Roopesh is 43. A full of life, proud Dad to two shiny two-year old twin girls, and the Vice President of Executive Talent on the senior leadership team of global software giant SAP. He travels with work a lot. He’s also an incredibly devoted husband, as you’ll find out. He lives together with his wife and daughters in just outside London.
In our early thirties we wanted to start a family. We spent almost a decade trying pretty much everything. When it was clear the normal route wasn’t working we started searching for fertility experts. We tried everything, visiting countries all over the world. It’s not an exact science, so you just have to keep trying and you don’t stop believing. It was humbling, because even though we both are fortunate to have fruitful careers allowing for financial stability, it was out of our grasp. We just kept going down as many paths as possible, for as long as we could, financially and emotionally.
We were kept going by the amazing family we have around us. My sister has two girls; my sister in law has two girls. At weekends our nieces come over to our house a lot. Just being around them gave us the boost we needed. But the real secret is the strength of our relationship.
There were years when we decided not to do anything because it was too tough. But we never stopped. If at any point my wife had decided let’s stop and just be thankful for that we’re so lucky to have anyway, I would of have. But I’m so glad she didn’t.
The breakthrough came when I was working on a project in India, where mine and my wife’s families are from. We found a surrogacy clinic. We went through the procedure and in the end had two gorgeous girls, genetically ours, with a surrogate mother.
Those 9 months of gestation were tough because we were pregnant, but the woman who was pregnant with our children was thousands of miles away. Surreal. You’re in the room looking at the ultrasound scans, seeing your twins for the first time and there’s a relative stranger in the room, who’s an integral part of the picture.
We knew we had to be there for 16 weeks after the babies were born for the visa process and had organised things so we would be there for a full six months. We’d found an apartment, somewhere to live and all that. We intended to be there three weeks before due date. 4:30am one morning and I’m in a cab on the way home in London from being out with my friends wetting the baby’s head - it’d been a long time coming. My phone rings, and it’s the consultant telling me to get on the flight. Our babies had been born. Talk about sobering up fast. By 6am we’d booked our flights and were taking off at midday the next day.
We went straight to the hospital when we landed, because our girls were premature and in intensive care. This was the moment we’d dreamt of but thought would never happen.
We looked through the window and saw baby 1 and 2 because we hadn’t named them yet. It was totally exhilarating and humbling, our dreams had finally come true. For all those years it had just been the two of us, focused on our careers and trying to start a family. Decades of focus to achieve our goals, goals not related to children. Things like progress in our careers, to have a nice house in a nice area. It was all totally trumped by these two helpless individuals, totally dependent on us - Bloody scary.
It turned everything upside down, especially because they were in intensive care, in a specialist clinic, we could only see them for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. The moment was finally there but we were constrained to 15 minute slots. By day three we were feeding our children in those 15 minutes, then on day five they came home. This mix of exhilaration and tight constraints does strange things.
My employer couldn’t have been more considerate. In those five months I didn’t use any vacation time. I guess it shows the trust that I had built up with them and my commitment to them. My boss said to me ‘it’s the most important moment of your life. Come and go as you please, just make sure the work gets done.’ It worked out that I was travelling to where I needed to be for work for two weeks, then back in India for two weeks before heading off to work again. Both our mums came over and lived with us and helped look after the girls during that time, so we weren’t all on our own at all.
My wife’s employer is a big IT company. They had never had an employee going through a surrogate programme before. At times like that it shouldn’t surprise you how affable and giving a company can be. They we both amazed and intrigued by it, saying they would support us anyway they can.
When I saw them for the first time, if I could afford to just stop working, for them to be the whole purpose of why I’m here, I’d do it. I think I’d do it today if I could, but I also love what I do.
Part of me wants to turn the volume down on the effort I put into my work, both physically and emotionally because there’s only so far I can stretch. It’s a big question, they are changing every day, growing up so fast and they are so young. So should I minimise the time I spend at work to put more into them. Or should be working harder and saving more for their future? I want the best for them, I want them to go to the best schools and have the best things in life and nothing comes for free. Where’s the balance?
What I know is I cannot sacrifice one over the other; I have to be able to maintain everything I do in my workplace. I can’t be seen to be the guy who’s switched off because he’s had children. Ultimately it’s a business and a business needs to be run efficiently.
It feels a bit like an exam, you don’t know how well you did, but know if you did badly. So far, I know I haven’t done badly.
So there’s a big question in my mind, how much time do I need to spend with them at the age they are - to give them what they need emotionally - whilst being able to maintain the level of income we need to be able to support them? It’s a tough one.
Ultimately I cannot maintain the time and physical and emotional commitment to my work that I did before I had kids. But I owe it to my kids to get as far as I can, whilst I can.
It's about doing things differently, taking different decisions. Delegation for example. I've got a lot better at delegation over the last year and a half. If there was an important meeting in New York, I used to go with someone else from the team. Now I give others the chance to do it, and to learn by doing it. There have been some really pleasant surprises where people have got outcomes faster than I thought they would. It's great to know people step up when you give them the opportunity.
I'm doing a lot more remote work because I can.
I'm also a lot more open about my family with others than I thought I would be. People I work with know I have twins and that's why I'm tired. If people don't get that and understand it, I'm working with the wrong people.
Just being present is something that I am better at but frankly struggling with. I travel most weeks, out of the UK. When I’m here I want to spend as much time as I can with the children and that means really being there when I’m with them. I have moments when I’m there, with them, and holding them but I’m not completely there. I need to give them 100% for the precious time I’m with them. It’s something I need to get a lot better at for sure.
The other thing is the stark contrast between me in work and me as a father. I’ve been working for 20 plus years, so even though there’s a stream of constant challenges, I know there’s nothing me and my team can’t work out. I know the field; people come to me for advice.
At home I need advice. It’s something I’ve never been that comfortable with. It’s like starting over again. You show up every day but as a dad I’m a novice all over again. I think I’m doing the right things and from how my kids are growing, it seems to be right, but I just don’t really know. That shift between expert and novice is a hard jump to make.
I am fortunate to have a wife who is far better at the balance than me. She maintains control at work and somehow is able to manage all that is involved with running a household with 2 very young children. She is incredible and without her tireless dedication, love and assertiveness we would be in freefall.
I want both of my children to have as big a hearts as their mother does. Helping others is a consistent thread in my family. My sisters a teacher, we’re all in professions where it’s not about us. So I want them to choose paths that are about helping others, in some way, shape or form. I think that’s about them really appreciating others around them, being grateful for what they have and who they are and what we did for them.
It seems I’m a servant to my children. It sounds crude, but that’s all I’m now here to do. That’s it. Everything is for them. I go into work, we’re extending house for them, buying a new car, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s an amazing feeling to have this purpose now. We have a new lease of life. Two people are so dependent on us. It makes you really feel alive.
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