My Journey as a Working Mother: From One Mamma to Another

They say a mother is born when her child is born. Motherhood can be a journey of varied emotions – love, protection, anxiety, frustration and guilt. With more mothers balancing work at home as well as in society, the dynamics of motherhood as well as parenting are changing tremendously.

So, we approached a wonderfully compassionate, working Mamma of a four year old to share with us the joys and learnings of her parenting journey.

Hi Dhivyaa, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Dhivyaa Naveen Kumar, a working mother. I moved to Basel, Switzerland in 2012 soon after my marriage and my husband and I have a 3.5 year old daughter named Mila.

Can you share your birthing experience with us?

I actually had a very trying birthing experience; it was not very pleasant. During pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum which is a case of excessive nausea and vomiting. This lasted my entire first trimester and I couldn’t keep even water down. This led to excessive weight loss and I was on infusions during this period. Eventually, things got better in the second trimester. I went to work until the end of 36 weeks gestation and went on maternity break when my doctor advised me to do so.

During labour, after almost 24 hours, just as I was pushing, my daughter got stuck. Although the doctors tried hard for a normal birth, they had to eventually go for an emergency cesarean section. This led to a lot of physical and emotional pain before, during and after my daughter’s birth.

How soon after Mila did you get back to work?

We had only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in Switzerland. As a new mother, this naturally increased my anxiety and I had symptoms of postpartum depression; thankfully I was not on any medication. The only medicine for me was my child. I kept admiring her smile and holding her against my skin. Skin-skin contact with the baby is helpful not just for the baby but for the mother as well.

What steps did you take to prepare yourself and your baby before getting back to work full-time?

Mila was completely on breast milk until about 14-15 weeks. She already fell into a routine and would feed every 3-4 hours. Around the 15th week, I began pumping milk and feeding from the bottle. She thankfully took to the bottle immediately although I was worried that she would refuse. After the 15th week, I started pumping milk for two feeds at home and gradually, I increased this to three feeds. I used to pump and store the excess milk in the fridge. I wanted to give her milk as fresh as possible and so would pump and store in the fridge only for a day. The most important tip I can give a working mother who wants to breastfeed her baby is to never change the timing for pumping milk. Once you fix a time and routine and stick to it, even during weekends, the flow is consistent. Although, this might get stressful, it is better than not having consistent flow.

Eventually, I asked my husband and my mother or mother-in-law to begin feeding Mila from the bottle. Just a week before I went back to work, we began transitioning her to this routine.

What steps did you and your husband take to help Mila adapt to a new environment and caregivers? And, what steps did you take to emotionally support yourself from being away from her?

This was the most challenging phase for us. My daughter was with my mother and mother-in-law soon after I went back to work, which was when she was around 19 weeks. So, she was still with family members at home. But once they left at around 32 weeks, we had to send her to a daycare. I was able to trust my family even though I had to go back to work but it was not easy for me to leave her in a completely new environment with many other babies. I could not imagine how she would sleep peacefully or eat well and this used to worry me a lot. Thankfully, we found a place that is literally a 2 minute walk from home. The daycare centre had a transition phase where I could spend a couple of days with Mila. We could also observe how they took care of the other babies. This gave me a lot of confidence and I began to have trust that she was in safe hands. Mila did cry a lot initially after the big separation from home and I used to cry on my way to work, but gradually, she settled down with all the fun activities she could do at school like singing, painting, outdoor walks and was happy to go.

Pumping milk at work is not an easy experience both physically and emotionally. How did you deal with this and what kind of support did you receive?

I made it a point to pump milk regularly at work at the fixed time and thankfully, I had the support to do so. Although, initially, I used to miss my daughter and our skin-skin bonding, I used to watch her videos and pictures while pumping at work. We both fell into a routine; Mila used to drink milk around 8 times a day. Three meals were from a bottle with expressed milk and the other meals were directly from me at home. I would feed her from my breast at 7 am, then leave for work at 7.30 am. I pumped consistently at 10am, 1pm and 4pm. I used to store the pumped milk in the fridge at my workplace for her next day meal.

For interested parents, I used the Medela swing maxi double electric breast pump which worked like a charm. And for storing milk, the lid on the bottles came with labels to mark the date and time. They also came with a tray which helped me organise them by time and date in the fridge.

Did Mila find it difficult to transition between breast and bottle everyday? How did you address challenges around this?

Right from the first day, luckily, Mila never had difficulty transitioning between bottle and my breast. I did notice that she used to wake up a lot more in the nights and feed directly from me. Gradually, as I started weaning her, she used to feed from my breast only in the nights. I started replacing every ‘expressed-milk’ meal with solid foods. By the 7th month, I stopped pumping milk at work. However, until she turned three, she used to wake up in the nights to feed from me. I attributed this to her longing for skin-skin contact and bonding with me and enjoyed it.

How did you manage to strike some kind of balance between healing after a cesarean section, being available for Mila and also working both at home and outside?

I have to thank several people for this. My husband is my biggest support and shares all the household chores with me. There is no task in the house that is done only by me. I also have to thank my work environment as I never had to bring back any work home. In the initial months, my mother-in-law and mother helped me a lot. I definitely have to thank Mila’s caretakers at her daycare who gave me the trust and confidence.

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We made this work by always waking up and going to bed on time. We tried and planned ahead. For example, it would take me only 5 minutes to come up with a meal plan, but this saves time and energy instead of worrying what to cook and what to shop everyday. I also learnt to listen to my body and never pushed myself beyond a certain limit. When I knew I couldn’t handle something, I learnt to ask for help and look for alternative solutions. On those days when the routine becomes mundane, we helped each other or just went out as a family to break the repetition. I also helped my body and mind heal by engaging in activities like swimming and running, watching movies once in a while and taking breaks to relax when needed. All of this helped me rejuvenate and get better.

Many working mothers go through a lot of emotional turmoil for not being with their baby the whole day. Did you also experience this? 

Yes, of course I did. Hundreds of thoughts ran in head. “Did I dress her appropriately for the weather?, “Will she eat?”, “Will she be happy?”, etc. I used to chat quickly with her guides at drop off and pickup. I started noting down what she ate, how long she slept and how she was. In the mornings, I used to update the guides at daycare on how her morning was so far, which helped them plan better and I used to ask them the same at pickup. I had an open and honest relationship with the guides at daycare which helped me communicate my needs clearly with them.  At home, my husband participated in all household chores and has been my biggest support. It was he who took care of Mila during most of her sick days. Only because it is a 50-50 partnership, we have been able to keep the family going smoothly. 

From your experience, what kind of support do you think working mothers require from family and society?

I strongly believe that fathers play an equal role in raising a child. We did not have a baby-sitter. We just used to take turns in being with Mila and did our best to balance it all out. Our society must understand that fathers are important figures in children’ lives and willingly offer emotional and physical support to mothers and fathers who work both at home and outside. Of course, every family has their own style and there really is no right or wrong way in parenting. We need to figure out between each other and go from there.

We all do what is best for our children. It is important for us as mothers, as women, to be strong, positive and have faith in what we are doing. Everybody likes to advise us but I have learnt to take what makes sense to me. 

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Can you please share a word of support and love to other mothers in similar situations?  

Dear Mammas,

Please speak out when you think something is not correct and ask for help when you cannot do something. There is no shame in asking for help!

Don’t blame yourself and think that it is always ‘you’ who is responsible for your child. Many of us hold onto our children tightly; we must learn to let go and find trustworthy people to engage with and interact with our children. Being with different people will help our children socialize better and grow.

Take some time for yourselves. Be grateful when people around you respect your feelings and, again, speak out when you need something. You get only when you ask for something. Lastly, stay positive and pat yourself on the back once in a while for doing the best that you can!

The Wisdom of Skin-Skin: From One Mamma to Another

Skin-to-skin is a wonderful way to bond with your baby in moments, weeks and days following birth. It is reassuring for the baby to stay in the arms of the mother whom they know from life in utero. For the mother, nothing is more soothing than to hold, protect and provide for her baby. 

Lets hear more about this from a Mamma of two from Switzerland. 

Hi Uthra, tell us about yourself and your family.

I am Uthra, a stay at home mom. My husband, Adithya, and I have been married for five years and we have two beautiful daughters Kanaa (4.5 years) and Kalki (9 months).

How was your birthing experience with Kanaa different from Kalki?

My first child, Kanaa, was born in Palo Alto, California. Well before Kanaa was born I was very sure that I would want to take an epidural for the birthing. Kanaa, although, seemed to have a different plan for us. Even before I was induced with pitocin, I had begun to experience severe contractions, this was followed by a full dose of epidural. Labor lasted only for five hours and she was ready to be pushed out very soon. Given that I was on a full dose of epidural I couldn’t feel anything below my hip. It also did not help during the final moments of pushing. She popped out at the sixth hour of labor. My experience of birthing Kanaa was 100% painless.

My second child Kalki was born in Basel, Switzerland. The hospital was a four-minute walk from home. When the contractions began, my husband and I simply walked to the hospital with the suitcase and got admitted. Seven hours into the contractions, our midwife told us that we were doing so well and that I would very well be able to give birth without pain med. She reminded us that an epidural would only slow down the natural process. We decided that we would go ahead without any pain med this time and the pushing started after 10 hours of active labor. Of course there was more pain than I was already experiencing but, honestly, I realised how natural the process is, how the body automatically gains a whole lot of power and releases any amount of energy required in order to give birth. It was magical!

Both experiences were totally different but absolutely memorable.

How did they encourage bonding with your babies soon after birth? Was it different in California and Basel?

With my first-born, Kanaa, everything was new for the both of us. I had absolutely no idea what it was to feed, burp and put a baby to sleep. Only the day after my birthing, did the nurse introduce me to skin-skin. However, everything was different with my second one.The midwife made sure that I gave birth in absolute comfort. The hospital felt like home; as though I was taking a break from my routine to give birth to my child. The mothers especially, are expected to instinctively care for the child. There are no given instructions, no rules! All our questions were answered but unlike America where I was given a “feed routine” , a “how to burp and when to burp” lecture, the mothers were allowed to do what they thought was right to do. And the nurse would intervene if she thinks I could do something differently.

Representative photo of skin-skin moments after birth, not the family in the article.

Tell us about your skin-to-skin routine.

With Kanaa, after every feed I would burp her, lay her on my chest in a way that she could hear my heartbeat and nap with her. Thanks to my mother in law and mother, who were both there to help me one after the other, I had the luxury to simply feed and nap with Kanaa in the room. I would come out only to eat, and bathe. I continued this for two whole months.

With Kalki I would feed  and hold her for more than thirty minutes while she would sleep peacefully. I would then lay her beside me but very close to me and nap with her. Once I was home, my first one naturally expected me to be there for her usual morning routine etc., and it took her a little while to understand. During the night I would feed Kalki lying down on my side and let her sleep close to me feeling my warmth. 

Tell us how skin-to-skin helped you and how you think it helped your babies.

Feeling those tiny little fingers and toes and soft cheeks. Who wouldn’t like it ? And it’s every mother’s blessing to be able to have the opportunity to touch and feel their babies the most. Newborns usually feed and sleep in loop, and it would be just as easy to drop them in the crib soon after a feed, as it would be to hold them against your chest.  I love the feeling, the warmth of her against me and how I can wrap a tiny human being within my arms and watch her sleep peacefully.

The first couple of months are always stressful for the mommy. To be available at all odd hours to feed and to be able to put the baby to sleep at anytime. It is not easy. I believe that skin to skin helped lessen the stress. It gave me a lot of calm.

And the babies, who are so fragile and new, who’ve had the warmth and calm in the cocoon of the womb, look for the same kind of “wrapped” feeling in order to feel secure in the new world. No amount of swaddling will equal skin-skin. Once you have them on your skin the heat in your body is more than enough to keep them warm and comfortable during those first couple of weeks. It made a lot of difference.

Do you think bonding with the other parent is just as necessary?

Absolutely. My husband would hold them close and tight and have them sleep on his tummy or chest every time he could. He had the luxury of time with my first-born more than my second. It helps mothers a lot if the fathers also had skin-skin time with the babies as this helps the babies to get familiarised with the smell and touch of the fathers too. And when in distress, one wouldn’t have to always look for the mother, the skin-skin familiarisation with daddy could also calm the baby. 

Representative photo, not the family in the article.

Even siblings should be encouraged to do this. No matter how young they are. It’s every parent’s anxiety – whether the first-born would accept his or her sister/ brother easily. The sense of touch can do wonders. Kanaa was encouraged to hold Kalki a couple of times against her skin. She found it funny in the beginning but she slowly began to sing to her and feel Kalki’s new soft skin while singing. And she thoroughly loved it. I like to believe that this helped Kalki recognise her sister so easily. Kalki now enjoys Kanaa’s attention and waits for it everyday.

Can you share an encouraging note to every mamma out there to skin-to-skin?

Dear beautiful new mommies, the first couple of months after your newborn’s arrival are very important for you and the whole family. With a whole lot of emotions to deal with, first comes the happiness and excitement, followed by sleepless nights, stress and anxiety. There are times when one would just want to be left alone. Not having to care for a tiny human being all round the clock. But you’ll see how these babies return all your love and care multifold. They give back in numerous ways. So it is important to stop and take a second to breathe. Breathe with your baby against your skin. Give that time for them. You’ll see how much difference it could make. It really makes life calmer and easier during those first couple of months.