Maternity leave is a strange time. My growing bump had accompanied me to beach holidays, government buildings, and even made it up the stairs of Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. However, all of a sudden, I was unable to get up off my recliner and, before I knew it, I was back in the recliner, with baby in tow. My colleagues were amazingly respectful of this time off, and no doubt I needed it, but I went from being on my laptop, phone and Twitter feed almost 24/7 to this strange digital decline. I didn’t need the internet for work, but my gadget became a sort of lifeline between feedings and the tsunami of content available for new mothers. I discovered the world of YouTube mommy-bloggers who sliced your baby-raising experience product review by product review, and tonnes of Instagram accounts that served as daily affirmations for new moms not to feel guilty for wanting some time off. Can I admit I enjoyed Twitter simply as a user and I enjoyed peeking occasionally into my email during my months off, all the while knowing I could happily switch off whenever I wanted to?

Soon, the baby was awake more and the customary first injections were over, and it was time to take her out of the oppressive Delhi heat. Baby, dog, nanny, husband—all bundled up to take trains, planes, and long drives, and we had a wonderful time at a rented home in the hills. I was lucky enough getting to take the baby out of the Delhi air a second time—to Goa, for a little longer, just before my maternity leave ended.

Being taken out of the trenches and transplanted into a baby bubble is a really strange experience. I wasn’t just working—I was working all the time. Till I got home from the hospital, for me, productivity was measured documents, panels, team meetings and coffee cups. So, despite my initial apprehension, I got completely absorbed with baby, baby and dog, dog and baby… and my iPhone kept telling me my weekly screen time was going down.

I might not have ever come back from Goa had my boss not pinged me a few weeks before to tell me that he’d recommended me for a programme at Stanford. The tricky part was it would be my first day back at work—in the US, no less. Of course, I didn’t need to take it on right now if I wasn’t ready to leave the baby, but he didn’t want to assume I wouldn’t. He was right. I had spent six months in the baby bubble, but I was slowly getting ready to return to the real world. And the programme seemed worth that effort. The company seemed worth the effort. My husband and my family were beyond supportive—a family calendar was made to keep the baby well entertained so that she wouldn’t miss me, and with regular FaceTime, she really didn’t.

I am back at work. Truly, I had been oblivious to the responsibility-ridden parallel lives working moms have at home. A recent report by Avtar called Second Careers of Women Professionals: The India Story, suggests 35% of mid-career women who take breaks are on maternity leave. It’s exceedingly easy to become a statistic that doesn’t make it back. But not me. Why?

And I have a few thoughts about how easily that has come to be. First, there can be no question over a good—paid—maternity leave policy. To have five full months paid leave (actually, six, thanks to Indian law) ensured that I could enjoy my maternity leave with complete financial security and didn’t feel the need to rush back to work. I know some people need longer, and I completely understand, but I’m thankful for the time I got. Second, the flexibility my company allows us on working from home has allowed me to calmly settle back in at the new frequency I’m oscillating at. More companies need to understand women can’t really go from full-time baby care to a 9-to-5 office routine overnight. The baby is finally interactive and it’s tough missing her. We really should not have to. The third lesson I learnt was that it’s wonderful when employers do not assume that just because you’ve had a baby, you wouldn’t want to maximize an opportunity even if it’s out of town (or the country). All they need to do is ask.

So now I’m part of a community of women who have returned to work and are now crafting a new normal. Stella has long gatecrashed work video calls. Baby M has already shown signs of copying her big sister. However, another secret of success, the sisterhood (or should I be calling it the motherhood), is what keeps you going. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the stillness of maternity leave, but colleagues did warn me. The terrible isolation of the early days of nursing was made easier by known unknowns across social media who shared their own stories. The family members who knowingly took the baby from me and insisted I get out of the house for a meal (for that I thank them, but in Delhi’s 46 degrees, it is honestly just better to stay home). The kindness of the professional ecosystem that waits for your return and then enthusiastically says “Thank god, you’re back!"

The truth is, you don’t just make a new little bump, a little bump makes a new you. The workplace can be a direct beneficiary of this evolution if it just learns how.

Mahima Kaul is director, public policy, Twitter, India and South Asia. She tweets @misskaul

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