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Do Women Change Because Of Motherhood? Let These Four Moms Tell You

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There is a new series of advertisements released by online retailer Amazon, with a hashtag #MomBeAGirlAgain. The general theme that they all carry is how mothers have changed so much since they’ve entered motherhood (by their own doing or not is not the matter of concern), that they have ‘forgotten’ what their life used to be like before they got married. The ad goes on to depict how with the help of their respective husbands or sons or daughters, they are able to identify a single attribute that had once defined them before motherhood, and re-live it, even if it is for a little while.

The ads have an interesting peg which they never really seek to answer – that people seem to change after they become mothers. I have always wondered why this was the case. Sure, people can’t remain the same forever and a lot of people seem to undergo major changes once they get married, but parenthood apparently does something to them – something that is far more impactful than being with your other half. At least, that is what the advertisement seems to base their whole feel-good campaign on.

I spoke to four mothers regarding some of those important aspects of motherhood to get an idea of whether or not this is actually the case.

Changing Oneself For Motherhood?

Didn’t we miss school, college, the single days? Do you really want to go back there? Don’t you want to see what’s out there and in store for you?” said Lucy*, a mother of two in her 30s who sees motherhood as a ‘blessing’. “When so many are deprived of it, I have the non-stop supersonic miracles in my life, forcing me to learn things I do not want to.”

For representation only.

The last line almost speaks of a reluctance to dip oneself into a whirlwind that comes along with having to raise a whole other functional human being. For many people around my age, parenthood, especially motherhood, on the outset, is a difficult task. Many outright question the very reasoning that motivates somebody to put themselves through vouching for someone else and taking care of all their needs and demands up until a certain age, maybe forever.

I never pictured it to the extent of reality to this point. It ripped me right through! Ripped me off of my innocence, ignorance, independence,” she explained how motherhood affected her. At the first glance, it doesn’t exactly seem like the argument for motherhood. For many, not even at the second or the third. But for her and the few others that I had spoken to, the grind, hardwork and the very way in which motherhood is supposed to “hit you” is all part of the experience – one that should justify going through it all.

Mary George, another mother of two in her 30s, with whom I had spoken, affirmed that argument. “Although caring for a baby’s needs is hard work physically, I attest that it is also soul-satisfying and immensely pleasurable.”

Moreover, there seems to be an element of maturity or finally stepping into adult shoes that motherhood seems to carry with it. It almost seems to suggest that the period of your life before motherhood is something that doesn’t hold value in comparison to the immense responsibility that one is now handed. “There’s a dramatic shift: [children]have taken my place at the epicenter of my universe, and I suppose this state will sustain until they’re old enough to manage their situations (reasonably). Before I had my children, I only paused to worry about me and the ripples I caused.”

A very no-nonsense approach takes center stage and perhaps rightfully so – raising someone is no joke. “Now my sphere of influence has increased, since I have an intimate role in shaping a slice of the future, in readying my children for the world,” continued Mary. But does that automatically imply that the period of your life prior to that was one characterised by “ignorance” and the “ripples you caused”?

Geetha Prakash, a mother of two in her 40s, seemed to have a wholly different approach. “I used to be a tomboy in school and college. Marriage and motherhood did bring about a big change but only for a short span. Once they started school, I was back to my old self.”

When you have a baby that takes up a significant portion of your time, what happens to you? How does your self operate in a world centred on the needs and demands of a different individual.

Personal Ambitions vs. Motherhood: Is It A Binary?

A much discussed issue is that whether or not motherhood forces women to have to rethink their personal ambitions and priorities in a way that men don’t have to. It tends to worry some that the demands of motherhood are so powerful that it can overpower all your priorities and comfortably place itself in the center around which everything else has to sorted out – be it your job, career, appearance, health and upkeep.

Woman with long hair lying in a park with a young child playing with a bottle
For representation only.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave my two month old baby with anyone else, both times, so I remained unemployed until they and I were reasonably ready,” said Mary who is based in Dubai. “When I started job-hunting after my elder daughter was a year old, I had to begin all over again, from the lower rung of the ‘ladder’ so to speak, because of the break in my career. It was demotivating, but forward was the only way to go.

Starting from scratch at work can be a terrifying thought for many self-identified feminists. Or is this a minor rumination in the face of a much more important duty?

She expects to go through the same at work once again, having recently given birth to her second child and is currently on maternity leave. “However my choice has been an easy one – my children will always remain my priority, and a huge portion of my personal ambition.”

Whether or not this choice is also motivated by the assurance of sufficient financial backing/savings is another argument. For many, however, starting from scratch is not something they can afford. It is not uncommon to hear stories of women having to rethink their career trajectories after having kids and some even relocating countries. Careers demanding travel and inconvenient work hours would invite orders from the up-aboves in the family to make changes for the ‘welfare’ of the children.

A lot of companies aren’t too particular about hiring young woman because of the ‘fear’ that they may get married and have children and the company would have to give maternity leave. In a lot of instances, that leave period ends up becoming the cause for so many female employees either getting fewer opportunities or being demoted even if there isn’t necessarily a difference in pay.

The ‘Balance’: Juggling Things Forever

The whole idea of a ‘balance’ has occupied much attention in public discourse ever since it became ‘normal’ for women to enter the male-dominated and designed workplace that isn’t forgiving of people with kids and familial responsibilities. “Balancing act evokes an image of a woman walking with a toddler spilling out of one arm, a laptop bag slung over the shoulder, on the phone with the office, holding on for sanity’s sake a mug of day-old coffee and the chores-to-do-at-home list,” said Mary

Debates around and across the world are raging on, on maternity and paternity leave, bringing kids to work, providing day care facilities for children at work etc. Currently, however, the system hasn’t reached a place where it is accommodating of women with babies, creating a sort of binary of ‘family’ and ‘work’. You have to either choose one or juggle this ‘balance’ – an unfair pressure predominantly on women.

For representation only.

On a personal note, my mother had to juggle her 8-hour job and ‘duties’ at home. We couldn’t afford ‘help’ and I have wondered aloud and to myself – did my sister and I ever become roadblocks in her path to personal fulfilment? Both my parents could be giving their best at work, but, more often than not, only one is expected to perform the same at home.

But Mary wasn’t exactly sold on the concept. “I know successful career women who are also doting mothers, but I don’t endorse this concept of a balancing act for the reason that it makes it seem like if we don’t have the balance just right, we somehow fail as mothers or women. While this can be done and it is sad that many women are having to do this, in my opinion this is the worst expectation of a woman – to do so much that she knows no other feeling than being perpetually tired. Too wrung out to be joyful about the goodness in her life.

Her concerns raise a valuable point. Are we setting up working mothers to fail through the concept of ‘balance’ or is it empowering to do both, or one or none at all? To attempt to answer this question would have one look into who makes these decisions for women and to flip the situation around and place men in the same context. It is interesting to question whether we would be even having this conversation in that case.

Motherhood is a demanding vocation by itself. We all have to do what we have to do. But it doesn’t help to clutter our lives with expectations of an elusive standard of excellence. Or even a fictional standard of excellence.

Some agents behind establishing and reinforcing these ‘standards of excellence’ can be parents, family, friends, friends who are mothers, friends who aren’t mothers, in-laws.

To Mother Or Not To Mother?

Then there is the question of ‘choice’. Choice is an interesting concept because, in its conventional meaning, it refers to agency in making one’s own decisions. Whether or not, these decisions are affected by external influences is something a lot of people are not comfortable debating because it takes away the autonomy part of it. As subjective individual occupying a space in a context, our choices that we make may not be entirely free of what’s told to us. Let alone if parenthood can be seen as a set of decisions that rely only and only on self-thought and consent.

It’s a steep mountain I’ve chosen to climb, but I’ve begun. Only the reminder of having a healthy bonny baby makes the rude nightly awakenings joyfully worth the while,” says Lucy.

Our ideas of gender roles have long been conditioned in such a way that we are expected to perform certain actions at certain points in our life. Motherhood being of them. And like society views it, if you don’t necessarily complete that task, you become ‘incomplete’. The jury is still out on whether or not some of the most critical decisions we make in our life can be really called a ‘choice’ in its purest form. An informed decision seems to be a more appropriate term.

But does any of this matter in the face of love. Love for the human being in which you can see yourself and the joy and pleasures of raising a sort-of extension of yourself with the utmost care and perfection. Love, seems to be the only antidote.

For representation only.

Motherhood has helped me realise my potential for love. The thing about love is that it presents us with a strange combination of strong and vulnerable. That there are things in the world that could endanger my child make me very vulnerable because I love her so deeply. My battle against those dangers then becomes purposeful.

Do you miss the person that you used to be before you became a mother?

Three mothers responded with a short and simple, “No.

While one, with the swag that she carried, responded like this: “No. I don’t think I have changed. My friends still envy me as I am still enjoying my life exactly the way I want it.”

Enough said.

*Name changed.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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