How a year on mat leave got me into fighting shape to take on Big Oil

It’s been 365 days since I sat in my chair as a communications coordinator at Dogwood HQ. You see, 365 days plus nine months ago, I found out I was pregnant for the first time and would be taking a year off to focus on keeping a baby alive. While this news was incredible and just what my husband and I had been waiting for, I was also thrown into new territory.

What would an entire year away from work be like? Would I want to go back and, if so, would there be a place for me? Well to answer those questions: It was flipping fantastic/exhausting, yes I would, and yes there was. I also picked up a few other learnings about myself and the world in general during my days of full-time baby rearing that I’d like to share with you. Here goes:

I love my job and I missed work.

Dogwood is an indescribable place to work. Like, can’t describe it because it’s just so damn good. The staff and volunteers are some of the most talented, dynamic, and driven people I’ve ever met, and the reason they’re on the grind everyday (and often at night too) is because British Columbians have a deep desire to organize around the issues that are important to them, and need a way to do it. It’s intensely satisfying to be a part of that.

And if I’m going to walk out the door every morning and not see the cutest little face this side of the Mississippi for nine whole hours, it damn well better be to do something I believe is going to change the world for the better.


Cuteness: Exhibit A

Now, while it’s true I was looking forward to working again, I didn’t exactly go skipping out the door.

Coming back was harder than I thought it’d be.

When you’re on mat leave, you meet other moms on mat leave and do things mat leave moms do. When we’d meet for coffee or Mother Goose (it’s a thing, don’t ask) or, on the better days, wine, there would be endless discussion of the imminent return to work life. “How is it?!” the mid-mat leave moms would ask the newly back to work moms. “So great”, the working moms would say. “There’s adult conversation, you use your brain, and of course, coffee breaks. Sweet, sweet coffee breaks.”

As a person who likes her independence, this sounded glorious. But the day before my return to Dogwood, I did something I was not expecting: I burst into tears. Twice. I’d spent the last 365 days with this little person who, with the smallest smile or cutest gurgling noise, makes me want to explode with pride and love. It finally hit me that I’d be missing eight out of the 12 hours he’s awake each day.

It was hard to think of him out in the world without me that first day, and it’s still just as hard a week in. I assume it’ll keep being hard… Those coffee breaks, though.

I’ve learned to forgive myself.

Before I left for maternity leave, I was still relatively new to Dogwood – having only been with the group for eight months – and before being hired, my background and experience with advocacy and pipeline politics was nil. Dogwood staff and organizers, while warm, welcoming and supremely fun, happen to also be the most talented, driven, and accomplished group I’ve ever worked with.

When I started, my self-imposed feelings of inadequacy made me question my every move. I felt inefficient to the point of tears and exhausted from the negative self-talk swirling in my head each day. More than once I had to prop a book up in front of my face on my bus ride home to hide my blotchy cry face as I wallowed in self pity.

Maternity leave was the best thing that could have happened to me in dealing with these feelings. It gave me time to reflect and some much needed perspective, while also allowing me to build my confidence in other ways… Like creating and maintaining a mini human.

Being a mom is not for the weak; the learning curve is steep and there’s no other challenge I’ve faced in life that combines this level of endurance, patience, discipline, love and frustration, all without the luxury of sleep.

Self-doubt is rampant in mom land. You want to do the best for your child and are constantly reading or talking to other moms to assess your own competency and whether you’re doing it “right”. What I finally realized is if you love and care for your child and are actively trying to do what’s best for them, THAT is what being a good parent is all about. Once I was able to forgive myself for not being the “perfect” mom, I realized I could apply the same logic to work.

Now that I’m back, I’ve decided to take it a little easier on myself when it comes to things I don’t know, haven’t done yet, or screw up. Already after a week back, I notice I’m able to get out of my own way and get a lot more work done. And that was my goal in the first place: to help the team. I’m better positioned to do that now.

I live in an amazing community.

Having a baby has made me feel so much more connected to my neighbourhood, city and province. Meeting other moms in my town and experiencing their unselfish kindness and support was one of the most refreshing experiences of my last year. I also learned that total strangers will stop to talk to you about your baby at every turn, sometimes about inappropriate things or at inappropriate times (often both) but always with good intentions.

Having my son also made me think about what kind of community I want him to grow up in and how the values of the people surrounding him will shape his life going forward. I hope he feels pride as a British Columbian, and I think the work Dogwood does making this province a more equitable and just place will help him do that.

None of this would be worth anything without my family and friends.

This one’s a bit of a cheat because I already knew this, but when I had my son, these feelings were reinforced tenfold. I wouldn’t be half the mom, or human being for that matter, if it weren’t for my mom, dad, sister and husband, plus extended family and friends. They were strong when I couldn’t be, helped me be even stronger when I could, and generally just made my life more wonderful in every way. These are the most important people in my life, and I’ll do anything to protect them and the place we call home.

Other random learnings that may or may not help me professionally:

  1. I can cook an entire dinner from scratch with one hand.
  2. Distracting a child (or an adult) is the quickest and easiest way to get them to do what you want.
  3. Paying a parking ticket or any other kind of fine or unpleasantness with a baby in tow will get you some seriously sweet leniency.

So to sum up: If I can handle motherhood, I can handle anything. Bring it on, you money-grubbing Texas pipeline barons.