I’m doing a PhD in cell biology studying the development of neurons at embryonic stages. I have two beautiful girls aged 5 and 4 years. I love to inspire other moms in their journeys of motherhood and career.
“We are stronger than we think.”
I ignored society: “Why study? You will be a home-maker soon”.
As an Indian-Muslim, stepping out of the house to earn money to pursue higher studies is considered a sin. Regardless, I did a Masters in Biotech Engineering. But my confidence shattered when I was struck by the stark reality of discrimination for being a woman and a mom at work/grad school.
My scimom journey started as a research assistant when I was two months pregnant. My self doubts started creeping in as I was juggling between work and home. My lunch was during my commute to go breastfeed. To my shock, I got pregnant again (despite using double contraceptives). The stress of having a 7-month baby, work and second pregnancy was very high, and I delivered a premature baby at 7 months. Raising my babies (14-months apart), recovering from back-to-back pregnancies and surgeries, and with zero help at home, and being in a foreign country… was no easy feat.
Though I shared with others that I was feeling depressed, everyone shunned these feelings. No one said: “You are doing a great job!”. Instead, I was advised to quit my work!
The irony is that no one could say I was depressed. I dressed professionally, I behaved normally with everyone but when I got home, I shed my skin of faking happiness and slipped into the black hole of loneliness. I finally went to my family doctor and learned that I had succumbed to severe postpartum depression. I was on medication for a year and again after two years (anxiety and OCD), because it was difficult to handle all this in a patriarchal society. I’m now doing a PhD in a Canadian university.
Despite taking zero breaks while having kids and managing a career, I still meet people who see me as incompetent because I’m a mother. Some laughed and said that “Your yearly goals are over-ambitious”, “You cannot do 60hrs/week like others because you have responsibilities”.
I NEVER let such snide remarks go just like that. I verbally replied: I agree, I am over ambitious, but I know what I can do. I can come 60hrs/week and do nothing, or I can work in less than 40hrs/week and give results, which is important? Tracking my time or progress? The reason I emphasize “verbally” is: We should speak up, no one else will!
Inspire other moms to do so and set out a mom-revolution to explore their talents. We should show that we’re just like any other woman (or man). I had to come to work, even when my daughter had an emergency. I come in on weekends. I take my kids to class when I teach or to lab, if it’s a school holiday for them. I had my first meeting with my supervisor with my younger daughter in the stroller. Yet, no one has the wisdom to appreciate our strong will and determination.
Some things that I learned as a working mom and a PhD-mom:
1. Standing up for yourself should start at home. Don’t stress with a clean house, three hot meals, laundry etc. Speak up and ask your spouse/someone to help. Get your kids to do tasks. Everyone lives in the same house, so everyone does their share. No one-man show!
2. Isolation: A severe issue that arises being at work/grad school. You end up having no social life. You did not register your ‘life’ to employer/school, you registered to work/learn and this should not bleed into your personal life. It is difficult to put down your feet and say NO. Learn that art!
3. Employers/supervisors won’t be happy always, but they don’t hold the keys to your life. Career/education is for you. Those difficult conversations are damn hard. If someone is trying to micromanage or control you, fight back. You are amazing by balancing everything! The one that matters is you!
4. As human beings we love to be appreciated and once we become moms, we seek appreciation because we lost ourselves in motherhood. At work/grad school appreciation for moms is NIL. It is hard to stay motivated, but you will learn to be the best judge of your abilities and expertise.
5. Stop promoting a lot of these stigmas in society by keeping quiet. Any comment that reeks of incompetence, should be dealt with. We have to face a lot of such people as we move up. It is a struggle. Voice it. Self-respect is important.
6. You are there already because you knew that you could! Do not let outward circumstances thwart that confidence. WE ARE STRONGER THAN WE THINK!