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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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