News broke on Wednesday that American tennis player Serena Williams was pregnant and expecting her first child later this year. Williams, one of the most prominent female athletes in the world, confirmed that she is 20 weeks along, which means that she was pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open.
Williams is a testament to the strength of working pregnant women around the world, a kind of fortitude that’s greatly appreciated by working mothers-to-be in India.
Cecelia Wankhar, working at the Directorate of Information and Public Relations in Shillong, is nine months pregnant. While discussing her work environment, she said, “Even though the environment is good, there is too much pressure. We don’t get paid maternity leave before giving birth here, so I had to use the sick leave available in my basket. I will get four months of maternity leave after giving birth, unless the Government passes the 6-month maternity leave bill. Four months is quite less, though. I don’t want to leave our child behind, but I have to.”
Taruba Zehra, a lawyer at UNHRC, gave birth to a baby boy in October 2015. “I’ve faced so many problems, like insufficient maternity leave and inconsiderate bosses who aren’t sensitive towards pregnant or new mums. They want us to work long hours, irrespective of our physical and mental conditions.”
Her life revolves around her little boy, Ali, for whom she adjusted her work hours to be there when he is awake. “Women are expected to look after the house, give birth and look after the child, take care of the husband’s needs and still have enough energy to contribute towards the financial income of the house. If the household chores are equally shared, maintaining a personal and professional life wouldn’t be complicated,” she added.
Millena Sehgal, a pre-natal yoga instructor from Hyderabad who works with work with women in the IT industry, noted that “the problems they face are quite painful.”
“The long working hours, inflexible timings, lack of healthy diets and inadequate support from families takes quite a toll on these pregnant women.” At an average, a pregnant woman, particularly in the late stages of her pregnancy, should walk for 30 minutes twice a day to prevent exhaustion and back pain,” she said.
“One of the major problems of working long shifts with inflexible timings is that the body gets accustomed to a particular posture. This often leads to the baby’s primary position changing within the womb, which can lead to further complications like the most common one being the umbilical cord getting wrapped around the neck,” Sehgal explained.
But for to-be mothers like Cecelia, facilities for neo-natal fitness and exercise readily aren’t available. “Shillong is very small and there is no trained support system available for pregnant women to help us with yoga, breathing, and other movement-related exercises. We rely on simple walks or traditional remedies as passed on through the generations. The government should provide trained help for us.”
Latha Balasundaram, an expert in pre- and post-natal fitness, said, “I think primarily, what every pregnant working woman needs is emotional and physical support – everything else comes secondary. Her family and friends, particularly her husband, need to give her the confidence that she can carry and raise the child.”
When asked about more and more urban women facing the difficult choice of choosing between their career and family, Balasundaram said, “Women reach a point in their lives where their career is flourishing and they hesitate to take a break and have kids. A lot of them today opt to not have a second child for fear of missing out on important career opportunities. I think, if she receives the right support, a woman can have a well-settled, balanced life.”
Edited by: Nikhita Venugopal