x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

My advice to new mothers returning to work in the UAE

There's no question that the quality of our relationship has suffered because we're just so preoccupied with the baby, and too tired to pay attention to ourselves.

Here comes the baby and there goes the marriage.” Don’t laugh; it’s a common situation to be in for a married couple after baby joins the fold. Google “married life after baby” and you’re presented with more than 100 million results along the lines of “eight tips for a happy marriage after baby” and “five ways to strengthen your marriage after having a baby” and “common marriage problems after having children”.

I’m not sure where Mr T and I fall on this rocky spectrum. We don’t have fights over who gets to change the baby (we just automatically do it together for moral support), but there’s no question that the quality of our relationship has suffered because we’re just so preoccupied with Baby A and too tired to pay attention to ourselves, whether as individuals or as a couple.

The first 45 days of Baby A’s life were a whirlwind of fatigue, anxiety, self-doubt and wonder, and they passed by in a blur until we were able to settle into our new life. But once Baby A was six weeks old and even up to her three-month milestone, life was beautiful and happy and a lot easier to handle. I was cocooned in the luxury of maternity leave, we were falling in love with our baby and each other all over again, and the future seemed rosy, bright and definitely something we could both handle.

I remember when Baby A was just eight weeks old and we were out to dinner with friends. One of the husbands cocked his head to one side, gave us a good stare and said to Mr T and me: “You two look pretty fresh for brand-new parents.” I didn’t credit my make-up application skills or the dim restaurant lighting that camouflaged the dark circles under our eyes. I took the compliment in my stride because he was right: we were happy and content; not yet mired in the sleepless nights and the responsibilities of the everyday and the never-ending attempt to find that elusive balance between life and work. We were at peace – and it showed.

But it gets harder. I’ve prepared a spiel to all expectant mothers in the UAE who are planning to return to work after baby is born: the first six weeks are a roller-coaster of emotions for the mother until she is able to deal, then there’s a beautiful period of adjustment and enjoyment of the maternity leave, then you go back to work and it all goes to hell. And there’s just no time anymore.

There’s no time to pay attention to yourself. No time to focus on your husband. No time to figure out how to fit cooking into your packed day. No time to do anything once you get home but dote on the baby that you have been missing all day. No time to do something special for yourself, so you can feel better about who you are and the changes that have taken over your physical, emotional and mental essence. No time to remind yourself to be less bitter towards your husband, who happens to be the only one you can – unfairly – take the frustration out on. And so a marriage, inevitably, will suffer.

Sometimes I wonder: as much as Mr T and I pamper our Baby A and fill her day with love, attention and fun activities to nurture that growing brain of hers, is she negatively affected, somehow, subconsciously even, from having a mother and father who are so fatigued that they’ve inevitably suffered a disconnect in their magic? Both Mr T and I know the magic is very much still there – we see glimpses of it every day.

We just need to muster up the energy to nurture it, so Baby A can see it and feel it as well.

Hala Khalaf is deputy Arts&Life editor at The National

hkhalaf@thenational.ae

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