Thursday, May 10, 2018

Motherhood: the good, the bad and the ugly

On Feb, 14 my life changed forever. My husband and I welcomed our beautiful son, Raza Ashraf Syed. You are going to get a glimpse of his many faces today as I share my journey with you.

Becoming a mom is an indescribable feeling. It is one of most selfless things women undertake. The love I feel for him is unlike any other love I have ever felt before. The first time I heard him cry, I cried. My heart literally feels like it is walking outside of my body. I want to do everything humanly possible to protect this little person while also making sure I am doing everything the right way for his future success. This comes with a lot of cheek cuddles and lots and lots horrible singing and baby talk. Nothing can top the first time Raza looked right at me and smiled.

But the first two weeks are hard. Really hard. I called them the zombie phase. They are such a test. The constant cycle of feed, burp, and diaper change make you realize why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. But once I came out of this phase I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And really started believing that I could be a mom, maybe even a good one.

Physically, I am still recovering from bringing this little human in to the world and am now also responsible for keeping him alive without a manual! Every night I wear a wrist brace on my right arm because it now hurts from carrying the weight of my son. My husband helped me sit up every morning for weeks because I didn’t have the strength to do it on my own after delivering via c-section. I am immensely lucky because I had help. My mom came down for six weeks and my husband stayed home for four weeks. 

As a result, the daunting became manageable and we figured it out together. Single mothers are my heroes. Many women don’t have help or don’t feel comfortable asking. In fact, not only do they do this alone but one in five also suffer from post-partum depression. 

But seventy percent of these moms suffer silently and don’t seek treatment. Why might that be? Well we are a pretty judgmental society. We make women feel like they are lacking something or something is wrong with them if they haven’t  figured out how to handle it all.  I have had plenty of moments where I have cried because my baby wont stop crying or because all I desperately want is a 30 minute nap.  Motherhood isn’t all about cute babies and perfect women.

Sadly, mothers also experience a lot of judgement from other mothers. Did you get a c-section or deliver naturally? Do you breastfeed or use formula? We don’t really take the time to learn why women make the decisions they do. But we critique them for those decisions.

One of these decisions is going back to work. Some of us have the luxury of deciding. Others have no option but to go back. This week was my first full week back at work. I have immense guilt that I reconcile with on a daily basis. I believe a happy woman is a better mom and for me my happiness comes from my son and my work.

Out of all of the 41 OECD countries the US is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents. Only about 16% of employers offer fully paid maternity leave in the US. And that is for full time employees. I had six weeks paid and six weeks unpaid. We wonder why women are absent at the top of corporate America? I think the answer isn’t really that difficult. You have to value care-giving. When Google increased its paid leave from three to five months, the rate of female turnover after maternity leave reduced by 50%.

Paid family leave is also a good business practice. It increases retention and productivity. While researching examples for this talk, I came across Patagonia’s policies. They are the crown jewel of family leave. They implemented paid family leave 33 years ago and offer a child care facility on site.  For some, the cost of child care alone often leads them to stay at home. Three decades later they proudly celebrate the fact that 100% of their female employees who have had children came back.

Some of you may know Donna Orender, former President of the WNBA. She shared a story with me from her days as a new mother of twins. She was meeting with a Canadian executive on a major tv rights negotiation with Canadian broadcasters. She couldn’t get a sitter so the twins came to the meeting too. The boys were quiet but you could smell their diapers! Donna remained calm and secured the deal, using the smelly diapers as a negotiating ploy. The exec laughed and they have a great photo to commemorate the meeting. They are now great friends because of that meeting! I love that story.

Don’t be embarrassed or afraid. You have to be willing to normalize child rearing and still live your life. Raza has attended meetings with me. I have nursed him in these meetings. I have made it a point to talk about my new reality by being honest and by writing and in the process hopefully removing the stigma that all mothers have it all figured out. This has also been immensely therapeutic for me.

I was recently in Miami for a leadership program and chose to leave Raza behind with my husband. Because I am breastfeeding this meant creating a pumping schedule. Over the course of three days, I would have to disappear for multiple 30 minute chunks. Any time someone asked where I went, I proudly said I had to pump. Most of the men didn’t quite understand the undertaking and were astonished. But they now know. Share the good, bad and the ugly. Not just the baby photos.

Someone recently told me I make motherhood look easy. They implied that I have it all. What does having it all really mean? For me that means always having spit up in my hair, being in a constant state of frazzlement and feeling like I will never catch up. Maybe just maybe, if we stop pretending like everything is perfect, our workplaces will listen and American society will catchup.

No woman truly has it all. They have help. They have a village. They have become comfortable with the uncomfortable and they have figured out what works best for them and their family. So on this Mother’s Day don’t just send your mom a card and flowers, call her and tell her a story because you are her greatest gift and the best reward is seeing that you turned out ok because you know she is always going to worry about you.

Monday, April 30, 2018

C-Section Awareness Month

April is Cesearian Awareness Month. Raza was born via c-section. I got a lot of comments on how awful c-sections are and very few questions about why this was the route I was taking. 

Two years ago Asghar and I started trying to conceive and were emotionally devastated each month when we knew we had failed yet again. I started getting tested for different things and was labeled as "infertile" for insurance purposes. This was not only humiliating but also emotionally heartbreaking. No one could explain why. And this cold, sterile word had also led me to believe that I would never carry a child. 

Our next option was IVF. It was these fertility experts who very quickly realized that I wasn't "infertile" but was carrying a 12 cm fibroid that was blocking anything from entering my uterus. I was thrilled to have an actual reason! And I was really angry because this should have been detected months ago.  All the medical staff kept asking me, "didn't I feel the pain" but like most women, I just assumed this was a normal part of womanhood. 

The doctors scheduled my Myomectomy (removal of fibroids) within weeks of the diagnosis. And six weeks after the surgery, I was pregnant. The proximity of my pregnancy with my surgery pretty much confirmed that I had to have a c-section because of the high risk of bleeding. I personally didn't care how I would have a baby, I was just elated that I was going to have one. However, others constantly felt the need to remind me that I was missing out on something special. That I needed to get other opinions until I found a doctor who would let me have a natural birth. 

One, I always want the option that keeps both me and the baby healthy. In this case, this was a c-section. Two, while I understand that some women really want a natural birth experience, it shouldn't be assumed that all of us do.  Three, it is somebody else's body and therefore let them make the decision that is best for them.

Because it was scheduled, I got to choose my delivery date. Between Feb 13 and Feb 14, Valentine's day was a no brainer. I was also emotionally, physically and mentally prepared for what was to come because I had time to process what was about to happen and when. Some might feel that I lost out on something really beautiful and special but I don't think I did. 

The experience was beautiful and special for me. Asghar and I made a playlist and it was extremely comforting to hear each and every song as I laid on the operating table. I had my husband beside me, holding my hand while my doctor walked me through what was happening.  Hearing Raza's first cry was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. And it was made even more special because of the song he chose for his arrival into this world.

The method through which Raza arrived makes no difference to the fact that he is my son and I am his mother. I still get to clean his diapers, feed him, get unsolicited and solicited advice on how to raise my child and questions on when I'll loose my baby weight. Let's remember that we already have plenty of things to fight for as women. We don't need to fight each other, make one another feel like less of a woman because of how we gave birth. We need to celebrate and uplift each other. Each birth is a life changing, sacrificial journey and we need all the help we can get. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Paving The Way

This week’s headlines included:  "Ms. Duckworth, has made history, by becoming the first senator to give birth while in  office."      “Jacinda Ardern will be only the second elected leader to give birth while in office, and the first to go on maternity leave.”

In case you are wondering, the first elected leader to give birth while in office was Pakistan’s late prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. She set the precedent in 1990. I am thankful to these bold leaders for taking a stand and normalizing something that should have been accepted decades ago.  

Motherhood is one of the oldest, most important jobs in the world. Yet, shockingly, it is viewed as a disadvantage because it supposedly means you cant do anything else anymore. Ironically, women are excellent multi-taskers. We run households, juggle calendars, take care of families, work and communities. It’s just what we do. And yet, we have to prove that we can find a balance and are worth the investment. 

More importantly, we have to find the energy every single day to take on this challenge. Senator Duckworth’s daughter, Maile, was allowed on the Senate floor after months of negotiation. Until Wednesday, the rules barred children from coming onto the Senate floor.

I only have two full weeks left before I return to work full time. Maternity leave has been bitter sweet for me. I have loved my time with Raza. And I have also witnessed how alienating the world can be for mothers. Restaurants tell you, no you can’t come with an infant. The fanciest of hotels are not equipped with changing tables. You breastfeed in bathrooms because there is no other option. And to top it off, you receive constant judgement. It is exhausting. But you make it all work (with a lot of help) because your love for your child comes above anything else. 

There are 85 million mothers in the United States. With that large of a number, you’d think the norms would be different.