I was knee deep into a very successful and high-pressured career when I became a mother for the first time at the age of 42. I approached pregnancy the same way I did everything else in my life. I researched constantly until I felt I was confidently educated on the subject and then followed the recommendations religiously in order to produce the best outcome. I took quality prenatal vitamins. I didn't eat anything that wasn't deemed "safe" during pregnancy. I stopped sleeping on my back and I opened my daughter a RESP when she was still the size of a lemon. I figured I had one shot at this and I was going to do everything I could to ensure I was doing it right.
So, 14 months after giving birth to my daughter, I convinced myself that I was ready to step back into the high-pressured profession that I had spent the last 15 years navigating. I didn't consider that life would be different for me now as a working mother. This is just what women did. We had children, we raised them well, we continued to pursue our professional aspirations. I was woman! I could have it all!
What I actually had was a raging case of undiagnosed postpartum anxiety (PPA) coupled with a complete lack of understanding of the amount of pressure and lack of supports I was about to face as a working mother.
This ignorance created the perfect cocktail in my body, which manifested itself by producing 50+ anxiety attacks a day, my hair falling out from stress, raging insomnia, stress rashes breaking out all over my body and a pretty unhealthy inner dialogue where I would remind myself daily how I was a failure.
When I finally found the courage to walk into my doctor's office and have a very honest conversation with him that I was not doing well, I also found the ability to begin to make changes. I started on medication to make my brain healthy again. I walked away from the only industry I had ever known. And, I started talking openly with other moms about my struggles with trying to "have it all".
It didn't take long to realize that I wasn't the only working mom who felt like she was going to collapse under the weight of The Mother Load. It was just that no one was talking about it. 82% of women now work outside of the home, yet continue to be responsible for 80% of the responsibilities inside the home. And while the workforce may claim that it has become fully supportive of working mothers, the truth is far from backing up that claim as women still struggle to have their rights in the workforce respected.
Once the fog lifted and I was back to feeling like the person I once knew myself to be, RISE came into existence. It is so much more than helping mothers to explain parenting gaps on their resumes. It is about empowering mothers back to business so they are able to carry the load a little easier. It is about having hard conversations about the changes that still need to be made in the workforce to accommodate mothers when they need to leave because their daycare called or their child is staring in the school play. It is about not having to fear that their careers will be impacted because they placed family first. It is about finding a way to have it all without having to worrying about the impact it will take on their mental health.
Maybe it's time to start having this conversation? Maybe it's time to be open about The Mother Load? Maybe it's time to start focusing on our mental health beyond the first year of motherhood? Maybe.
Jan Elizabeth Ditchfield is an award-winning social entrepreneur and the CEO & Founder of RISE, a return to work strategy company that helps women shape their professional identities after taking time to dedicate themselves to their families.Learn more at risemama.ca and follow them on Facebook @risemama.