Monday, November 26, 2012


Note: This post was originally written for and posted on the wonderful and now-defunct Shebytches blog in July 2009. Since it's a fave, I thought I'd give it a second life.

Much as I like to claim I’m only 29, I was actually born in the “Swinging Sixties” — that progressive era when it was perfectly acceptable to fire a woman just for being pregnant. My own mother lost her job when she was five months pregnant with me because her position interessante ("interesting or delicate condition") had become visible, and it was no longer proper for her to be "seen". Two months prior, my mother had been due for a raise and was denied it on the grounds that she would soon be resigning on account of "her condition".

Ironically, when my mother was very close to her delivery date, her former employer was in desperate need of her services. Mum had been the only native English speaker in the Montreal office, and the company president was coming from Toronto for some high-powered meetings. My heavily pregnant mother was temporarily re-engaged, so she could transcribe the meeting notes. The proceedings were even filmed for television news. After giving birth to me and then my sister a year later, Mum took advantage of her "delicate conditions" and went back to school to get her BA, MA and PhD.

Earlier in the '60s, my mother had a summer job at an insurance agency. On a Thursday late into that summer, one of her co-workers (a recent immigrant) confided to some of the female staff that she would be away on the Friday because she was nine months pregnant. Her child would be born on the Saturday, and she had planned to be back working on the Monday. When the other women asked the mother-to-be why she had kept her pregnancy a secret, she said she feared losing her job, as she and her husband were dependent on the income. Unfortunately, someone ratted on the woman. She was called into the managers office and fired immediately. My mother can't recall the woman's name, but to this day, Mum is still haunted by the devastated look on her face.

Maternity leave benefits were first included in the Canadian unemployment insurance system in 1971. The program was expanded over the years and now includes parental leave for spouses, as well as for adoptive parents. So the sad stories of the '50s and '60s are supposed be relics of the past. Unfortunately it seems that, in 2009, some employers are using the "Recession Excuse" to flagrantly break the law and not re-hire women returning from their maternity leaves. It just goes to show that contemporary women must make themselves aware of our foremothers' breakthroughs and to guard against any and all attempts to "turn back the clock."

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