Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Rising from the ashes of a flaming bag of poop.

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

When I was told I was pregnant, I thought I would be more excited. I thought I'd be ecstatic. After 5 years of desperately trying to get pregnant, struggling mentally and financially with the reality of medically assisted reproduction, I thought my joy would be overwhelming and my relief would be an instant lightening to my crushed psyche.

Instead, as I lay on a hospital gurney, drifting in and out of consciousness, I struggled to breathe. I was not lightened, I was being crushed by the accumulated fluid in my abdominal cavity. I am not a big person, but in the course of a week, my body had retained 35lbs of 'water'. The doctors and nurses reassured me that my pregnancy likely wasn't at risk, but we needed to act to protect my overtaxed liver and kidneys. IV fluids, albumin infusions, pain management, fluid drainage, twice daily blood tests. Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome is a rare side effect of In-Vitro Fertilization. Severe OHSS is even more rare. The biggest risk to the pregnancy was that in order to save my life, they would need to abort. So, no, I was not blissed out. I was not excited. I was drugged and pin cushioned and scared. In my mind, I was already failing as a mother. But then one day, maybe day 5 in the hospital, I peed. And I had some toast. And I turned a corner. A day later, I got to go home. A month after that, I got to see a little bean growing inside me that they told me was my baby, and I was finally excited.
The little bean.

The rest of the pregnancy was pretty even sailing. Because of the urgency of my file at work, I had very little down time for lingering thoughts. I slept and I worked (and I flew with my giant swollen ankles to my next hotel/meeting and did the same again).

A new stressor did surface however, one that should not have been present in my life. We stretched ourselves financially to pay for IVF. And of course while I was undergoing the pin cushioning of hormone injections and blood tests, is when our roof failed and we had to replace it. Money was tight, my husband's company was struggling and he was moved to part-time. But I have a great job, that I mostly love and I'm very proud of. It's not my romantically hatched dream job, but based in this reality, it is one I am deeply suited to and one that has a meaningful and lasting impact. Like any other place of employment, we sometimes struggle with corporate culture, public perception and workforce morale. 2012-13 was a particularly tough stretch. But never have I ever questioned my employer's ability to pay my salary. I have never felt unfairly compensated for the work that I do. I know that I could make a higher wage doing the same work elsewhere. I know that the people across the meeting room make twice what I do. But I like where I sit, and I like representing the people of Canada. So why then was the CBC reporting that a new pay system was jeopardizing a very simple premise of the employer/employee relationship, namely I do the work, and you pay me?

As I grew rounder with my little bean, it became clear to me that things were problematic. People were not being paid. The people responsible for keeping our boarders safe, rescuing lost hikers in National Parks, patrolling our waters, serving our country, filling out forms to ensure others get paid, were not being paid. And most unnerving for me, as someone suddenly being underpaid due to system error, new mothers on maternity leave were not being paid.

As my delivery date neared, there was no resolution to the issue. I was placed in a purgatory-like cue: fill out a form, send to generic email address, hope it is read, phone 'service' line, speak to someone who has no authority to help you, get told to fill out a form and send to generic email address. Repeat. Hear nothing. Approach departmental HR. Get told that since you are being paid, even if the amount is incorrect and much less than your regular salary that you are not eligible for emergency assistance unless you are not being paid at all...unless you are on leave, in which case you are not eligible for assistance even if you are not being paid. WTF.

I have been in my current position for over seven years, before that, I was in a different job. I was being paid at a salary level from 9 years prior. The impact of such a drastic change in salary combined with the above noted financial strain required us to seek assistance from the bank. Luckily we were able to set up a line of credit before I gave birth and stopped being paid all together.

It turns out that my ability (or lack there of) to get pregnant was not an indicator of my body's ability to give birth. Sullivan and I came through the process without any difficulty, and as he lay on my chest and his tiny fingers wrapped around mine, I fell deeply and completely in love.
Our first moments.

But bliss doesn't last long in a physically, mentally and hormonally taxed body of a new mother. Going in, I knew that because I already suffer from depression and generalized anxiety that I would be at an increased risk for post partum depression. What I could not of foretold was that months of sleep deprivation, the dark days of winter, fluctuating hormones and the weekly commute to my MPs office to beg them to do something, would cause me to spiral downward. Silent sobbing while I nursed my son. Not one hand from my employer, my MP, my government, outstretched. It took six months and the intervention of my Minister's Office for my employer to front me an emergency loan, and another month of top of that before my EI and maternity leave kicked in. It was still not correct. Still based on a salary from 9 years ago. Mortgage payments deferred, loan payments missed, final notice, past due. On the phone explaining the issue, asking for a break, trying to distract a six month old who wants to play with the funny box mommy always has on her ear. The first six months of my son's life, the son I yearned for, and went through a process that almost broke me to have, instead of absorbing every moment with him, I was fighting, arguing, begging, on the phone, on the web. Hopeless. Sick. Angry.

Seriously, I just want to stare into this little face.
And now my maternity leave is over. I am back to work. I am still being paid my salary from 9 years ago, and now I have to pay for childcare for the privilege of working for an employer that treats me like this. So now we are back to the past dues and final notices. In the meantime, in my spare time, I'll go through a year and a half of my past bills, bank statements, loan forms and spend hours trying to figure out what all this has cost us. Just as soon as I catch my 13 month old son. And after I do the laundry and cook dinner and vacuum up crushed Cheerios and do the laundry and storytime and bathtime and laundry (seriously, how is there so much laundry?). Oh, and try to sleep. And work. Thanks. I'll get right on that. And from what I can see online, I can claim interest and NSF charges, but how about my credit score? Who is going to fix that? How about giving me my time back?

All this to say, Mr. Trudeau, I know that Phoenix was a bag of dog poop that the former government left on your doorstep, and I know that a number of high ranking bureaucrats recommended going ahead and implementing the system, lighting that damn bag on fire. And in trying to put the fire out, well, the poop went everywhere. But you need to clean it up. I'm never getting that time back. My finances are in the toilet. Now fix it. Last year, all I asked for for Christmas was to be paid. That didn't work out so well, so I'm asking again. Let me have a merry Christmas. Let me enjoy the lights dancing on my little monkey's face. Let me enjoy these toddling days before the terrible twos. Let me have my life back.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Shanna,
    Bruce Deachman here at the Ottawa Citizen. As the second anniversary of the Phoenix rollout approaches, I'm looking for people who will share their stories. If you're interested, can you get in touch with me, please, at Thanks in advance.