What does a working mother really want? To know that her child is taken care of while she is at work. And really it is as simple as that. I am no different than that labourer across the street carrying bricks at the construction site. Or my maid who works from 6am to 12pm everyday, cleaning dirty dishes in 5 homes. Or even a high flying corporate honcho like Schauna Chauhan. And even Aishwarya Rai who has flown to Dubai with her daughter to meet a client commitment. We all want to work. We all want to earn a living. Have a career. But with a child in all ours hearts, minds and lives we need a support system that ensures that the baby is attended and take care of.
Soon after the news of my pregnancy broke out last year the congratulatory messages kept pouring in. Once they lost their steam, given my crazy work hours many asked “How will you manage?” Really, how did I think I will manage? With a nanny of course! I thought it was the easiest thing in the world and wondered why people worried about it so much! And so, I got down to looking up agencies and doing a preliminary round of calling to see how this thing works. And I was appalled at the pseudo-professionalism some of the agents reeked in. Worried to the core, I gave up the hunt soon enough, telling myself that I’d need a nanny only when the baby is born.
My son was born six months later. At my parents’ house with a bevy of house helps moving around, I didn’t feel the need for a nanny because I didn’t trust anyone with my son. From massaging, to cleaning, to bathing, feeding, burping and putting him to sleep I did everything myself. My mom insisted that someone else wash his nappies and so I let her have her way. 4 months passed like this. I was happy and elated to be able to do everything for V. And then I had to get back to Delhi…to my home.
There are a few liberties that a new mom can take. Especially if she is living away from her household and living with her parents and in-laws in another city. I really didn’t have to worry if the maid or cook didn’t turn up. I didn’t have to look into the pantry. Worry if the nappies or medicines ran out. Everything was taken care of. But back home I can’t escape anything, can I? Add to the pressures of domesticity is the impending need to go back to work. I work in an industry and an organisation that does precious little to make the life of a new mother easier. Really, television is harsh on women! I have had my share of leaves, paid and unpaid…adding up to a lot many months, much more than what my sister-in-law in the US has had! But then one can’t keep me on their payrolls till my son grows up and I am ready to go back to work. So what do I do? I look for a nanny.
And I did find one. She came from an agency that has been highly spoken about. Heavily recommended and many instances of ‘trained nannies and governesses’ who help kids with their studies! Wow! It reminded me of my grandmother who had British governesses as a child…I was dreaming about V having an English speaking governess a few years from now. But this mirage soon washed away!
Two months back, I brought her home. An aged, almost 60 woman who is battling a heavy debt, a grown up son who doesn’t care for her and a life without her husband. She has two other daughters. One married with a child, and another who studies at her uncle’s. She tells me about her growing up. The only child, how she lost her mother when very young. She was her father’s pretty princess who wanted her husband to come home and stay with her! She has clearly fallen on bad times and one can feel only sorry for her and her state of being. She has cataract in both her eyes, and until I asked her to measure V;s medicines she didn’t know she was slowly growing blind. Years of washing and scrubbing have left her with terrible rashes in her hands, enough to leave V with gashes on his baby skin. Water makes it worse. She is nice to V. She sings to him, makes him laugh. But is tired when she has to carry him for more than five minutes. She can’t massage him. Can’t bathe him either. He is too restless when she feeds him. And she can’t clean him well enough during a nappy change. V’s a wriggly child and she isn’t quick enough to handle his constant moves. She accepts her short comings. But that hardly solves my purpose!
I pay a salary for which I need to earn mine. I have taken her to doctors. Got her new glasses, eye drops, creams, lotions and a new soap for her hands. She still forgets to wear her glasses and her hands are hardly better. So what does she really do? She washes his clothes and irons them. Washes his toys once a day. And makes his food. And for all of this I pay her an obscene amount that the agency charges! And it worries me to the core! I can’t leave them together because it is beyond her to take care of him alone. And despite all her niceties the one thing that pinches me the most is that the nanny herself needs constant looking after!
Where does one find a nanny?
One week and two stories of employers (incidentally both doctors) abusing their house helps has grabbed national news space. Add to that the existence of dubious, shady agents who deal with trafficked girls from impoverished districts of Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and even across the border. In this state of affairs there is very little hope for someone like me! How will I convince an agency that I will take care of the nanny? How will I know that I am not being handed a raw deal, again? Agencies tell me that unmarried girls are better. They don’t want to go back to their families. Some others tell me that unmarried girls are in ‘demand’ why do I want a middle aged woman! They are ‘fast’, not just in their work but also otherwise. Some tell me I can leave her locked inside the house when I go out with the rest of the family. Nannies come in all shapes and sizes too. One who insists on getting into the bath tub with her high heels. Another who refuses to eat what’s cooked in the house. I also found a Nanny who would take over your child. Decide what he will eat, what toys he needs, what clothes he’d wear! She’ll take over everything…your child, your home…hopefully she’ll leave your husband alone!!
The agency from which mine comes has gone beyond the rosy picture that I had seen. They are rude. Refuse to speak to me. They are only interested in international clients who will pay them in dollars. Their philosophy is simple…”A working couple with a baby? They’ll pay anything to keep a nanny!” In all this time no one has bothered to call up their nanny and find out whether she is alive or even dead!! Not one phone call. I am taken for a ride. A ride that has taken me all around the country and dropped me in a jungle with a thud! I am just an inch away from naming the placement agency. And I will do so in due course. Perhaps launching an online attack on them? Or even lodging a case against them.
And I am not the only one here. I am not the only mother in this universe looking for a nanny for her child. I have countless other friends who are equally hapless. Looking for that one lead that will help them find a nanny. Some have put their careers on hold. Some others are making do with a mediocre crèche somewhere. Some others are handing over their babies to their grandparents. And then there are also those who don’t want to live and share bringing up their kids with their in-laws. Sometimes a nanny, an outsider is better than a blood tie! But what does a mother really want? Can a mother be really replaced? No…but then to know that her child is taken care of in her absence is a huge blessing. I for one WANT to see my son grow up. I don’t want to miss his first crawl. His first step. His first coherent words. Nothing…but then what can I really do?
They say a woman’s ‘priorities’ change. Everyone’s does. From time to time, at each stage of our lives we change what we want from our lives. To claim that women are different species is really unfair. Yes, motherhood is a blessing. Yes it is the most beautiful phase that a woman goes through. But that doesn’t make us a weakling? We want our careers, but then none of us want to miss seeing our children grow up? And don’t they grow up so soon??
Today I am at that juncture of my life when I have cried my eyes out. For not being able to spend more time with my son. Even looking for a nanny sends me on a guilt trip sometimes. For being cheated by an agency. I have never felt so vulnerable in a long, long time. It’s like someone has found the weakest link in me. For wanting a career and a life where I can still earn and hold my head high. For wanting to give my son the best that I can. For being considered ‘unprofessional’ and totally dispensable.
The choices for a modern day mother aren’t too many. I never wanted to regret having a baby. And neither do I today. But then anyone who plans to have a baby in the near future, a word of advice…sort out your child care options before you have a child. It will kill you later if you don’t!
P.S: If any kind soul who reads this desperate plea from a hapless mother has leads to a ‘placement agency’ or an experienced nanny, please help. I will forever be your slave!