Manisha Deshpande is a management consultant and mom to a four-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter. In this story, she highlights her diverse pregnancy experiences, how she struggled with the ‘fifth trimester’ and how returning to work was far easier the second time around.
When I delivered my son in 2014, I had decided that I would vault back into life as I knew it, within four months of my delivery. I had a blossoming career at one of India’s leading consulting firms and I saw my maternity break as a brief corporate hiatus. My first day back on the job, I was pulled into a discussion about a new project that lasted long into the night. By the time I got home, my son was nestled in my husband’s arms, fast asleep. A week later, I was expected to travel to Kuala Lumpur on a pre-scheduled work trip. But as the morning of my departure rolled around, I crumbled and collapsed into tears. My trip was only set to last three days, and yet the thought of time away from my son was mind-numbing. Nobody had warned me about this curious phenomenon that would have me re-evaluating my priorities. As I later learned, I was experiencing a common postpartum phase known as the ‘fifth trimester’, a period that many new moms face when they return to work but are typically unready or unprepared.
After the birth of my son, life turned out differently from the way I’d imagined. Not long after he turned six months, I resigned and decided to take a break to make the most of my time with my child. When I finally did re-join the workforce, my son was 2 years old and within a year, I got pregnant again. This time around, my maternity experience was very different. It was positive and uplifting, and I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt about taking a pause to grow my family. In addition to a maternity leave of six months, my company allowed an extended four-month warming up period where I was needed to come into work only for four hours each day, and operate from home the rest of the day. Also, since my office had a creche, I had the option of bringing my baby into work once I delivered.
When my daughter was born in October 2017, I spent six rewarding (and exhausting) months being a full-time mom. And when I resumed work earlier this year, my transition was easy and seamless and, in many ways, empowering. Bringing my daughter into work each day has been a gift and I don’t feel riddled with guilt at the thought of leaving her behind. With both my pregnancies, I experienced mild postpartum depression that manifested as mood swings, unprompted tear fests and general sadness. Only, I didn’t discover that these symptoms had a name until my first ever postpartum health check-up after my daughter’s birth. As part of the maternity policy at my workplace, every new mother must have a counselling session and a comprehensive health assessment within a month of her delivery, and quarterly health check-ups for a whole year after. After my diagnosis, I was eased into a psychological treatment plan composed of counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. It took me two months to rise above my unexplained thoughts and feelings and finally embrace the joy of new motherhood. I think the fact that I was coached through my feelings the second time around helped renew my strength and spirit, and prepared me for corporate life.
Many of my best friends are fellow mommas, and I know that my experience wasn’t one in a million. Many new (and old, I’m sure) moms struggle with mom guilt, and most often, their decisions are dictated by their support systems. In my case, I was lucky to have found the support I needed through my company. Without it, I’m sure I’d have a very different story to tell.
OurHealthMate helps workplaces like Manisha’s to remobilize postpartum women in the workforce and arm them with the tools and resources they need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for life after pregnancy. Reorienting new mothers through a structured and effective program can go a long way in arresting attrition, retaining quality talent and increasing your bottom line.
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