For a long time I have wanted to start a series about Women In Midlands. I’ve come across such a rich variety of women here that I wanted to capture and share some of their stories. The idea is to get to know each of these exceptional yet everyday women, one layer at a time. It is a celebration of each of them. The hope is that in their stories, each one of us finds a little sliver of ourselves and takes the opportunity to celebrate ourselves too! I’m super happy that this series is finally taking off, so close to International Women’s Day - just perfect! :)

In this inaugural month, I’d like everybody to meet Pallavi Sridhara. I knew Pallavi as the admin for a very popular FB and Whatsapp Group - ‘Indian Mums In Midlands’. Ever since I became a part of that group, I’ve been awed by how much time, energy and herself she devotes to the group. I had always been intrigued about how she does it all with two kids and a job with NHS! Therefore, I reached out to her and shared my vision for this series. She was a complete sport and came on board immediately. We met at one of my favorite cafes - Boston Tea Party in Harborne. It provided the perfect setting for our discussion. Sharing some snippets from our conversation and some pictures from the day -

Me - Tell me a little about yourself 

She - I grew up in Bangalore, did my primary schooling there. Then I spent my secondary school years in Delhi. When I was completing my final year of medicine, I met Nithin (my husband)'s family. I got married in my internship year which was just after I graduated. My Dad had put out ads for my marriage. I did not even know it was out. So randomly one day they tell me they'd met Nithin who'd flown down from UK. My parents asked me if I would like to meet him. I think I was so surprised, I said there was no harm in meeting someone so I said yes. They came to our place and we just talked. So I don't know what happened. We barely knew each other. But somehow we clicked. He's really brought out the best in me. I think I've really grown as a person with him. But, when I'm angry and have a fight, I don’t hesitate to tell my parents that you spend a week selecting your washing machine and dryer and you conned me into this marriage where we agreed the next day! (laughs)

Me - You believe life in UK has changed you for the better. What are some changes that life here has brought about in you ?

She -  Coming to this country has given me a lot of independence. I've been in a much protected environment. I never had that life where I've made my own choices. So I felt almost that there was a rebel in me that needed to be let out. I felt the decisions that I was making, even though they were mine, they were influenced a lot by people around me. I think India does that to you with the family and the societal expectations. I see that here people are a lot more carefree about making their decisions like say quitting their jobs or ending relationships and not having to think too much about it. Or maybe they do think but they are able to decide and live with that decision. 

Me - Tell me a little about what you do. How and why did you get started in your field ? 

She - I am a Psychiatrist. Initially I was going to be in a very grilling job in Obstetrics. Because that was 'approved' in India. Whereas Psychiatry is looked down upon. In Psychiatry you are primarily using your communication skills. And the attitude is that one doesn’t need to go to medical school for that. And to an extent I agree. We are a bit more deskilled than other specialties but I really like it. And when I made that decision I know my Granddad laughed and smirked. Recently I was trying to tell my Dad to be healthier and he would say, what do you know you are just a Psychiatrist. But they turned to me when he was really unwell when he flew to US to see my brother. Because I had to challenge the doctor there and convince him to do the most essential investigation to rule out some of the commonest things you'd expect somebody to have, when they've had a long haul flight. And it turned out that he did have a clot in his chest and they'd not done a CTPA of the chest. And when they did do it and find the clot, it somehow re instilled some hope in my Dad that this daughter of mine still has some basic medical knowledge even though she may not be able to do surgery.

I think in that generation the idea was that if your kid is studying their aim should be to become either an Engineer or a Doctor. Dad wanted to be a doctor but he couldn’t be. So, it was his unfulfilled dream and desire that I was fulfilling. You can feel it. The pressure on you. I think you somehow start living that dream yourself. It becomes your dream.

When I finished Obstetrics I knew for sure I'm not doing Obstetrics. I got through into GP training and Psychiatry. So, I could have gone either way. I saw my husband who's a GP. I said, well, I don’t want competition within the family like Abhimaan (laughs heartily) (Abhimaan is an Indian movie about jealousy between a couple who belong to the same profession) . That was really my thought process. Now I'm really glad I made that choice because I get to talk a lot with people and it is draining at times because you have to show empathy and sympathy even when you are not feeling it. But I like that you are almost let into their world. At least their own version of their world. And they share a lot of personal things that you won’t expect somebody to do. So its perfect for me. I really enjoy being a Psychiatrist.

Me - You describe parenting as one of your biggest challenges that you’ve overcome. Why is that ?

She - I think its difficult. Because you don’t know whether you are doing the right thing. You only know of the outcome of your parenting 2 - 3 decades from now. Its too late to rectify then (laughs).

For me from day 1 I’ve been clear - having had working parents - at least one parent in the family will be there for my children. My mother is a fantastic role model. She worked full time. She did her MA while being alone looking after both her kids. The memory I have is that we were all slogging with her. For me, I know I can get extra degrees when I'm 40, 50, 60. But I can’t see my child go back to their 2nd birthday or 3rd year of their life or 1st school day. Those are things I won’t get back. I wanted to ensure I am there through these milestones. For most performances, random things, even if I'm thinking that for this trivial event I have used half a day from my annual leave! But its worth it. They may not remember it. But I’ve been there.

Nithin helps when I lose it. He is a very mature person. I used to study the day before exams. Pull an all nighter and then pray to God. Whereas he has been a meticulous, responsible parent. His theory is that let the kids study for half an hour everyday. Doesn't have to be intense work but let them get into the routine of doing some work everyday. I think for that side of parenting he is really good. I am the giver. Whereas he is always like why...if there’s no reason for it then they shouldn't get it. There’s a balance. Its not rigid. Its fluid and we are making it work...I hope! The biggest challenge is that you know you've created individuals who are happy at the end of the day and can look after themselves. 

Me - Post natal period was difficult for you like it is with so many of us. What did you find challenging during that time ? 

She - It can be very isolating and it’s very confusing with all the hormones. We don’t know what’s going on. When I think back, I think why was I so fussed about sleeping routines or feeding routines or doing certain things a certain way. Why didn't I just let it be and relax? But those days we are just consumed with guilt.

I think it’s the impression of that stage...there’s a certain expectation and a certain template of a pregnant lady and post - partum mother that people just assume that you will fit into and you are not even made aware of that things can go differently. I am thankful , fortunate that at the end of all this I've got two healthy babies (touches wood) and many people don’t.

But the whole pregnancy I'm not the typical pregnant glowing woman. I am constantly uncomfortable from day 1. In fact I know I'm pregnant even before the test shows it. Its because I can feel the nausea. I can feel the pimples and everything else. Up until almost a year after the post natal period, I'm not myself. I can't explain it. I'm not that naturally happy and glowing pregnant woman. And even in the post natal period you find women ready to conquer the world and I think that is where the misconception is and I'm glad there are more people coming out and saying its OK. Its OK if you don't take a shower on a particularly bad day. Its OK if you just use some dry shampoo on your hair and carry on with life. You don't have to be running marathons daily.

During my time, I don't know whether it was depression, maybe it was. I remember going to the GP and crying all the time about Viren’s (my son’s) reflux and they would say Oh I can see how difficult it is... seems like you've got a lot on your plate. I got nothing more than sympathy which would leave me just angry. It is real and I just feel we need more support which we don't have here. I do want to do a bit of training in that area to see if there is something I can help with. 

Me - What helped you during that time?

She - The fact that I got out of it alive! (laughs) It felt like such a dark cloud. I didn't know when or how I managed to get out of it. 

Me -  You’ve lost 3 stones. How did you motivate yourself to do it and more importantly, how did you do it?

She - Every stage of my life I've been overweight. From even before I can remember. So I've always felt I needed to lose the weight. It started off as another fad thing two Novembers ago. I thought I'll just do a few kgs. Maybe just lose a bit of holiday weight. I somehow stuck to it though. I was seeing results so I was able to motivate myself and push myself to do a little bit more.

I followed the Cambridge Weight Plan. For me the main problem was that I can't pre-plan and pre-cook. What really helped me is that they come in sachets, bar or shake form that you can mix it up and its ready. As soon as you knew you are about to have your meal, you didn’t have to think or cook. It was there for you. I followed this plan for 6 months. Even now, if I gain a pound or two, I go back to it. I carry a few bars. They are supposed to be low calorie high protein. With this I also intermittent fast. That’s when you don't eat for 16 hours. All you eat is within a 8 hour window. In the 16 hours you can have water, black coffee etc. but nothing sugary. 

I am very proud that I've lost the weight. But the challenge now is to maintain it. So I'm very mindful of what I eat now. 

Me - Apart from work and family, your friends are also really important to you. What role do your friends play in your life. How do you make time for your friends.

She - After the kids have become a little older, I've told myself that I need time for myself. Almost on a weekly basis, I need to reconnect with people. I need to be myself for a bit. Where I am just not somebody's wife or mother or doctor or anything. I just want to be me. I think I've got a few friends who ground me. Who tell me off. They are able to point out that 'Bhaiya tum paagal ho rahi ho, thora relax ho jao' (Girl, you are going crazy. Please relax). They say it as it is. I will make sure that there is some time for them always.

Me - A message for the readers

She - I 'd say to people to believe in themselves - because I've had a lot of self doubt and confidence issues. If you put your 100% into something and believe you can do it, I do feel you can achieve anything.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the Q&A section of the text belong solely to the interviewee, and not necessarily to the author or Candid You Photography.

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