Whenever I have reflected on where I live when compared to other countries, I have always felt immensely fortunate. I think it was Oprah that said something along the lines of, “To be a woman born into a first world country already makes you one of the luckiest women there are” (if you know the actual quote, please let me know. That is as best as I remember it). There is a roof over my head, clean drinking water that comes from my taps, and programs in place if my family were to need food or shelter. Our health care system isn’t perfect, but it is “world class” in terms of the quality of nurses, doctors, and the environment in which we are cared for. Not only that, but I’m entitled to the same care as the richest of the rich, and the poorest of the poor. In the eyes of medicine in my country, I am no better or worse than anyone, I just deserve to be well cared for. We have great maternity and parental leave in this country. Sitting in Belgium talking to my father in-law’s colleagues from NATO, I realize Canada is hardly the gold standard for parental leave with just under a year off and 55% pay. But it is still better than the countries that only offer four months, or the very few that offer none at all. Going into parenthood, reflecting on all of these systems in place, systems that I have the good fortune of having access to merely because of where I happened to be born is pretty amazing. Little did I know that until recently I was actually underestimating the privilege that exists here.
Baby’s Best Chance and Toddler’s First Steps
When my husband and I first found out we were expecting, like many parents, we rushed out and bought “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. Though this book is full of valuable information, the complementary books Baby’s Best Chance and Toddler’s First Steps seem to be more comprehensive, are much easier to grab and look up a so specific topic, and are more intuitively laid out. If you’re not sure where to get one, they are available at maternity clinics, hospitals, health clinics, and doctors’ offices free of charge.
While attending a prenatal class, I heard about the phone number 8-1-1 for the first time. For anyone living in Canada who hasn’t heard about it, it is a non-emergency phone number that connects you to a nurse. They are not diagnosticians, but will ask a number of questions, suggest of possible reasons for ailment, advise whether a trip to the emergency room is needed, an appointment with your doc, or a visit to a walk in clinic, and how to treat at home. I have used this service so many times, I cannot even begin to count. It is especially helpful in those instances I don’t know if I’m being acutely paranoid, or if I should rush into the hospital at 3 am.
Public Health Nurses and the Health Unit
Once I had my daughter, I quickly found out about the existence of public health nurses. Not only did I have a nurse assigned to me to call to check-in over the first couple of months of postpartum, she also came for a visit, gave me a variety of resources, weighed my daughter, and helped me with my daughter’s latch breastfeeding. She also informed me that there were many drop-in locations for me to attend for information sessions (including but not limited to breastfeeding, baby’s first foods, oral hygiene for babies, relationships after having your baby, and developmentally appropriate toys and activities), to have my baby weighed, and ask any questions that I may have about my newborn or parenting. This was a tremendous help to have this information and support in times I was unsure, or to cover subjects I just didn’t know about.
When my son was born, and my daughter was a few months shy of a year and a half, my mom started urging me to go to StrongStart. When I found out the centres near me only ran from 8:45-11:45 am, I wasn’t particularly sold on the idea. The thought of getting a new baby and a less-than-18-month-old out the door, clothed, and fed in the morning was not my idea of fun. Ultimately, I decided to give it a try, and was beyond thrilled to discover all that these early childhood centres offer. Set up in otherwise vacant classrooms of public schools with lower enrolment, StrongStart is intended to help children under the age of five have a “strong start” in early childhood to prepare them for kindergarten and later on in life. StrongStart is based on the principle that “[e]arly learning is the foundation for lifelong learning, and the basis for individual, social, economic, and environment well-being” (British Columbia Early Learning Framework). Once registered (this takes about five minutes), a caregiver and their child(ren) can attend any StrongStart as frequently and for whatever duration they so choose from then on. There, young children can participate in a variety of centres (similar to what would be found in a kindergarten class), partake in arts and crafts, and, depending on that centre’s schedule, attend gym class (some have it every day while others offer gym weekly). After centres and/ or gym, comes snack (they typically serve veggies, fruit, and crackers or dried cereal), followed by reading and circle time. As a result of StrongStart, my daughter sits at the dinner table with much more patience, is decent waiting in line (children have to line up to wash their hands before snack), and great at picking up her toys (a skill I thought was too advanced for her when we first started attending). I’m so glad my mom encouraged me to go!
As if all of these benefits weren’t enough, a few months ago, I had my dad call me to talk about my career plans. Normally such a call from a parent may lead to eye-rolls, and perhaps mild annoyance the meddlesome nature of the call. However, my dad is a career practitioner who teaches and counsels people who are underemployed or unemployed how to make themselves more marketable, job ready, how to write a better resume, etcetera. Because it has been a goal of mine and my husband’s for me to go through yoga teachers training, get part-time, flexible work and bring a second income into the home, my dad had called. Though our plan made sense, finding just under $4,000 for tuition on one salary in a household of two adults and two young children had become seemingly impossible. What our phone conversation informed me of was that though it would be both very time consuming and effortful, the government may approve me to receive funding for my training.
Admittedly, when my dad described the process, it sounded promising, arduous, but also a bit lofty. Nothing was a guarantee, and what if I tried my best, put in the time, and I wasn’t successful in getting funding?
After months of filling out forms, providing supporting documents, conducting interviews from people working in my intended field of study, attending meetings and classes at WorkBC, I got my funding! I officially start school on September 17th, and though I’m nervous about how well I’ll do, and about being away from my wee ones part-time, right now, I am eternally grateful.
If you live in Canada, and have questions about any of these programs, please comment below or email me. Is there a particular government program or benefit you’re particular grateful for? Please share in the comments below.