Two weeks from today, I will have my first baby. I am 42 and this pregnancy came as a complete surprise.
I have led an unconventional life - pursuing my dreams and career and believing in marrying only for love, whenever it swept me off my feet. And I must admit, this belief in finding myself before finding true love has worked for me.
However, this note is not about love. It is about being pregnant and continuing to work. It is about how we - as a couple - worked to ensure that my pregnancy would not impact my career and indeed, how these nine months have helped me focus my energies on just two things - staying healthy and keeping the balance between home and work.
A pregnancy will typically take away your attention from everything. Your friends, hobbies/interests, social life, even work - take a backseat. Your emotions take over as you focus only on how you feel at the moment. Here's how you can make the pregnancy work for you:
Have that regular conversation with your partner. The baby growing inside you is shared responsibility so make sure you both have time to talk through what is happening inside you and how you feel. Describe this in detail so he understands. But more importantly, let him know how he can support you in keeping the balance between your work and home. What really helped with me was having my husband as a very close confidante and ally. We talked about how I would negotiate work and he took on more responsibilities at home. As my pregnancy progressed, I did less work at home and he took on more. We did birth preparation classes together, downloaded apps and read as much material to prepare ourselves for what was to come. On his part, he negotiated with his employers that he would not travel six weeks prior to my due date. And if it weren't for him, my meals would not be as balanced or varied and I certainly would not have stuck to an exercise plan. We took regular walks in the park. Initially they were about an hour long and as the pregnancy progressed, they reduced to 20 minutes. But we kept the exercise going. Food and exercise are very important as they keep you happy and positive. And you can't do this on your own.
Make your family believe in your dreams. Our families have always rallied behind us, but what really worked was their belief in my will to succeed at work. That I had aspirations regarding my career and I didn't want that to end with a baby. After all, had I not spent all these years, working hard to get to where I had? My father kept reinforcing that pregnancy is not an illness but also reminded me I needed more rest. When my husband would travel, my mother would be in-charge of looking after me and managing the household. The family provides an incredible support system if you reach out and tell them how they can help.
Be honest with your boss. I broke the news to my boss at the end of my first trimester. He was incredibly positive and supportive. His advice: to focus on the family and not stress about how much leave I would need. To keep him updated. And we kept the conversation going. This took a lot off my head, allowed me to focus and deliver on my projects. And since I reached out to him so early, he was forthcoming with solutions to any issue I had.
Share your work. I realized quite quickly that I would have to take on less work, reduce and share responsibility and cut down on travel. I planned all of that with my colleagues. I stopped air travel at 31 weeks and planned backstopping arrangements a month in advance of my due date. And as I write this note from my office, I look at the to-do list I had prepared. It is being checked off as I type. Writing this note was the last thing I planned to do before going on maternity leave.
Most of us women believe that pregnancy and motherhood will alter their career. That we need to take on less and focus more on the family. Many give up their jobs, hoping to find work that keeps them at home or return to full time work when their kids are older. My final advice - this does not have to be true. Times have changed and it is quite alright for us to not feel guilty about wanting jobs and successful careers. And the Parliament has just passed the Maternity Benefit Bill that mandates employers to provide not only maternity leave for six months but also enable women to breastfeed at work. It stipulates employers with over 50 employees to have creche facilities. So there's nothing to stop you from chasing that rainbow - it is truly within your reach.
Traveller - in spirit and by profession. I believe in making careers out of unconventional pursuits and have been a researcher, polio eradicator, author, development professional, wannabe entrepreneur, cultural philanthropist, educator.