“I realized how much the cone of silence that surrounds life events like early pregnancy loss can damage our ability to heal”

31 October 2022
Neha Jain Written by Neha Jain
Neha Jain

Neha Jain

Neha is a freelance writer passionate about providing well-researched and empathetic mental...

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Senior lawyer. Mother. Gender Rights Activist. Advocate for Mental Health. Compassionate leader. Pink Elephants’ Ambassador. LinkedIn’s Top Voice in Gender Equality. These are just some titles that describe Niti Nadarajah. 

Living in Australia since the age of 6, Niti grew up with the belief that education and financial stability are everything. Fulfilling her aspirations, she started her career as a lawyer at Blake Dawson and became Senior Counsel at Philip Morris International in 2018. Niti has long been an advocate for normalizing conversations around taboo topics, including mental health and miscarriages. She is passionate about improving discussions on vulnerable issues and creating a more just and fair world. Her open and vulnerable conversations on social media have inspired many people to come forward with their stories. 

MyndStories talked to Niti about her life, mental health, vulnerability on social media, and aspirations. 

Your posts on social media cover many vulnerable topics. How did you get the courage to be vulnerable in front of strangers? What is your motivation? 

As a child and young adult, I never used to share my feelings or emotions with others. It was very much a closed book. My miscarriages changed my entire attitude toward vulnerability as I realized that my grief and depression were breaking me from within. I realized how much the cone of silence that surrounds life events like early pregnancy loss could damage our ability to heal. I knew that at some point, I wanted to share my story. But I pulled back every time I got close to doing so. 

After I had been writing on LinkedIn for a while, in 2020, I decided to share my story about my miscarriages. It took me a lot of courage and time to press ‘post’ and share it with the world. I was worried about people’s perceptions and their judgment. The underlying reasons for sharing – helping others deal with their losses and normalizing the conversation – were more powerful and helped me push through. That is why I now share my vulnerabilities on social media.

What difficulties have you faced while managing your personal and professional life together? 

Over the years, the idea of “personal” and “professional” has shifted. When I started working, particularly in law firms, the expectation was to give your all to work and that anything else came a very distant second. I recall being told that my time wasn’t my own, including on weekends, and that I was paid well enough to be called upon whenever necessary. That conversation shook me and made me understand just how much work is still needed to recognize the importance of personal well-being and mental health. 

I believe this has shifted now, especially because of what we went through during Covid. I hope we continue to move in the right direction and that we don’t simply fall back into old patterns and ways of thinking. 

There’s this general expectation for women to be experts at everything they do, handling family or professional life. How do you manage this expectation? Would you like to say something to people who face the exact expectations?

There is a lot of pressure on women to be ambitious and strong at work but also manage everything at home. Those societal expectations are misplaced and often very damaging as they can lead to overwhelming feelings of guilt, burnout, and stress. You feel that you cannot give ‘your all to your work or your family. 

Reflecting now, I realize I was trying to do too much and didn’t spend enough time trying to understand what was important and what I needed to let go of. Gaining clarity on self, including your values, is critical to making these decisions. Nowadays, I understand what is important to me and consciously choose where to spend my energy and time.  

Being a working mother is hard. But it is also something people tend not to acknowledge. What are the issues you face as a working mother that is perfectly normal, but no one likes to talk about them?

I think guilt is one of the biggest things that working mothers face. I remember vividly one day at work when I was caught up in a meeting and left the office later than I had hoped to. I raced to childcare to pick up my daughter before they closed. When I got there, she was the last child in the center. She looked up at me and said, “Mummy, why are you so late? I don’t want to be the last child picked up. Please don’t do it again.”

Managing the expectations of work against your child’s emotional needs is challenging. I think this is where workplaces need to start recognizing that working hours are less important than their output. Time in the office or at your computer does not necessarily mean efficiency. 

For a long time, self-love has been considered selfish. The constant feeling of doubt and being selfish often throws off us the path of loving ourselves. Did you feel the same? How was your journey to loving yourself? What advice would you give to people struggling to accept and love themselves?

Absolutely. I was terrible at self-love and making time for myself. I was conditioned to believe that you gave to others first. My journey to loving myself and self-care started with health-related issues. They made me realize that I had neglected myself for way too long and that they would only get worse if I continued on the same path.

My advice to those struggling to accept and love themselves is to first make time for yourself and the things you love doing, and secondly, to lean into affirmations. The more you can lean into the things you love about yourself and reinforce those messages in your mind, the more you will be able to drown out the cynical noise.

We all have our moments of doubts and hopelessness. Can you share a story from your life where you felt hopeless? What did you do to move on from it? 

I think the time I felt most hopeless was definitely during my miscarriages. I blamed myself, especially my body, for the losses and couldn’t figure out how to move forward from the loss.

I felt out of control. It took voicing my pain and grief for me to move toward healing.

It also allowed me to recognize that while I couldn’t control whether I would have another child, I could control how I lived my life in the meantime and how I showed up for my family. 

The pandemic has made parental burnout more widespread. Did you ever feel it? How did you overcome it and manage your mental health?

Absolutely! I didn’t realize that parental burnout was a thing until the pandemic happened. With a baby and primary school-aged child at home doing remote learning and one lockdown after another in Melbourne, I reached the breaking point in mid-2021. I wanted nothing more than a break from my family – it was exhausting! The only way to overcome it was to take a step back from things, both at work and home, and to create time for myself.

Your choice to leave full-time employment and take a career break was bold and empowering. Changing your career and leaving your job at any age is a big decision. What was it like to take this step? How did you work through that fear?

Arriving at this decision was terrifying. It was the first time I veered away from the well-trodden career path I had been on for many years. Leaning into uncertainty and stepping into a beginner’s mindset is hard when you have had security for a long time. 

Over the past few years, I have discovered passion and purpose, and my conviction in each has grown stronger. That conviction, as well as my growing understanding of my mortality and need to live life in the present,  have helped me work through my fears and move into the unknown.

What are your future plans? I would love to know what you are planning to do next. 

As a firm believer in the need for gender and racial equity and more inclusive workplaces, I will continue advocating for these issues. I also believe in empowering ourselves to be braver. So I want to work with women like myself who have or are planning to have children and want to be present as parents while also progressing in their careers. While parents, especially women, face many systemic biases in the workplace, I believe we can also change things for ourselves from within. 

Alongside my coaching practice, I also intend to engage in freelance in-house legal work.

Someone recently told me about the concept of a “portfolio career.” That is what I hope to build for myself – a career built upon the various building blocks that make me who I am and give me purpose and meaning. 

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