Like many of us, Mumbai-based interior designer, Sarah Sham had the year 2020 planned down to every detail. Work took take centre-stage but then came the joy of an unexpected pregnancy. Before she could chew on that the pandemic hit. Sarah, an interior designer and a self-confessed workaholic, was now bound indoors.
Sarah was pregnant through the first wave of the pandemic. While she was still learning the ropes of being a new mom, she got Covid-19, not once but thrice! If that wasn’t enough, she battled postpartum depression while in isolation. She sailed through it all cushioned by her resilience.
I had been warned about how overwhelming and difficult it is to have a baby and manage work with a small baby. I had no idea how much of a toll it would take on my body. While those things are very much true, I was prepared for all the bad stuff. It was the unexpected bit that took me by surprise—of how happy it made me, the fun I was having. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that. I am really enjoying just the simple things like hanging out with my baby, Sophia, watching her crawl and roll.
Has becoming a mom changed you?
Yes, absolutely! Every decision I make boils down to is this worth it. Earlier I would do a lot of things just because. Now I assess if it is really more important than the time can I spend with my baby. It is a huge sacrifice to choose between the time with my baby and work.
Has it been challenging to care for a baby and manage work amid a pandemic?
I am quite a workaholic. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would have been on my feet. I was working from home right up until the day I went into labour. I was moderating an 800-person call, discussing carpets. I spoke so much on the call that my throat dried and I was coughing. The coughing made me go into labour. I gave birth to Sophia on Thursday, Friday I was back home. I took the weekend to rest. On Monday, I was back at work from home.
If we weren’t experiencing a pandemic, I wouldn’t have spent so much time at home. I am not in a hectic frame of mind. I’ve got so much time to spend with my baby which in any other situation would have never happened, given my line of work and my personality.
Were you nervous when you discovered that you were pregnant?
I got pregnant in November and I remember having a conversation with my husband on how I would manage my work. It was unplanned and I was having a full meltdown because I had so many projects all over the country, and I am usually always travelling. Then as soon as the pandemic hit, I thought this is the best time to have a baby for someone like me.
Was the postpartum period challenging?
I definitely had postpartum depression and it took me a long time to realise it. I think a lot of it was about my changed body. I used to look at myself in the mirror and not recognise my reflection. That became very disturbing for me.
I am a very fit person. I work out six days a week. I eat healthy. I love my body, I’ve always been very proud of how strong it is and what it can do. I do CrossFit. I am used to being very active—to being able to wear a bikini and jump into a pool. I’ve never been conscious of my body. I’ve always been very comfortable with it, from that to suddenly not being able to recognise my own reflecting really took a toll on me.
I didn’t realise I had it for six months. I was very low, I used to wake up unhappy. I would look at myself and feel sadder. Then it just kind of spiraled. One day, I thought that, hey, maybe you have postpartum because you have felt like this for so long. It is not normal to feel unhappy for so long.
Once I realised it, I just went back to what is natural to me. That is working out. I also incorporated a lot of meditation and positive affirmation in my day.
Slowly, I started feeling better. As I became more active, some of the weight started dropping off which also helped me see myself in a more favourable light. I also connected with mums who had similar experiences. That was really helpful because everyone goes through some version of this and chatting with them helped me feel not alone. No one has a baby and is magically okay. I think a lot of it also has to do with how social media portrays postpartum.
Do you think the pandemic has made parenting difficult?
It’s less about me as a parent because we are really enjoying the time at home with the baby. It has more to do with missing out on my baby interacting with other babies, or being able to go out to playschool. Or just have my friend and family around me. My best friend hasn’t met her. Most of my cousins have not met her. Things like that obviously really pinch you.
I didn’t have a baby shower. I didn’t have anyone come over post delivery. So all the things that we do together as a family unit, the celebration of all off it together—that whole feeling was missing. It happened in a very silent way.
Having said that, there is also an advantage to it because I got to share this really private moment with my husband. That was really nice for us as a family unit.
You also tested positive three times! How did you cope?
The first one was when I was nine months pregnant. I had no symptoms but tested positive as a part of routine tests. Thankfully when I tested right before labour I was negative and my baby was also okay. The second time I tested positive was in October 2020, when my baby was three months old. This time I had a sore throat and was tired all the time. My doctor recommended that I isolate. It was very tough because I was breastfeeding and that went for a toss. The third time I tested positive for Covid was in February 2021. This time I had a severe throat infection and an upset stomach. It was very difficult, as I had to stay away from my daughter again. In less than six months I was separated from my infant for the third time. It was quite overwhelming.
But I would tell others to trust their doctor’s advice. We are mostly concerned about our physical health but isolation can be really crippling. You are alone in a room for 14-days. So many people I spoke to had anxiety, my mom was anxious for me. No one can touch you or come close to you. People are scared to interact with you. You feel tired for a really long time. A lot of people get insomnia. So we forget the mental health aspect of this. As you are caring for your physical health, care for your mental health as well. More so for new moms, keep a check on your mental health. It took me a long time to care for my mental health.
In less than a sentence with Sarah
Q: The best part of your day…
• Waking up with my dog, Steffi.
Q: The hardest part of your day…
• Trying to stay healthy and eat well.
Q: One thing that you wish you could do more of…
Q: What’s on your bookshelf right now?
• Rich Dad Poor Dad.
Q: Sara’s Parenting Hack
• Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Q: Morning routine
• Wake up, meditate, workout, work.
Q: Bedtime routine
• Dinner, TV, Instagram, sleep.
Q: Skin-care ritual
• No makeup for last year and a half, once a week a fat layer of moisturiser.
Q: Secret to staying fit
• Take phone calls while walking, home workout 4-5 times a week. I follow a programme called SohfitI did it all the way through my pregnancy.
Q: Mental Health Rx
• Meditation and affirmations.