My story begins with my childhood being raised as an army brat moving from station to station. With my Dad being away for serving on the borders or as we called it “field stations” where family couldn’t go, it generally came on me from a very early age to be the “Man of the House”. I was clear in my mind for as long as I remember that I wanted to be independent and successful in my own right. It was for this very reason marrying into the forces was never an option for me as it meant that I wouldn’t be able to have a career of my own.
My career started of fairly well with getting a campus placement into the Management Trainee program of Indian Hotels (The Taj Group) and I worked with them in Mumbai for 3 years and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and the financial independence that I had gained. In 2006 my college sweetheart and I decided to turn our relationship into something permanent and in order that our long distance relationship didn’t turn into a long distance marriage both of us opted to be based out of New Delhi.
Untill 2008 things went fairly well with usual job changes and working hard at climbing up the Corporate Ladder I got my first big break when I was promoted to lead the HR function for India in my organization (SABIC)! I was the youngest person in the history of the company to have got this role It was an exhilaration and the sweet taste of success I will never forget. Within 2 months of my promotion I got to know …I was pregnant! I was nervous about managing 2 big changes both in personal life and career, but then change had been an integral part of my life since childhood and I went headlong into it.
Things went great, and on October 25, 2008, I gave birth to my extremely beautiful daughter through C sec. By then my in-laws had come to stay with us and the plan was to raise Trisha and manage my career with their help. Unfortunately my mother in law was diagnosed with cancer soon after and by April 2009 we lost her. I took my 3 months maternity leave and realized during this period that I enjoyed the thrill of working too much to be able to give up on a great career. I rejoined work with having the usual support system of maid and my FIL and my mother pitching in with overseeing things. I fortunately had decent working hours and ability to work remotely which helped me manage my schedule around Trisha’s needs. Things went on well with her milestones being met. We decided that we would put her in day care once she started speaking. Alas, we waited and waited and Trisha didn’t start her first concrete words. 14th month, 16th month, still no words. Our Families, her pediatrician all kept saying some children speak late, don’t worry etc. But I was worried, I was extremely worried, all my friends kids around Trisha’ age were already speaking, counting etc. Finally around her 18thmonth while talking about my concerns with a colleague at work, I came across the word autism. I went online and read about it and realized that there were some symptoms that she was displaying of this disorder. I urged my husband to take a second opinion which we did and we were referred to a clinical psychologist. Finally in August 2010, my beautiful girl was confirmed to have autism.
Words fail me to even try and describe the agony, pain, helplessness and sense of “why me”, “why her” and most of all the guilt that consumed me in the months following the diagnosis. Did I take a wrong decision by deciding to continue to work? Would this not have happened had I been home with her full time? Should I have taken a break? Should I have breastfed her more? The questions and the burden of guilt were endless. I cried long and hard and mourned the loss of the child we should have had. But I had a child that I had and she was my responsibility and to help her was my priority. Like any parents of a new diagnosed special needs child, we started doing rounds of therapists and trying to understand her disorder. We went to the best speech therapist in delhiand the first thing she candidly and honestly told us, “one of you has to leave the job and it will most probably be the mother. Trisha will need a lot of hard work and efforts more than any other neurotypical child and it wouldn’t be fair on you to manage a work and her needs. “
It was like all hope had been taken away. All sense of it will be OK was gone. I knew Trisha needed me but to give up my work which was also my passion was a tough choice. Fortunately my husband was extremely supportive and we decided that we will first try and make it work without me having to give up my career. I however knew I would need to make some changes and I spoke to my Manager. He gave me the flexibility to work as per my priorities, as long as I could meet the accountabilities of the job. He sanctioned me a blackberry to be connected at all times. From hereon started my personal growth both as a professional and as a mother. I remember learning about autism and her needs, her lack of communication and ability to socially interact. Taking her from one intervention to another, while being logged onto either the BB or laptopworking on employee increments, talent management and performance appraisals! Life was so tough! The challenges so many! India is very nascent and knowledge on autism very low. Specialized services hardly exist and with whatever little there is, there is more demand and less supply. I had to work doubly hard to get her into therapies and good therapists were overbooked. Expectations from the mother were that all that was being at the therapies was replicated at home and I struggled with that a lot, given the work that I had to manage on the professional front. However, I still ensured that I came home relatively early, sat with her though 1 study or play session and then logged in late into the night once she slept to catch up on work.
Slowly she started responding to the inputs, her first word at the age of 3 years was the sweetest sound that we had ever heard! She finally toilet trained at 3.5 years. Struggles continued though on her behavior, lack of speech didn’t help her and led to her frustration and meltdowns. There were many times in this period when I came close to quitting, when I felt that I just couldn’t take it anymore, when it all seemed too much too futile. I also felt very alone in this struggle, comparing myself to other colleagues at work who would have it relatively so easy or my friends whose kids at Trisha’s age were so much more independent. And then I realized these comparisons aren’t taking me anywhere and doing anything for me except make me bitter. I started reaching out in online forums and parent support groups where there were parents such as me who were struggling with the same issues as my child. Theiradvice was practical and made so much sense. I slowly started working constructively on Trisha’s challenges and my own mindsetto accept what Trisha’s autism and to never lack in my efforts. I had super low days where I felt like a lousy mother. I had to do away with the perfectionist in me who wanted everything to be just so. I also learnt the biggest lesson ever of being patient and open to any changes.
By this time, my life only revolved around Trisha and my work, I had no social life no friends and was mostly too exhausted to care about anything other than these two priorities. And then slowly the realization seeped in of how much I had actually grown to be an individual who used her parenting skills of patience, tolerance, a certain serenity and being open to any curve ball thrown at meat workplace and the goal focused, decisive person at home who used all her influencing and organizing skills to get Trisha the best therapists and impossible to meet with schedules. I learnt to be more effective and efficient at work, talk less, be more decisive, waste less time and be extremely focused, and most of all multitask like crazy!
In the last 4 years of our post diagnosis life, my role has steadily grown, I have been rated a top performer consistently , set up a captive technology center and successfully mentored many young people. And Trisha? Well Trisha is my pride Jsheturned 6 this October, goes to a special needs school and has some excellent teachers who work with her. She goes to school for 6 hours like any child. She can speak in 3 word sentence, has a vocabulary of about 100 words and communicates her needs verbally. Her meltdowns and aggression is almost nil, and she is learning quantification!
Life has been both cruel and kind in its own mysterious ways and taught me to be a better and a more confident person. My work helped me through some of the lowest points in life and my daughter has taught me everything beautiful there is to know about life. And through all of this I have learnt one important lesson in life “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and NEVER GIVE UP!” I am indeed blessed!