Reflections of a (New) Working Mom

Three months ago I gave birth to my son, Dhruv. As expected, motherhood has been a life changing experience. My maternity leave has gone by in a wink and I am getting ready to go back to work.

And just like that, I join millions of women in the US going back to work in 12 weeks of giving birth.

In these 12 weeks, Dhruv and I became each other’ s universe. In mine, the pleasures of motherhood – the first smile, the snuggles and coos balanced out the challenges- breast feeding, sleep deprivation, physical and mental exhaustion. In 12 weeks, I am just about rediscovering the ground below my feet and my son is just about finding a cadence to his being. The physical separation that awaits us, with me going back to work, is a barrier to our progress and is extremely upsetting.

I am most definitely a broken record when I say this, but this timeline is personally cruel and unfair to the newborn and the new mom, economically irrational and socially backwards.

The statistics and information are out there.

Participation of women in the labor force has declined in the US, women continue to make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, women are significantly underrepresented on corporate boards and governments, US is the only developed country that does not offer paid time off, women cite lack of extended maternity leave and flexibility as leading causes for leaving the workforce- you get the idea.

These facts add up. At an individual level , they add up to a systemic bias preventing women from achieving true equality with their male peers. At an organizational level, they create pockets of short term productivity loss due to the new parent’s absence. Given the limited time that new parents are away, there is a low ROI to create an plan B, keeping the status quo. At an economic level, this keeps the labor market unequal and not at its full potential. Lastly, as a society, we are downgrading the very fundamental act of creating the next generation of citizens and disproportionately affecting low and middle income families.

If we as a society are serious about equality, this has got to change. The narrative of “women can have it all” has to change. From focusing on the individual we have to change the narrative to what we can do at a macro level – in schools and companies and governments – to create a support structure to systematically address the design flaws in the status quo.

There are several societies that seem to have made strides. While we don’t have to blindly duplicate EuropeanNordic or Asian models, should we not at least evaluate the American model? Test and innovate to create newer models of our own? Use technology to allow for flexibility without hampering productivity? We pride ourselves on innovations and for being boundary pushers, so why not when it comes to women and motherhood ?

Personally, I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who truly is an equal parent, to have family and friends that bend over backwards to create a taut support system and to afford help, big and small, when I need it. Professionally, I am fortunate to work for a company and team that values flexibility.

But I am the exception, not the norm. And given that it is 2017, isn’t that a shame?

Dhruv and I will cope to our reality, I simply wish the reality were a different one. One with the most precious resource of all- more time.

Blog post by WHCM CO-Chair Dhana Kotwal