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.

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