Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I put an embryo on a daycare waitlist

September 2001

One year and three months into a two-year residency, I give birth to my daughter. I am eligible for one year of maternity leave, and have every intention of staying home with my sweet, big-eyed Saskia for all fifty-two weeks.* Pete and I haven't yet decided what we'll do for childcare when the year is up, but daycare isn't even on the table. I grew up understanding that daycare was for the unfortunate children of selfish mothers. It was fact, just as neighbours who mowed their lawns on Sundays could not be Christians.

January 2002

I sit at the desk in our loft, looking at a list of home daycares. The nine remaining months of residency loom over my days with my infant daughter. I have an irrational fear that I will have a series of consecutive pregnancies - defying all contraceptive measures - causing a perma-maternity leave and precluding any possibility of ever finishing residency. I am desperate to be done with it.

My residency program agrees to my request to return half-time, five mornings a week. We have no family nearby, a nanny seems like overkill and I am prejudiced towards group daycare, so in-home daycare seems like the best option.

Saskia lies on a blanket on the floor next to my desk in a fuzzy purple sleeper, arms waving, and as I dial the first number I feel sick to my stomach. It remains one of the most profoundly distressing moments of my life.

I dial and wait for the kind voice of soft, grey-haired caregiver. A man answers instead, hands the phone to his wife. I can't do it. I imagine my daughter in a stranger's basement rec room, husband and teenage sons coming and going, and I hang up.

I resort to calling institutional daycares. The only one that has an opening is attached to the local high school and cares for the infants of teen mothers so they can stay in school. I take it.

February 2002

It is a relief to be back in residency, end in sight. I love immersing myself in medicine again, and trundling Saskia home in the stroller in the early afternoon is ideal. I do have some anxieties. After the first week of daycare I marvel that she hasn't been abducted from the centre yet. Somehow it seemed that the moment she left my arms she would be in imminent danger.

Months later, a video of the daycare is shown at a gathering of Vancouver's who's who to raise funds for the support of teenage mothers. Several physicians recognize me in the footage and are confused.

Summer 2002

I've waitlisted Saskia at all the best daycares in Vancouver. A spot opens up at my top choice, a daycare attached to a hospital that has an infant, toddler and preschool division. Now I sign in Saskia and hang up her poncho alongside colleagues in medicine, research and physiotherapy instead of fifteen-year-olds.

We bring Saskia every day to energetic ECE-certified women who love their jobs. The child-teacher ratio ranges from 1:3 in the infant room to 1:4 in the preschool. Daycare doesn't call in sick, move out of town or take vacation. Saskia thrives and we are relieved and grateful.


I finish residency. We reduce Saskia's childcare to two days a week and I work part-time.

I conceive and put the embryo on the daycare wait list. Eight weeks later we announce the pregnancy to our parents.

Spring 2005

A spot opens for my three-month-old son, but he's not eligible to attend until he's six months old. To retain it I pay full daycare fees for those months. I am ashamed that we resort to this, but it's common practice in daycare situations and the truth is, we'll do almost anything to get and keep a spot in a daycare with over eight hundred families on the waitlist.

When Leif finally joins the daycare, his caregivers in the infant room are the same ones that cared for my daughter three years ago. There has been virtually no turnover. They love him as they did my daughter.

Summer 2006

We move to Deep Cove, a half hour away from the daycare, and don't even consider changing our charmed childcare situation. Daycare close to work is much more convenient that daycare close to home, anyway.

I have my third child, Ariana, and we repeat the embryonic registration and retainer fee scenario that occurred with Leif.

September 16, 2009

My two oldest are in school, and Ariana still attends the same daycare two days a week, taught by the same teachers that cared for Saskia and Leif. I've been buzzing myself through that red front door with a little backpack on my arm for over seven years now. It's a comfortable part of our routine. So comfortable, in fact, that - behind on laundry this week - I sent Ariana to daycare in a pair of her brother's briefs, knowing I wouldn't hear a whisper of judgment.

* I am Canadian


  1. I am Canadian too and can totally relate to all the details in your story. I too have bent over backwards to keep the same preschool for all three of my kids. We currently need to upsize, after just having had my third kid and I am insisting on finding a home closer to the preschool - even though this is short-sited given that we hope to keep the home for many, many years. I'm sure it's the guilt for being away when I work, but also the comfort in a 'known entity' that I don't have to go through the whole selection process again for another school - I definitely don't have the mental space for that!

  2. A YEAR of maternity leave in RESIDENCY??????

    I don't know what's wrong with the US residency programs, but clearly we are missing out.

  3. Yes - fifty-two weeks. Here's the details:

    It is 'unpaid', meaning you collect EI (employment insurance) for the year. The university topped us up to about 80% of our resident salary for the first 17 weeks (at least in BC in 2001 they did).

  4. FreshMD- do you have plans to return full time once all the kids are in school? Just curious.

    Also- I would love to be Canadian! They at least recognize and value mothers. The US way of doing things is broken.

  5. PARA (Alberta version of PARBC) has pretty much the same... a year off, with salary topped up.

    However most residents face a lot of pressure from their programs to go back sooner than a year.

    Also... you can't collect EI as a practicing physician, right?

  6. FreshMD -- I come a bit late to your post. I am interested in why exactly you made the switch from the teen mom daycare to the hospital one, one of "the best daycares in Vancouver". We have struggled with this as well, our eldest's first daycare was in a lower-income area and contained toddlers whose families we would never normally socialize with (we're a doctor-doctor couple, both "just" family docs, but still :) )

    We soon grew to deeply appreciate her exposure to these "other" kids though. We figured she'd get enough of doctor/teacher/professional kids through our own set of friends' children.

    I find that over time it's actually become a really sore spot of mine when friends are bending over backwards to get into "good" daycares, fancier preschools, researching multiple private schools etc instead of supporting their local, commmunity public schools (although of course given the neighborhoods we gravitate towards this is relative as well, but anyway). What are we all so afraid of with poorer kids, especially in the preschool age group?!

    I am Canadian as well, and you're right Liana, as a practicing doc we (usually) don't pay into EI and so don't get "the year". Many of the provincial medical associations offer sixteen weeks at $1 000/week, though, which is about double what a "regular" person gets from EI alone (so could count as 32 weeks). And depending on your financial setup, you can often fix up a locum for a bit, or go back part-time, which I usually have done around that four to five month mark anyway, very happily I might add.

    Also, most of residents do take "the year" and woe be upon them who hassle them for it. Many of our male residents are starting to take time off as well which we strongly encourage.

    And FreshMD I apologize for being anonymous, I don't have an ID to use. Also hope you don't feel I'm attacking you personally, I am totally not trying to, I have followed your blog for a long time and really respect your work & writing. I'd be really interested in your thoughts, if you happen to have time...

  7. @Courtney: I doubt it. My best guess is that I'll work 3 or 4 days a week, or 5 x 6-hr days, or something along those lines. If I were to work full-time (or return to residency), Pete would work less.

    @Liana: No, you can't collect EI as a practicing physician as far as I know. In BC maternity leave is through the BCMA, and is a percentage of your earnings up to a maximum (?1000/wk) for 17 weeks.

    @anonymous: I didn't mean to give the impression that I switched daycares because I didn't want to socialize with teen mothers. That daycare had a number of issues: it was only open for school hours and closed at 3:30; all children were grouped together regardless of age; and the facilities were in poor condition and in fact were torn down the following year. But the main reason we switched that summer was that the daycare closed for summer vacation, to reopen in September!

    I didn't rate the other daycare as superior based on the economic circumstances of the parents. I preferred it because it was open year-round; it grouped the children separately based on age; the hours were much better (7:30 to 5:45); the staff turnover was extremely low; the indoor and outdoor facilities were fantastic; the philosophy of care meshed with ours; and it had an excellent reputation within the community.

    So no, if I came across as elitist I misrepresented myself. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate being given the opportunity to clarify.

  8. Oh, no worries. (it's Anon again). I don't think you really came across as elitist, I was just curious. I am still interested in the "GOOD daycare/preschool/school" mindset so many of of have and/or fight against and how it works itself out.

    Those hours are obviously crazy for you, by the way! We love the licensed daycares as well. Big reasons for them vs. home daycare vs. preschool is that hours are great, if a staff is sick there is someone else to fill in, and they don't close for summer! Our work is yearround (doc-doc couple) and our childcare has to be as well. I definitely get preschool envy sometimes but honestly, 9-11:30 isn't enough time to accomplish much and I'm just as happy to have our two with me on my home days -- although my older one dropping her nap is getting me to consider a sitter for a few hours to play with her while me & younger one nap! Thirteen straight hours of a three year old is quite a bit, I find :)

  9. As an American living in Canada, I'm kicking myself for being self-employed during my pregnancy when I could be reaping the benefits of EI right now. Oh well. But I love the plan Canada has. My sister-in-law sounded like she was going to cry when she heard what we get here. She's pregnant with her first and only a year into her nursing career. She gets six weeks of unpaid leave, but if she wants pay, she must use vacation time. I think that is horrible.

    While Obama tries to fix the USA health scene, I hope he gives some help to the family leave act as well. I won't go into how I want the Canadian system to improve.

    I also love Canada's childcare benefit, available to everyone for the first six years, and the provincial benefit based on income.


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