Life restarts at 40
ANYONE WHO KNOWS Neysha Soodeen knows that she is not the type to go quietly into that good night.
As she confidently strides into the conference room of the Maco offices in Worthing, wearing a strapless dress which drapes elegantly on her tall, willowy frame, one can tell this is a woman with a new lease of life.
For Neysha life is not something she takes lightly, probably because she knows how quickly it can change. After all, at the age of 24 she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Some people come of age as they get older. For others it is the sum of their experience which helps to define them. Barbadian-born Neysha, the businesswoman, wife and mother, falls in the latter category.
Her life has been a chequered one, with a mix of illness, loss and resurgence, but through it all she managed to keep that vibrant spirit that helped her not only survive a battle with cancer but also excel in business.
Now that she sits on the cusp of turning 40, Neysha is writing a new chapter of her life, as a mother to her 18-month-old son Taj, one can say Neysha is a woman transformed.
“I never thought I was going to be a mum – not because of the thyroid cancer. I never thought about motherhood because I was so engrossed in my work,” she said. “Life was pretty perfect. I could not imagine life any more perfect before baby.”
Before the birth of her son, she was enjoying marital bliss with her husband Ian and was also building a publishing empire. But then as is always the case, a little thing called life intervened.
“I got pregnant four years ago by accident,” she revealed. “We were not planning to get pregnant, but I missed a period and when I went to the doctor I found out I was pregnant with twins.
I was shocked but then after four months I lost the twins.
“Ian and I got so excited about the possibility of having twins, and I had started to build a house here in Barbados, that after I lost the twins we decided to try again.”
Though she did try, her second pregnancy proved unsuccessful.
“The next time I got pregnant, it was an ectopic pregnancy,” she said.
While that failed attempt would deter a weaker soul, it only added fuel to Neysha’s fire of determination.
“I think one of the reasons entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs is that drive to overcome any challenge, so that drove me to have this baby,” she said.
After two failed attempts and through medical consultations, Neysha and her husband decided to try a different approach.
“Then because of my thyroid issue and because of my age, my doctor suggested that I do IVF (in vitro fertilisation). So I actually looked all over the world,” Neysha said. “I was going to go to New York and then I remembered the Barbados Fertility Centre and I chose to do IVF here and I had Tej”.
To say that her life has changed since the birth of her son would be an understatement.
“It has made me re-evaluate what is important in life. Having my son so close to turning 40 really forced me to prioritise,” Neysha said. “Whereas before work was the be-all and end-all, right now it is how much time am I going to dedicate to work versus raising my child, versus being healthy.
“Before you have a child, if you get
sick, you get sick. If you get cancer, well . . . try to overcome it. Now it’s a lot different. If I had cancer now I would be a different type of patient. It would affect me more than before. When I found out I had cancer, I was 24 and had no dependents. So all of a sudden I’m taking care of myself because of my son. I’m still pulling long hours at work but I take time away from work to spend quality time with my son. Quality time means not being in the same room with him on my BlackBerry. It means putting my BlackBerry away and not taking calls.”
Like most women who become mothers, Neysha has found that life has changed and she along with it.
“I love Your Baby Can Read,” she says with excitement. He’s seventeen months and he reads. He’s not talking but he reads the word ‘clap’ and he claps; he reads the word ‘wave’ and he waves. I’m spending time with him doing Your Baby Can Read.”
“I own a company in Trinidad that’s Digicel’s largest retailer; I have my publishing company; we’re launching this huge website with international partners; I’m a property developer, so I have a lot of different factors of my career.
“Ian helps me tone it down. He, too, is a workaholic, but he’s brighter than I am. I don’t think I’m bright . . . I’m driven and I’m creative, and he’s more of a family person.”
With her son now in the picture, life for Neysha has suddenly gotten much more demanding in terms of how she juggles her time.
“Recently I didn’t feel totally at ease with my life. Maybe it was because I was turning 40,” Neysha said. “My counsellor says I’m a control freak and need to control every aspect of my life, but he told me I need to put my life in balance.
“He was right in that I was trying to maintain the long hours and work and be a full-time mother and let the nanny go, and try to be a good wife and try to be the head of the Soodeen household with my parents and my siblings. I was just taking on a lot and that balance was tilted and I wasn’t feeling very comfortable in my skin.”
Neysha does admit that she never realised before how difficult it was for career women to manage their worlds.
“I think women can have it all but something does have to give a little bit,” she says. “For me, I think I have to delegate more at work. I cannot be as hands-on in my different businesses so that I can have it all. But I never realised how difficult it was for career-oriented women to have that balance. Before having a baby I used to speak to these women in leadership conferences and a lot of women would ask me about that balance, and I never understood what they were talking about.
“‘Just do it’ was my motto and you can’t just do it because you have children who need homework, or they’re sick and need Mummy. Or you have a husband who is feeling very left out because you’re focusing your energies on your work and children, so now I could see how the threads could start unravelling. I could see why maybe a lot of marriages with career-oriented women with kids are not as solid as they were before because you are stretched as a woman. You have to do it all.”
For someone who has always done it all, Neysha came to a place in her life where she realised she needed help so that she could continue doing all the things that she needed to do for herself and family.
“I think because I need to have a grasp on every aspect of my life, I felt like I was losing that grasp. For someone like me, that’s a very uneasy feeling when I’m not in full control,” she admits. “It was very good. I’m not embarrassed to say that I went to someone and we chatted. He asked questions and I answered and we talked and when I left, I felt clearer on what I needed to do to attain a bit more balance in my life, for me to be happier and for those around me to be happier.”