Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

I am mother, hear me roar

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Politicians like to discuss ways to increase government revenues. Whenever taxes come up, however, no one focuses on an obvious option for increasing the tax base. It's simple: Help women get back into the workforce after having children.

Many educated and trained professionals leave the workforce during their child-bearing years. Women in Manitoba struggle to get back to work after child birth. When they do, their children need day-care spots. Yet, when they return to work, many of them earn less than men. As women age, carry more household and child-care burdens and opt for part-time or flexible employment, their earnings decrease significantly. Even if educated women manage to work full time during this time, their income is usually less than a man's at the same level of experience and education.

If we boosted women's health and well-being during child-bearing years, provided decent child-care options and paid fair wages, there would be a lot more taxes in the coffers of government.

This starts with prioritizing midwives in Manitoba. If we value women as part of the workforce, we must offer them fair health-care alternatives. If child birth is an important life event for healthy women rather than an illness or medical emergency, then we need the new birthing centre and midwives. Midwives are trained medical professionals who help healthy women give birth. Less costly and less medicalized, this approach leaves hospitals free to treat high-risk patients and those with actual illness.

When I got a letter saying there weren't enough midwives in Manitoba and I wasn't eligible, I settled for a more medicalized birth. Pregnancy has a deadline at the end, but I still regret my lack of birth options.

Train midwives or hire midwives from elsewhere, please.

The effort to boost child-care spots here is slow and clunky. Those who apply to become providers can't expect a quick approval process. Providers rely on broken systems, such as the online child-care registry, which rarely meet parents' time sensitive needs.

When we tried to sign up our twins at five months, we made no progress. We were once offered an emergency infant spot, but I wouldn't be allowed to alternate my twins in that spot. I had 24 hours to decide, without an offer of more information or a facility tour. Putting one twin into day care and keeping the other at home sounded like a bad social experiment.

Another provider told us we should manipulate (lie about) our boys' ages to get on their two-year waiting list. A third provider called months later, offering one spot. When I said there were two boys who needed care, I was told the second twin's information had been dropped. They assumed that since there was one birthdate, we made a mistake and had only one child needing child care and not two.

Finally, we found two part-time spots at a new, unlicensed home daycare. It was loving and safe, but whenever things got out of control there, I had to pick up my twins. No one else had two kids there. The solution to resolving problems was to ask us to go home early. I dreaded those phone calls. I would check in with the provider before mowing the lawn. Could I be away from the phone for 30 minutes?

At age two, my boys got two part-time spots at a great, licensed, preschool program. This normalized things, but part-time care meant I couldn't take on a 9-to-5 job. Any work I managed was squeezed in between medical appointments, meal preparation, household maintenance and sick-kid emergencies. I was, again, the first emergency contact, even though we tried to present ourselves as an egalitarian household, where Dad could help, too.

When my boys turn three, we hope they'll be able to manage the full-day program that is available. After over three years, many of my work contacts are gone. Plus, at school, moms who pick up their children (rather than a nanny or grandparent) are asked to volunteer frequently (using up those few hours of child care) because unlike those moms who are doctors, my job as a writer, editor and designer appears flexible, if not invisible.

Does Manitoba or Winnipeg benefit from my current income? Of course not. If women could choose their health-care options, get child care and go back to work, many would. If that work paid fairly, so much the better. Women are approximately 50 per cent of the electorate. These shortages in health care, child care and work equality matter.

Women's votes and income should be part of every political discussion.

 

Joanne Seiff is a writer, editor and designer living in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 A17

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