I went out for a mom-friend’s birthday last month.
I love hanging out with other parents in the evening. Everyone is just so goddamn happy to be there. We’ve all gone to the effort to find someone trustworthy to watch our kids, put on clothes that don’t look like puke-covered garbage bags, and extricated ourselves from bedtime routine with the delicacy and urgency of a diamond thief navigating through a laser tripwire alarm system.
So, no one is interested in anything but a wonderful – nay, magical – time.
I’d never been happier to eat at Moxie’s in my entire freaking life. We all fawned over the one or two drinks we’d allowed ourselves like it was the first time we’d ever tasted a cocktail (“Oh my god, this bellini tastes like JESUS BLESSED MY MOUTH!”), ordered appetizers AND main courses (“Have you tried the pot stickers? TRY MINE!! RIGHT NOW!! LET ME FEED IT TO YOU!! WASH IT DOWN WITH A SIP OF THIS GODDAMN BELLINI!”), and even happily made small talk with the other couples at the table that we were all meeting for the first time (“YOUR VAGINA ALSO LOOKS LIKE A HALF-EATEN KEBAB?! LET’S BE BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!!!”).
Inevitably, after discussing our babies and sympathizing over mutual lack of sleep, the conversation turned to “so, what do you do? If you work, I mean. It’s cool if you don’t. RESPECT! CHOICES! TRY MY BELLINI!”
That answer is always complicated for me because I was laid off from my media job while I was pregnant. When I tell most people this, their reaction is usually “What?! Can they even do that?” But when I told the couple sitting across from me, the woman just nodded and said “I was laid off while I was on maternity leave.” Another woman down the table overheard and said “Oh, you were? Me too.”
There were five new moms sitting at this table. Three of us had lost our jobs while pregnant or on maternity leave.
“What?! Can they even do that?”
Well, yes. It shouldn’t happen but it does. Here, in Canada, in 2017.
People assume that women who are pregnant or on maternity leave are protected from losing their jobs. But we’re only protected if we lose our jobs DUE TO being pregnant or on maternity leave. Like, if your boss looks at your belly and says “Ugh. Babies. I do not want to deal with this shit” and fires you, then you can sue. If you come back from maternity leave to find out your job was given to an entry-level intern while you kept babies alive and they’re going to keep him instead, you can sue.
It’s called pregnancy discrimination, and it’s prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as the provincial acts. (Although, in 2012 I wrote an article about how women across Canada were still reporting discrimination in the workplace for having babies, and discrimination complaints continued to roll in regularly at Canada’s human rights commissions — and in some provinces the numbers were rising at alarming rates).
However, if you were laid off because your position became redundant, or the company had financial problems, or there was restructuring, or any of the other reasons that people get canned, you probably do not have legal ground just because you happened to be pregnant or on maternity leave at the time.
It shouldn’t happen but it does.
When I was still pregnant, I comforted myself with the thought that at least I’d have a full year on maternity leave EI to find a new job. Most people who lose their jobs aren’t so lucky, right?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh god, I just choked on cold coffee and pissed the pants I haven’t had time to wash in three weeks. Also, my laughter woke the baby. Guess I’ll finish writing this blog in four hours, if and when he decides to nap and if I decide blogging is more important than standing in front of the fridge and eating whatever scraps I can find so I don’t pass out while trying to keep him from falling down the stairs later.
Guys, my baby is going to be 11 months old soon and I have spent exactly zero hours looking for new work. You know what I’ve been doing instead? Keeping a small human alive every waking hour of the day. And “alive” is a good goal, but a pretty shitty bar. “Happy,” “thriving,” “growing,” “learning,” “playing,” “socializing,” “interacting” – these are the real goals. You know what I don’t have time to do while playing “this little piggy” with my baby’s toes or teaching him to chew and swallow pieces of banana without choking to death? Update my LinkedIn profile, network with influencers, and paper the town with professional resumes.
And guess what? After 11 months of 24/7 mom life, and nine months of pregnancy before that, I’m not exactly the sharpest I’ve ever been. I barely follow the news, I’m not well read, and I’m not up-to-date on the latest trends in an extremely competitive and constantly evolving marketplace.
I am excellent at making barnyard animal noises and keeping a baby nourished with my boobs, but that’s not exactly CV material.
Here’s the kicker: after your 55 weeks of maternity/parental leave are up, you are not eligible to receive any further EI until you start a new job and work the required amount of hours to qualify for benefits again. So, if you lose your job while on maternity leave, you do not receive additional EI if you haven’t found work by the time your year of 24/7 baby-raising is over. Even if you lose your job two weeks before you were meant to start back at work, as was the experience of one woman I met at dinner that night.
So, why not just stay home and mother full time? Not everyone can afford that, and not everyone wants that. I have nothing but respect and admiration for stay-at-home moms, and if I had the means I would give it a whirl – at least until the right job came along – but I don’t.
Plus, it isn’t just an eye-rolling cliche – motherhood truly is the hardest job out there.
I spent most of my career working as a newspaper reporter, which was named the #1 worst job of 2017 in a comprehensive ranking system that looked at the salary, expected job growth, competition, amount of physical work required, safety hazards and stress of 200 different jobs.
I’ve been tear gassed during violent protests, threatened by a convicted mass killer, and I’ve accidentally informed people of a loved one’s violent death. I’ve worked in newsrooms so cold that the entire staff typed in fingerless gloves, I’ve worked for $14 an hour, I’ve worked solo shifts that started at 11:00 p.m. and ended at 8:00 a.m. I’ve worked 20 hour days with no overtime, I’ve lived off Redbull and – briefly – cigarettes to keep me alert, I’ve watched colleagues lose their jobs in mass layoffs and I’ve lost my own job twice.
And I’ve still never felt so tired and defeated as I have on the worst days of maternity leave. Mind you, a newspaper has never looked up at me with innocent brown eyes and said “Mama!” while holding its hands up for a hug, but I’m still so exhausted by the time my husband gets home from work that I can only communicate with him in grunts and glares while shovelling cheese into my mouth.
I’m not saying a pregnant belly should be a shield for any workplace upheaval. If a company is going under, I don’t think their final dollar should go to making sure a pregnant woman remains the sole employee so she can waddle the empty hallways and have the bathroom completely to herself while she battles epic pregnancy poops. I also don’t think a pregnant woman should be able to roll into work an hour late every day, smoothie in one hand and barf bag in the other, tell her boss to “F#%&* #@!%^& a &*@#$% and #$%&*!!”, and then saunter over to her desk to scroll Facebook and expect to keep her job.
But I do think it’s harder for new moms to find work and – oh, the baby just ripped off his diaper and threw it over the side of the playpen while screaming “MAMAMAMAMA!!” and, hey, are they supposed to be able to climb the sides of these things or is mine half cockroach, well, oh, now he’s howling like I abandoned him to be raised by wolves so I guess I better pick him up and, yep, that’s urine, that’s definitely urine and, cool, he just picked up my phone and accidentally tweeted a link to organic lube on well.ca, but at least I, wait, is that the public health nurse pulling up, I thought our appointment was tomorrow, is she going to take my baby away because he’s currently naked and I’m wearing his urine, YOU CAN’T TAKE MY BABY and, cool, my husband is texting me photos of his lunch.
What was I saying? Right, that I’m totally hireable right now.