thinks that staying at home is easier than being at work is wrong. They are both tough, in different ways. Being at home means almost never having time away from the kids, which in itself is taxing. The level of sleep deprivation is similar and being at home, the household chores seem to multiply. Working alone means not having the same resources or colleagues to bounce ideas off and I under-estimated how difficult it would be to working at home with a baby and around his schedule would be. However, the benefit has been to actually have time to spend with my children, to watch them grow and to impart the values that I would like to bestow at this early and impressionable age.

In the end, both were the right decision for me at the given time. I may not stay at home forever, but for now, this is what works- for us anyway. 

We would love to hear your story about your decision to go back to work or stay at home after your baby was born. What prompted your decision? Would you do it again? What has been the highlights and low-lights? Email joziwahm@gmail.com with your story and we might just publish it on this blog.