Re-entering the workforce after a long break can be overwhelming. Returning to work after pregnancy and childbirth as a breastfeeding mother is more complicated than most people consider. The Coronavirus pandemic and the changes it brought forth have only made matters more complicated, especially for women coming back to work after maternity leave. Although, we may not know how far these changes have affected our lives, working mothers are bearing the brunt of this unusual global crisis.
Returning to work – Before the pandemic
Becoming a mother brings several changes to a woman’s life. Going back to work after maternity leave is never easy. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, only the second head of state to give birth while in office, said that she expected there would be tension between meeting her daughter’s needs and her official responsibilities. This statement holds true for every working mother, whether she is leading a nation or performing her 9-5 job. Apart from the dread and anxiety of leaving their child in another’s care for several hours, mothers may also feel guilty for not being able to fulfill their children’s needs. Interestingly, fathers are generally excluded from this conversation and are not expected to feel these difficult emotions when they are working.
The post-pandemic scenario
The Coronavirus pandemic caused an unexpected turn of events in everyone’s lives. Events had to be canceled or postponed, public spaces were closed, and offices and schools shut down. For most of 2020, people all around the world were instructed to shelter in place. Other than the health crisis, this pandemic is also responsible for many changes globally, the full extent of which we won’t know until later.
However, it is safe to assume that women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic in some ways. Several countries have reported a rise in domestic violence. Being forced to stay indoors for a long time has caused mental health to deteriorate. In the absence of schools and child care assistance, parents have had to take up those responsibilities along with their full-time jobs. All of these significantly influence the well-being of a working woman. In some cultures, like India, sharing household work between the husband and the wife is still not widely popular. This puts a double burden of having to look after the family solely on women, along with their professional workload.
Last year, The New York Times had launched a hotline for parents who have been stuck inside their homes since the first lockdown. It was called the Primal Scream Line and was followed by a report that suggested that working moms were reaching a breaking point.
New moms coping in the new normal
For today’s women, careers and professional life are as important as having a family. Many find their confidence and identity through the work they do. The sudden shift to work-from-home might have upset the plans of those who had hoped to regain a semblance of life before sleep deprivation and endless nappy changes. Access to child-care assistance, be it other family members or childcare professionals, has been limited because of health and safety risks. Having to manage everything alone only makes matters more difficult for new mothers returning to work.
Many moms see the scope for family bonding time as the silver lining. Not having to commute or prep for a day at the office also saves time. But many moms are struggling to find balance when family and professional life overlap many times over without any real boundaries. This could result in increased stress and may have long-term effects on their mental health.
The end of this unanticipated crisis is finally in sight. We can hope that work and life will soon become easier for working mothers. Meanwhile, support is essential for the survival of new moms who are going back to work after a break. Having someone to help carry the load will go a long way in ensuring their well-being and, consequently, the well-being of their young ones too.
About the Author
Natasha Garyali is the VP Of MomJunction, a leading global digital platform for millennial moms across India & US. Prior to this, she was the Managing Editor ( India) for Dennis Publishing.