Working Women: Mums and Maternity Leave

Mum’s the word? These working mothers speak up!

For young working mothers who think the road ahead is too challenging, Positive Parenting shares three stories from women who’ve come out on top!

Siti Hajar Abdul Rahman

39, from Petaling Jaya is a senior manager in Corporate Communications with a four year-old son.

Did you enjoy the time you spend with your baby and why?

Naturally being a first time mum, I was constantly happy, sad and worried all at once! Happy, because I could finally call myself a mum (I was 35 when I had the baby) and I could see myself doing something other than just working; sad, because I felt I would never get a decent night’s sleep again and my body had completely transformed! I would worry because I was never sure if what I was doing was the right thing or the best thing for my baby.

When did you return to work and was it a difficult decision?

I have to say I was fortunate to find a consultancy job where I could work two days a week. I started six months after giving birth. As much as I enjoyed being a new mum, in my fifth month I was already yearning for something more than the daily routine of changing diapers, meal planning and scheduling naps! It wasn’t a difficult decision thanks to the support I received from my husband and family.

What are the challenges of balancing parenting a young child with work, friends and family?

I constantly feel guilty. I feel guilty when I leave work on time as I have to go home to cook and put my son to bed; I feel guilty that my husband spends more time with my son than I do because of work commitments (my husband is self-employed and so he has flexi hours). I feel guilty that my concentration levels aren’t as good as they used to be and I’m constantly distracted, be it at home or at work. It’s also difficult when I literally have to choose between whether I want to spend time with my son, go to the gym, or spend time with my family and friends. I can’t have it all. Something always has to give and there are a lot of compromises.

What is the ideal time, in your opinion, for maternity leave? What are your thoughts on paternal leave?

Six months was good for me. Enough time for me to not only get into a good routine but it gave me time and the ability to breastfeed exclusively, which was important to me. It was also long enough that by the time I did decide to go back to work, I couldn’t wait! As for paternal leave, it should be mandatory. My husband played a really important role in the initial months and even to this day. After I had my son, I actually suffered severe pelvic pains. I had to go for physiotherapy every other day for three months before I was healed. During that time, my husband’s presence helped tremendously to offload some of the burden of caring for a newborn so I was able to recover.

Ooi See Bee

42, lives in Kuching, Sarawak, works in sales and management and has two children, a five-year-old daughter (Elendrianna) and little baby boy (Elijah) who was born mid 2019.

Did you have a full time job, what was it? Are you still working?

I just started a full-time job in sales and management for a curtain business. I also own an ice-cream food truck, Cloud-99 Ice Cream. I would like to focus on my full-time job because I want to learn more about business and it may give us a more stable income. As for my ice-cream business, I will only do special events for now and look for a business partner to assist with daily operations and sales.

Did you enjoy your time off from work, did it enable you to bond with your baby, and how?

Time off from work was really great! I had more time to bond with my little one, nursing him, talking and singing to him and sleeping with him.

Did you ever feel like you shouldn’t go back to work, and if yes, elaborate.

I would love to stay home and be 100% dedicated to building my home and watching my children grow. I like to be creative in cooking, baking and preparing food for the family.

Nowadays children are different, they need more attention, otherwise the TV and tablets end up becoming their best friends! I enjoy spending time doing craftwork with my daughter. Just the weekend is not enough to do all of that… Unfortunately, however, one side income is not enough and so both parents have to work full time.

What do you think is a good amount of time for a mum to go on maternity leave, and why?

I think two or three months would be good. One month for confinement and the other month to get back in-line and to adjust to the routine of what you need to do as a mum and at work. Some moms need a longer time to recover.

Should parental leave be extended to the father as well?

Yes, it would be great to have your spouse to support and assist during confinement.

What can employers do, in your opinion, to level the playing field for working moms, and new mothers in particular?

  1. All companies must have a proper nursing room equipped with hot water and a fridge
  2. Provide a nursery. This would make it easier for parents to handle a newborn and young kids.
  3. Allow mums to bring a newborn to work; at least for a year for those who are dedicated to breastfeeding.
  4. Flexible work hours. We also need time off at least once a month (half day off) for the first year as newborns need to have check-ups and vaccinations. Occasionally mothers end up having to take unpaid leave for this.

Nasa Maria Entaban

37, Lives in Petaling Jaya and is a journalist with two daughters, a six-year-old (Dani Karina) and an eight-month-old baby (Nuri Marlena).

Did you enjoy your time off from work, did it enable you to bond with your children, and how?

For both my confinements I was on paid maternity leave for three months. It was a fulfilling experience and I bonded with my children in different ways. The second time around juggling time for both kids was a challenge but with support from my husband (Davin Fernandez) and my helper it was doable and I didn’t feel like I was neglecting either child.

What were some of the challenges you faced when you came back to work, and who gave you support?

Both times were very different. The first time around, my child was being cared for by my mother-in-law and I was constantly plagued with feelings of guilt for “burdening” her with childcare and I would rush back as soon as I finished work to relieve her. This time around, my baby is in daycare, and I have zero guilt as the carers are being well compensated for caring for my child. The one thing in common with both experiences was I learned how to be more efficient at work so that I would be able to leave on time and spend as much time as possible with the kids.

What do you think it’s a good amount of time for a mum to go on maternity leave, and why?

Six months to a year, to enable the body to recover well, and to establish a bond with baby. Being suddenly separated from a newborn at three months for long hours every day is traumatic for both mother and baby, an experience which many parents are forced to endure.

Should parental leave be extended to the father as well?

Yes it should, for at least until the mother is back on her feet, as many new mothers may not have support at home like grandparents, helpers and so on.

Did you ever feel like you shouldn’t go back to work, and if yes, elaborate.

I never want to stop having an income, if there were another option it would be part-time work, so no, I don’t feel like I should ever stop working.

What can employers do, in your opinion, to level the playing field for working moms, and new mothers in particular?

In general, be more understanding of the importance of a father’s role in caring for his children, don’t perpetuate the stereotype that parenting is 90% a woman’s job. Give dads the chance to take their kids to the doctor’s and so on. If most of the parenting continues to be left to the mother, women will continue to be left behind in the workforce.
For new mums, set up a daycare centre in the same building so that mothers can return to work, assured that their baby is just a floor or two away. More importantly if they are breastfeeding this will enable them to maintain their supply which often drops when breastfeeding mothers return to full time work. Or, offer subsidies for daycare centres near the workplace (some multinationals in KL offer this). For working mums, make working from home an option. Finally, don’t punish parents for wanting to raise the next generation of adults.

Read more:

Maternity matters 

Let’s Hear It from the Career Mums: Balancing Work and Motherhood

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