Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 32-year-old woman who is torn between her job and her family. She talks about how marriage and her first pregnancy affected her mind and body, and why she may have to leave work to have the number of kids she wants.
Talk to me.
Growing up was fun for me. I wasn’t told, “You can’t do this because you’re a girl.” I was the girl who was taught to wash cars and fix things in the house — sockets, DVD players, generator spark plug, you get the gist. I had an older brother, but my dad had me close by when he did these things and didn’t let me think it was for boys only.
I was a fun-loving, confident girl, and my parents also trusted me. I was also allowed to do things I liked. I could go out, visit close friends. I just knew I had to be back home by 7 p.m.
By the time I got to university, I was still enjoying myself. I loved my own company, I was comfortable going out by myself and spending my money. My mum would say, “Once a month, take out a small sum and take yourself out.” And so I would. This time, my curfew was 10 p.m., but I could always call my parents to let them know if I’d be out longer.
And then after school?
I got a job, didn’t like it and left. Did a bit of banking, realised the banking life is not for me. Started my own thing, a bit of interior design and culinary services. Then I decided I’d like to have a 9 to 5, and I ended up in tech.
And also marriage.
Getting married was different. I got a rude awakening when I realised I had to be accountable to someone. I grew up the only girl in my family and my brother was five years older than I was. We didn’t click — we were almost never at the house at the same time. If I was at school, he was on holiday, If I was home, he was in school; we mostly saw each other during major holidays. And so I didn’t have an overbearing big brother breathing down my neck.
With marriage, I realised I couldn’t just up and leave without telling my husband where I was going. I can’t just go and see a movie. I was accountable to someone, and If I was later than usual from work, that someone would be worried. I’d have to call and explain, “Oh I’ve been in traffic for two hours, so I’ll be late.” For someone that was used to running things my way, it was extra work mehn. It took a lot of getting used to.
I got to a stage where I told my husband, “I love you, but you can’t tell me what to do,” and it was causing rubbish quarrels. After some time, I thought, “It’s not that bad.” I’m big on communication, so my husband and I decided to talk. “What’s the problem? Why is this a big deal? How can I help?” And it got better.
And then pregnancy.
Haha. Having a child was one of the most remarkable things to happen to me. No one prepares you for what it’s like — and it’s not just about the birthing process — it’s about becoming a mum, that big transition from being one person and suddenly you’re responsible for another human being. You have to figure out what this person is saying when it’s crying or rubbing its ears.
It was another rude awakening. Nothing prepares you for the changes that happen to your body afterwards or the postpartum issues that come up. After my baby’s birth, I had issues keeping my concentration. I was always forgetting things — they call it mummy brain — and it stayed for a while. Till now, I still have flashes of that where I go, “Okay, what was I thinking a moment ago?” There was that feeling of losing my mind and also my self.
I was a size 8 before I got pregnant. After pregnancy, my breast shape changed. They were not as perky as they used to be. My stomach wasn’t as firm as it used to be. My insecurities grew, and I thought I would never get myself back. I hated my body and my mind. I also dreaded going back to work — how would I fit into the workspace when I couldn’t even keep up with a conversation?
That’s heavy. I’m sorry. What happened when you did go back to work?
The tech space is very fast-paced. You’re building new things, programmes — it’s a lot of brainwork. When I was on maternity leave, my biggest fear was I wasn’t going to fit into my work anymore, especially because I was losing my mind and couldn’t remember stuff.
My office has a lot of young people. I’ll be 33 this year, and I work with people in their early 20s who just want to live life and do amazing things, and I’d say getting married isn’t in their top ten things to do. Being pregnant was already a sandbag on my leg; something that was going to slow me down, then I was away from work for three months for maternity leave. I had a serious case of FOMO. I knew many new projects would have been completed by the time I got back.
Before my leave, I had heard side comments that I was getting replaced, so I was already in a bad place. I wasn’t too excited about going back because I knew I was going to struggle. I wasn’t going to be able to stay for long hours, and I’d be treated like I had a disability.
Coming back to work as a new mum was difficult. I felt like I had to show I was still worth being retained as a staff. I was always waiting to be told, “Thank you for your services, we want to let you go.”
I threw myself into work and tried to do things. It was like no days off for me. I was working from home and so I didn’t even have structures to help jig my mind back to form. My husband helped during this period. He kept telling me to remember it was a physiological thing as much as it was psychological, and I didn’t have to force it or put my brain under more pressure.
Did things get better at work?
Yes. In retrospect, a lot of this was happening in my head. I don’t think anyone was feeling how I felt.
Do you think you’ll try for another child?
My husband is an only child, and I grew up as an only girl. While we were talking and planning out our lives, we understood we wanted to have three or four kids. After my first child, I just had cold feet. I wanted to take my time and get my body back to a state where I felt more comfortable with it. I didn’t want to lose my mind again. You know how they say no two pregnancies are the same? I asked myself what’s the guarantee it wouldn’t get worse?
My husband and I agreed we would wait until our baby clocked two, then we’d start trying for another. But at the back of my head, I’ve been thinking, “Do I want to do this now? How would the guys at work take it?”
The tech space can be unforgiving and treacherous. You have to come correct all the time and always prove yourself. I know for certain getting pregnant again would be seen as me not bringing my A-game. “This one has come again with pregnancy. She’s going to be away for another three months. Who is going to do her work?” I’d have those snide comments and side glances, and they wouldn’t understand.
I know I have to get pregnant because I want a family, but I am not looking forward to being pregnant while I still have this job. I’m at this point where it’s a constant battle. I don’t have all the time in the world. I can’t keep waiting forever, and while I used to bother about what people at work would feel about me, I could as well leave.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do. I want to have a family and keep my job. I just feel like something has to give.