I have done a lot of reflecting over the past eight months about being a pregnant, young professional in Toronto.
Compared to many other countries (i.e. the USA), Canada has progressive policies in place that help protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace. In Ontario, birth mothers are entitled to 17 weeks of pregnancy/maternity leave, in addition to 37 weeks’ parental leave (which can be taken by either parent).
Many Canadians have access to Employment Insurance while they are away from work, which covers 55 percent of the income earned in the last year. This may not apply to everyone (i.e. self-employed workers; contract workers may have limitations; and if you didn’t wrack up enough hours before going on leave that also poses some limitations).
As good as a country can fair on these grounds, there are still unique challenges that women who decide to start a family face in their career.
Women are the ones carrying and growing the baby. It is our minds and bodies that undergo significant transformation during the nine months. Some may have an easy pregnancy, but we don’t know how it will go until it happens and there’s no turning back.
I was concerned about this because I was just finishing up a project when I got pregnant, and this project required me to be on the ball, ready to present, and travelling from place to place. Being nauseous and throwing up would have made my regular tasks even more challenging!
And fatigue? Sleepless nights? You are still expected to do your job, and when you are in the first trimester you most likely haven’t told anyone you’re pregnant so you’re most likely trying to act normal even though things are not normal!
Now that I am in the third trimester, I am getting more and more uncomfortable and I made the decision not to travel by plane for the remainder of my pregnancy. I reconsidered an opportunity to travel, even though I wanted to go and do things as I normally would. I felt that it was not worth the risk of potentially giving birth in a different place, or putting that extra pressure on my body. Sleep deprivation also makes it difficult in the mornings. Even sitting at a desk can be difficult, with back pains and all.
And taking a year off? Any time off? Let’s face it – depending on the job, this alone can put you at a disadvantage in terms of career building. My job is project-based which means, if you are not around for the project, you are not going to be given that opportunity! Last year, I had an opportunity to travel to London for a month, get trained by an international organization, and implement/manage a project here in Canada. Would I have gotten that opportunity if I were on leave? For many people, simply being present in the workplace is the key for your career growth.
Nevertheless, this is a choice I make. It’s a challenge I’m willing to take on for the opportunity to become a mother. I desire to build a career and a family. And I choose to do both.
Having said that, here are my 5 tips for the young professional, mama-to-be.
- When you decide to tell your boss you are pregnant, let them know that you are committed to the team and that you want to do what you can to ensure the transition is smooth. It helps if you have spent a few years at your workplace to prove yourself and build rapport with your co-workers. I have worked at my job for the past three years so they know my work ethic by now.
- Know your rights! Understand what you are entitled to as a birth parent in your place of residence. Each province has different policies but it’s important to be informed about what you are entitled to as you go into discussions with your boss/HR.
- Pop into work from time to time when you are off. Show them that you still exist. Perhaps you can even participate in some update calls to stay in the loop.
- Talk to your partner about sharing time off, if your jurisdiction allows it. In Ontario, both parents can take up to 37 weeks off. My husband and I have decided to share the time off, so that he can have some time to bond with the baby as well.
- Explore a side hustle. Is there something you always wanted to try? A passion project or talent you want to hone? Maybe having some ‘time off’ is an opportunity to explore something you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe it’s an opportunity to take a step back from what you’re doing and re-evaluate where you want to be. Blogging is my side-hustle. It has been a fun, challenging and creative outlet for me to explore. I plan to continue while I am on leave and see where I can take it.
What about you? For the young urban professionals out there, how did you navigate your career and motherhood?