Maternity Leave and Mental Health

Friday, February 09, 2018 1:47 PM | Glynis

When an expecting mother goes on maternity leave, there’s a general assumption that what she’ll come back to when she returns will be the same job she left. Any woman who has gone on mat leave once, however, knows this isn’t always the case. A year, which is what mothers in Canada have traditionally been allowed by the government to have (it has since extended to an optional 18 months), is a long time in any business. A lot can change, including a person’s role or job description.

This is exactly what happened to me during my first mat leave – the company restructured while I was gone, and my job disappeared. I kept the same pay rate, so technically it was legal, but I was essentially demoted. I didn’t bother fighting for the right to maintain my job duties, because I was only working part time and it wasn’t a “career,” but it made me realize there’s a reason some women feel a huge amount of stress while on maternity leave.

If you end up suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, that stress can spiral out of control. There continues to be an enormous stigma attached to postpartum depression, and a woman who is suffering from it may fear repercussions in the workplace upon her return. What if your boss happens to be the type of person who assumes that postpartum depression is the same as postpartum psychosis? Many women may be afraid to talk about their PMAD openly due to how it may affect her role when she returns to work.

In addition, there are so many people–including healthcare providers–who assume that postpartum mood & anxiety disorders end one year after giving birth. According to research, however, recovery time greatly depends on a number of factors. These include how long it took to be diagnosed and treated, what things are like in the rest of your life, and how effective the treatment you’re in is for you. All of this to say, you may find that as you approach the end of your maternity leave, you still don’t feel stable enough to return to work. 

Having a healthcare provider who understands that PMAD don’t abruptly stop at the one year mark can make the difference for any woman who needs to apply for long-term disability, as they continue treatment. There are members of our community who have struggled with this exact issue, and it’s one of the things we need to advocate for in Canada. Healthcare providers need to be properly trained in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, so we don’t leave mothers facing the possibility of having to return to work while still incapacitated or losing their job.

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