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photo by Klutch Photography

Did anyone else’s spouse ever dare to call maternity leave “vacation”?!  HA HA HA.

I was well on my way in my career when I had my first child at 29.  I loved my work and the people I worked with.  I was excited to have a baby and start a family, but I couldn’t see how a BABY could keep me entertained for an entire year.  The experienced mamas at work had a lot of advice for me, and most really encouraged me to take off the entire year.  Maternity leave had only been extended to a year just before I got pregnant, previously set at 6 months.

I think a year is just perfect for maternity leave.  Honestly, the first six months were a blur.  Social media was not as big back then and I only had a few close friends with a baby.  (One of whom described everything in WAY too much horrific detail, I had to avoid!)

Once we hit six months we seemed to get into a routine.  And hey, it became a little fun!  At six months is when we were able to venture out into the world and when I really felt like I was getting to know the little guy and my community.  The first six months are really just survival mode!  Learning what my son needed, how to get him to sleep, what each cry meant, how many diapers to bring with me when I left the house and other helpful facts.

I may have been experienced when I hit my second and third leaves, but it was still overwhelming and difficult to adjust to a new routine with a newborn again, this time with a toddler or two needing extra attention!

In Canada, if you have been working for a certain amount of time, you are eligible for maternity leave (maternity & parental leave, to be specific).  Maternity leave is for the person giving birth, and is 15 weeks; while the 35 weeks parental leave can be taken by either parent (or split between both so you can spend time together).

Most will receive 55% of your wage.  In our case this kept us fairly comfortable considering we saved on the costs of working, like commuting and work lunches as well as a previously large chunk we spent on going out (we couldn’t go anywhere with a screaming baby, and who wants to go for drinks when you’re not getting ANY sleep?!).   For my second and third maternity leaves I probably made more money because I wasn’t paying out childcare costs as well!

Currently, there is an option for 18 months maternity leave. Basically, you get paid the same (55% of your wage for 12 months, split over 18 months), but your employer must hold your job.   Many employers will also offer a “top-up” on your leave!  In most cases you have to return to your job for a certain amount of time or you’ll have to pay back the top up amount, which seems fair.

Of course if you’re self-employed it’s different as well.  You CAN pay into EI and take maternity and parental benefits but you’ll have to figure out if it is worth it or not with the help of a good bookkeeper!

Lastly, we’ve all heard about the US and how many people only get a short time off before having to return to their job.  We are certainly treated more fairly in Canada, but we could do a bit better.  I was a bit surprised to learn that becoming a parent via surrogate or adoption only entitles you to the  parental benefits.  While there can be a medical component to recovering from labour and delivery, all parents should get equal treatment when it comes to maternity benefits.

– Jen