"I was on my extended maternity leave when I decided to take the GMAT. I had always wanted to pursue a higher degree and at that point felt that an MBA would suit my professional aspirations. I appeared for my GMAT and joined back after my leave. When I got through IIM Ahmedabad and ISB, I decided to pursue IIM Ahmedabad’s One Year Full-Time management program, I decided to resign.”
During her maternity leave, Kuheli De realised the need to go back to school but was unsure about leaving her son behind. It was a tough decision to make but she finally plunged into it as she navigated her journey of becoming a mom and a student at the same time.
What were you working as when you decided to take a break to study?
I was a Manager with a Big 4 consulting firm. At that time, I had an overall working experience of 11 years.
Why did you feel the need to study/upskill yourself?
Having a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, my career track was heavily focused on tech. I started my career with a major IT consulting MNC but after relocating to Gurgaon from New York, I switched to join a Big 4 consulting firm. This job too, entailed a tech focus but as I progressed within the firm, I realised that in a firm full of CAs and MBAs, I would need more than a tech degree to be considered for functional roles and not only technical roles that were in any case limited.
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What was the biggest resistance you had to face? How did you overcome it?
When I started my MBA, my little one was two years old. I knew two things – I will do my MBA no matter what it takes, I will take my son along with me. Fortunately, the IIM Ahmedabad campus offers residential arrangements for students with families.
The biggest challenge at this point was who would look after my son while I was attending classes.
We had been prepped by our profs and alums that it would be a rigorous course. Imagine two years of full-time studies crammed into one year.
We could imagine exhausting days and sleepless nights ahead. Given this, I knew I had to enlist help. That’s when I found my village – my family members stepped in, especially my sister and mother-in-law. And help came from unexpected corners – my local help from Gurgaon who decided to relocate with me for a few months till I found someone reliable there and my toddler’s playschool principal, who referred me one of the most wonderful and caring domestic helps I have ever come across. I was able to balance studying and family due to that.
How did you arrive at the decision of being a student and a mom? How did your family react to it?
I am glad that I decided to pursue higher education even after motherhood. I wasn’t the only one in my batch.
At least, 5 more of my batch mates were mothers with children of various ages starting from 6 months to 6 years. Some had come along with their children, some had kept their children back home with their families.
My family was very supportive and let me know that they would come and stay with me the entire length of my course to look after my 2 year-old.
What was the support you got?
My sister and mother-in-law alternated and stayed with my son and me on the campus. I also ensured that there was good domestic help to support them. The facilities on the campus are excellent as is its location, so everything that one might need is close at hand. Plus, the city of Ahmedabad and its people are wonderful to make you fall in love with the place.
Had you not received that support, would you have pursued studying and motherhood together?
I never considered this and probably will never let this thought come across. I believed something would work out, I didn’t know how or what but as I have said earlier, I was clear about two things – I would go for my MBA and I would take my child along with me. Maybe it was my strong faith that my family would support me somehow or the other or maybe God would work something out for me. I just took a leap of faith.
How did you fund this education?
I have always been a cautious spender so I managed to fund it partly through my personal savings and partly through an educational loan.
During your education, how did you manage your schedule?
I loved and hated every day of the program. Firstly, though most of my batchmates had families, not all of them had brought along their families. So, while they could dedicate all hours of the day to academic or other activities, I had to prioritise between my son and my coursework every day and feel guilty about whichever I chose one day and neglected the other.
Secondly, 24 hours in a day were not enough to attend lectures, do assignments and prepare for next day’s classes. Some time management as a student mom was required.
Lectures would start at 8:45 AM. Some lectures would start late in the evening and go on till 11:15 PM. Then the syndi (group are called syndicates) meets would happen to complete assignments and discuss case studies over late night Maggi and tea. To add to this, individual preparations for exams and assignments were also required.
Finally, due to stress and sleep deprivation, my vertigo, that I had developed post-partum, went into overdrive. Some days, I had to pop a pill just to be able to walk straight and not have everything around me spinning.
How did you balance your emotions (being away from family) with your career? Did you ever face guilt?
My father and husband would visit regularly apart from my sister and mother-in-law who stayed alternately with my son and me. As mentioned earlier, some days my coursework took priority over my toddler and on other days I prioritised my toddler, no matter what I did, I felt guilty about neglecting the other.
How has this education as a student mom helped you in your career?
I have mentioned how extremely rigorous a course it was but I do not repent my decision, I cannot express how glad I am, that I persevered. The experience is something that will always stay with me – both the positives and the negatives. The IIM Ahmedabad campus combined with its faculty and infrastructure offered a great experience that I highly recommend to anyone who dares to dream.
Professionally, it helped me advance my career aspirations and personally, it helped me grow as an individual.
What are your next steps?
After completing my MBA, I joined an IT consultancy MNC. After a year, I decided to take break in my professional career for childcare. Now a year into my break, I know that I will resume my professional career soon. I am currently working on a project that aims towards introducing reading to children as early in their lives as possible, to make it a cherished activity and develop a love for the written word among children. It’s called Little Shelf and I’m currently working on building the platform along with a fellow mom friend. The idea stemmed from my love of reading that I was fortunately able to inculcate in my child very early.
What is your advice for mothers who want to go back to school or work but stop because of their children?
It’s easier said than done. Guilt is the biggest challenge that mothers have to overcome in addition to thoughts about safety of your child given the current state of affairs. But, having seen life as a working mother as well as a stay-at-home mother, I have found both challenging.
Some days, the thought of financial dependence along with the lack of mental stimulation are overbearing. On other days, I cannot help but feel lucky to be able to cuddle my now not-so-little one whenever I want throughout the day, taking that afternoon nap or reading.
Having said this, I have seen that even when I was working or studying, my toddler wasn’t any less affectionate towards me and wasn’t any less cared for, in my absence. This is the reason why, I would do what I did again and look forward to getting back to my professional aspirations.
I want to lead by example and show my child that nothing comes easy but when you have worked hard for something there’s just no stopping you.