To baby or not to baby?
Can women really have it all? Can they be good mothers and excel at high-pressure jobs at the same time? Roshni Rao tries answering these and similar questions
“Sisters are doing it for themselves — doing it, doing it, doing it!” Eurythmics spills out of my car radio and I can’t resist joining in, singing loudly, albeit tunelessly, to myself, while the poor man on a scooter next to me gets the start of his life.
I’m stuck in traffic on my way to yet another client meeting at Whitefield and as I glance at my watch, I realise that I’m going to have to log in for my daily conference call, with my colleagues half way around the world, while I’m still driving. My phone rings and I scramble to switch the handsfree on (all the time silently cursing the sadist who invented this device that won’t even allow me to use the “can-I-call-you-back-I’m-driving” excuse any more). It’s my bestie at work reminding me about “drinks” that have somehow become a mandatory part of the work day. I sigh as I calculate that I’ll barely be home in time to cook for my two monsters (by which I mean dogs), feed, walk them and collapse exhausted into bed, only to wake up six hours later and for the rigmarole to start all over again.
If I’d been born 20 years earlier than I actually did, I’d be married into a nice joint family household and have two children by now. I’d wake up at 6 in the morning, make sure that my husband’s and children’s tiffins were packed, and see them off to office and school respectively before starting on my other housewifely duties. Instead, I wake up at 8 and the first thing I do is check my Blackberry for any updates that I might have missed due to people on the other side of the world working while I sleep. While I do occasionally worry about my biological clock and the fact that maybe I should be “settling down”, the thought, almost as soon as it surfaces, is drowned out by the next mini-crisis at work; marriage and children return to being a very tiny blip on my congested radar.
Where’s the time?
It’s not so much that I’m not interested in “settling down” than it is the fact that I don’t know how I could ever fit marriage and children into my already over-crowded life. The ‘60s feminists who told us we could “have it all” probably didn’t think we’d ever have to contend with bosses who think a work day should legitimately end at 9.00 pm, or traffic which turns a 6 km distance into a one-hour-on-the road nightmare.
Speaking only for myself, I can honestly say that I cannot see how it would be possible for me to keep my current job and get married and start a family. Even with only my two dogs to contend with, I’m constantly wracked with guilt about leaving them alone at home, about whether I’m spending enough time with them, and wondering if I’m adversely affecting their health by giving them dog food on the days that I’m too tired to cook. How will I ever be able to contend with a spouse or offspring? If I were to fall head-over-heels in love tomorrow, chances are I’d have to quit my job to even have the time to carry on a full-fledged romance, let alone marriage and children
I read a very interesting article in this very paper a few days ago about working women in Bangalore and Mumbai, who are postponing their plans to start families to concentrate on their professional ambitions.
The survey, conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), collected responses from 1,200 married and full-time working women without children in the age group of 24 to 30 in Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune.
Bangalore’s statistics were quite telling — 80 of the 150 working women in Bangalore said they did not wish to have a baby for the time being, as their career was a priority. This is a phenomenon that I have witnessed first-hand. My office has three married-and-working women, between the ages of 28 and 30, and none of them have concrete plans of starting a family in the near future.
I spoke to one of them, Anjana, about why that is and she said it was because she felt that she had worked seven long and hard years, and was finally at a place where it could all come to fruition in terms of designation and the remuneration. “I think I should enjoy the fruits of my labours. And with modern technology, I can have a child in 10 years and not face any complications, so why not?” she shrugged.
One thing all my married-without-children colleagues agreed on is that none of them will work as hard as they do right now when they have children. They’re not even sure that they’ll work at all.
Do we have to choose?
So while Eurythmics sang about it all the way back in the ‘80s, is “having it all” actually a myth? Can women really have it all? Can we be good mothers and excel at high-pressure jobs at the same time? The question takes on a whole different set of ramifications when you factor in all the variables that a modern working woman of today has to contend with, as compared to her predecessors. Today, she no longer lives in a joint family, or has understanding neighbours who can look out for her children; her boss no longer automatically assumes that she’ll leave at 5 pm, because she has a toddler at home. She is breaking male bastions but faces newer challenges. With the workplace becoming a battlefield, she has to prove herself over and over again in order to be recognised — her gender is no excuse to refuse assignments, she needs to keep updating herself on developments in her profession. She has to juggle the roles of Mom, Tutor, Cook, and Maid at home, while still being a conscientious and creative Employee or Boss at work.
So can it be done?
With Mother’s Day just having passed, I decided to talk to some mothers who work full-time, to get their perspective.
Twenty seven-year-old Prithvi Gurunath works at the finance department of Mercedes Benz. She’s a qualified chartered accountant who married at age 25 and now has a nine-month-old toddler at home. She says that while it is“challenging to concentrate on both full time work with concrete responsibilities and my child who is an actual human being that I am responsible for” that she has found a way to make it work. “When I first came back after my maternity leave, some days it was ok, some days it was too much,” she says. “Now I’m enjoying both. But that’s only because I get immense support from family. My husband and in-laws are very helpful, which means I can work peacefully and enjoy the work that I do.”
Thirty two-year-old Priyanka Rai who got married last year and had an unexpected “surprise” when she returned from her honeymoon, has only been back at her event management job for a few months and is having a hard time coping. “I used to be a party girl,” she explains. “I was always the one who would force everyone else to socialise after work. Now I’m the one that everyone else is trying to convince to go partying. And I always say no. It’s not like I don’t want to go, but right now I don’t have a choice. I have to go pick up my baby from my in-laws’ place.” She stops and sighs, “I miss my old no-worries life. It seems like such a long time ago, even though it’s actually only been little more than a year.”
With all of this conflicting information, I decided to speak to the mother of a girl I know. Sucharita Eashwar has been a working mother since her first daughter (now herself a mother) was a toddler. Sucharita now heads the India operations of a US-based organisation called WEConnect International, but back when her first daughter was a baby, she worked in advertising. “My daughter would be sleeping when I left in the morning and by the time I got back, she would be asleep again, and I thought — why did I have this baby if I’m never going to be able to spend time with her,” says Sucharita. She made a decision and switched career lanes, going into the not-for-profit sector, choosing to work out of home for the next 15 years. However, following a separation and divorce, Sucharita re-joined the corporate world, a move she terms as “difficult”. Now that her daughters are all grown up, I asked her what advice she has for young mothers facing the same dilemma. “One has to build a network and a support structure,” she says.
“Working mothers always have to contend with the guilt that they’re not spending enough time with their children. I always tell young women that it’s just not a feasible proposition. It’s not necessary for you to physically be there 100 per cent of the time. I wasn’t, and my daughters turned out fine!” And knowing both her daughters, I would have to agree.
And since Sucharita is a highly respected professional, I’m beginning to think that maybe it is possible to have it all. Does this mean I’m going to actively work towards having a husband and children in the near future? Absolutely not.