Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
They belong to…
HG, a 35 year old Canadian, radiation therapist and university faculty, married with a 10-month-old baby and a rescue dog, completing an MSc. in Organisational Psychology while working full time.
What it’s like to walk in her shoes for a day…
I’m always the first one up, which is a new thing since having a baby! During the week, I get ready for work and feed and entertain the baby so that my husband can steal some extra sleep. When I need to sit down to pump breast milk I get him (and the dog!) out of bed to help out with our highly-mobile and energetic child.
Once the milk is stowed in the fridge and everything is clean again, I pack my giant backpack full of lunch, pump, sometimes laptop, and walk 20 minutes to work. There I do all sorts of challenging and rewarding things: coaching undergraduate students in clinical practice and life; working with oncology patients; serving as a model and change agent for evidence-informed best practices; producing academic and clinical scholarship; mentoring colleagues and nurturing relationships. Oh yes, and some administrative teacher stuff which is the bane of my existence (I swear at least once daily at some form of education technology in my office.) I pump breast milk at least once through the day, grateful that I have an office to do it in.
There are usually a few text messages to field from my husband, who is at home on paternity leave for a few more months. I don’t get out to walk very often, and eat lunch at my desk – both habits which have decreased my overall health. The trouble is, I have a commitment to keeping my email inbox manageable because I hate having things lingering in my mind at the end of the day. Learning to leave noncritical stuff so that I can get fresh air and exercise is ongoing.
One perk of my position is I have a lot of autonomy over my work day, and because I condense a lot into each hour I am usually able to leave less than 8 hours after arriving. Sometimes I have evening meetings or a student in distress, but most of the time I am home in time to play and cuddle, or help with dinner. My husband does an amazing job of taking care of the house and our meals; even though I love to cook, he does most of it these days so that I can be freed up to spend time with our baby. We eat together as a family, and then we decide who cleans up based on what my husband feels he needs (a break from the baby, or a break from the kitchen.) The bedtime routine starts at 7 – earlier if it’s a bath night. I get to change, breastfeed, and cuddle the baby and finish her day with a kiss on the cheek and a whispered, “I love you.”
Then, it’s into overdrive. In 2016 I started doing an MSc. online, as part of my credential for teaching at the university and mostly out of my own desire to open up career opportunities. We didn’t know if we would get pregnant or when, so I started working my way through the courses. Now I try to work 2-3 hours on homework every day – no more, no less. It means that I can spend more of my weekends with my family, instead of in my office. And it means that I am the last one to bed every night because I do whatever work needs to be done, then pump breast milk again before finally going to sleep.
Growing up in her shoes she was…
Two words: BE PERFECT. Be smart, well-behaved, polite, and honest (so long as that honesty did not violate the family rule to keep our reputation sacred.) Make other people feel good (hello, co-dependency). Show the good feelings, hide the bad feelings, be nice to everyone, and do the family proud. I was scared of my parents, scared to be shamed by them if I did something wrong. Performance mindset and perfectionism was the name of the game in my house, along with the laughter and games and wonderful experiences which came with school, dance, church, sports. I nearly died of anorexia nervosa when I was 17, and battled eating disorders into my mid-twenties while pursuing studies, a career, and a failed first marriage (you can imagine how well that went over.) Out of the ashes came the phoenix of learning who I am, how strong I am, and how well therapy works!
Her biggest challenges day-to-day…
As a member of a female-dominated profession, I find that most of the challenges I face are related to my age more than my gender. However, I make significantly less money than my male counterparts, money which I would put to use supporting my husband in his desire to be a more stay-at-home dad (at least part-time.)
I struggle to balance the choices I make as a mother (like continuing to breast feed) with organisational pressure to perform as an academic (the culture at my institution supports 60 hour work weeks). The stigma around motherhood and “bounce-back” has irritated the shit out of me but I recognize it’s not personal and that spending my hours studying instead of exercising is a temporary.
The biggest challenge I face in terms of emotional impact is working full-time and doing a degree now that I’m a mum. People come at it from a very practical place: “What is the degree going to get you?” “Why not take breast-feeding off your plate?” “I can’t believe you’re letting him stay home, that must be so hard on you to be away from the baby.” When I’m overtired or doubting myself, the comments can feel a lot like shaming. When I’m strong and rested, they just sound like regurgitated gender roles, sometimes with a side order of the speakers own guilt or shame.
What are the advantages of being a woman in the 21st Century?
Canada is a great place to be a woman! It may not be as feminine as Scandinavia, but it certainly believes in supporting women to get education, partner with whomever they love, have children with whomever they love, work wherever and however they can, get old and die as graciously as they choose. That said, I am young, white, cis, hetero, university-educated, healthy, and middle-class so my perspective is biased by its privilege.
Things you should know if you’re going to walk in her shoes…
If it looks like I’m trying to do it all, it’s not because I’m doing it for Instagram!
The choices I make for myself, with my husband, for my daughter, they are all intentionally done and they are often very hard. Becoming a moderately well-adjusted person has taken years of deprogramming thoughts and patterns of behaviours; I am still learning how to have feelings, after a childhood where I was taught to hide anger, sadness, and loneliness. I am working hard, and am infinitely grateful that the sphere within which I live has been so blessed due to my nationality and ethnicity.
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