Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Back at work and figuring it all out

I went back to work on May 7th. The past four weeks have felt like an out of body experience. I don’t feel like myself for many reasons. For starters, my life revolves around my kid’s schedule. For a tiny person, there is a lot that is required. There is a schedule for pumping, a schedule for feeding, a schedule for sleeping, and a schedule for napping. Somewhere between all that I need to insert working, meetings, eating, getting dressed, errands and sleeping. Needless to say, it has been messy.

I am a fairly structured person but this has been challenging. Despite the required schedules, no two days are the same. I have left the house in mismatched shoes, with half my makeup on, without work documents, without pump parts and have basically had to make a u-turn for home many times in these first few weeks. When I used to see women put makeup on while driving, I just figured they were running late. Now I know they are probably mothers who took care of everyone else and ran out of time for themselves.

Speaking of, this has consequences. I was making it all work but becoming really angry and resentful towards my husband along the way. It’s tough to communicate this when there really isn’t a clean cut solution for the problem. And so I learned to be kinder to myself and ask for a lot of help. Asghar and I are trying to figure out the new balance every day.

I have also been running on discombobulated sleep cycles. Sometimes there are sets of three full hours, sometimes two and sometimes four. But hardly a full six or seven. After a week of very little sleep, I was a hot mess exhibiting symptoms like shaking, forgetfulness, exhaustion and headaches. I literally had to sleep in one morning to feel human again. I know this will pass but it is still painful. And more reason why maternity leave should be at least four or five months.

Then there is the physical aspect. I might have lost all the baby weight but I certainly don't look the same. I basically need to rebuild my core muscles again. Which means this will happen sometime in 2019!  In all seriousness, I still get random pangs by the incision and my waist is not what it used to be. Getting dressed in the morning is driven by comfort and what is most convenient for pumping which means most of my closet is useless right now.

I am also discovering the world of daycare. The first day did not go as I thought it would. But I did bring all the items on the checklist! Only to find out the list was recently changed by DCF and no one bothered to tell the parents?! Why isn’t anything clearly written? I want to volunteer to fix the orientation documents just so another mom doesn’t feel like a failure because of unclear directions. And then there is this etiquette dance. You want to be nice since they are taking care of your child but you also don’t want to feel pressured to do everything. Do I have to donate to a family I have never met? Do I need to stop and make small talk with everyone every day? I always leave with a guilty feeling; I have no idea why!

I am lucky that I make my own hours and can work from anywhere at any time. This flexibility has been immensely helpful in this time of chaos. But when 5:30pm rolls around, you will find me babbling and playing with my little guy and that will always be the best part of my day.

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. 

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. 

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