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