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Motherhood and the Mental Health Load: Ashley MacKeigan

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ashley and baby

Being a working mother is not a choice for most, it’s a reality for a great number of women and caregivers.

Before having a child, the thought of applying for a second full-time job in addition to my current full-time position, would never have crossed my mind. However, when returning to work from maternity leave, I came to the realization that this was exactly what had happened. Being a working mom means having two full time jobs – except one of them doesn’t end when the shift is over.

ash babyAs you may know, fundraising is not a 9-5 job – sometimes it means evenings, weekends, and lying awake at night, just thinking about tomorrow's to-do list. Throw a global pandemic, seasonal colds, daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, cooking, cleaning, bedtime routine, and so much more on top of all of that, things have the potential to feel a little out-of-control.

Before having a baby, my job was my baby. But after maternity leave, I realized my job was never a regular “job”, it is more of a lifestyle. Helping our community, strengthening healthcare, and playing a small part in a patient’s scariest days, are just some of my motivating factors every day at work because I truly believe what we are doing is making a difference.

I consider myself very blessed to be a working mom in the fundraising world. This career path has allowed me to be flexible in both my role as a mom and a fundraiser. It has also prepared me for adjusting to whatever life throws your way. In this field of work, especially during the pandemic, I have learned that healthcare needs never stop and you must find a way to persevere – very comparable to becoming a parent.

My place of work is exceptionally accommodating and supportive in helping me navigate through “the working-mom life”. At the Hospital Foundation, planning and organizing are major parts of my role, which feels ironic because when it comes to children there are so many things you simply cannot plan for – such as teething pains, head colds, and stomach bugs. Thankfully, my work family is extremely understanding that my mom-duties come first, and in turn this creates a work-environment where I feel safe, understood, and motivated. Because of this, I feel my work is positively reflected as I can balance my home-life and work-life without feeling the burnout of either while still successfully getting the job done.

Returning from maternity leave and finding the balance of my role as a mom, my role as a partner, and my role as a fundraiser was a new challenge. This added another level to scheduling, organizing, staying safe in the pandemic, time management, and self-care. I had to adjust my prioritization skills, create new time management measures, all while staying safe and limiting my exposures.

Another new challenge that feels overwhelming at times is “mom-guilt”. It wasn’t until I opened-up to other moms about it that I found out just how common it is. Mom-guilt hits different depending on the day. For example, sometimes I feel anxious when I must leave my little one crying at the daycare drop-off because he wanted extra snuggle time and I had to leave. Or sometimes it’s that moment when I forget to pack his favorite sippy cup, pre-occupied thinking about today’s meeting on the way out the door. In these moments, I try to remember balance.

It was while trying to navigate the new mom-guilt that I started to understand the common phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. For me, it is comforting to know we have access to support systems. It is having a best friend that treats my child like her own. It is loved ones who offer to watch the baby for a few hours to get some work done. It is our Early Childhood Educators who love, teach, and support our child in our physical absence while at work. It is connecting through facetime with family and friends who can’t physically be there to experience the milestones. It is the cooked meals dropped off on our doorstep when days in the office get away from me. It is having a partner to share the parental load equally with, and so much more.

It is important to recognize my partner because I don’t think I could have adjusted to this new lifestyle and overcome these obstacles without him. He has been my advocate keeping me going on the hard days. He is my biggest cheerleader on the good days and my constant supporter daily – always in my corner.

Being a working mom is HARD – in any field of work. I always felt the need to have it all together – to be that stereotypical “super-mom” that we see in movies. While trying to navigate a healthier balance for myself, my family, and my colleagues, my vision of a “super-mom” had changed considerably. I started to realize that it was okay to ask for help, to divide and conquer the days tasks, and to say no or not right now – both at work and at home. I truly believe that this realization made me a better mom and a better fundraiser.

When I returned to work after having my son, I immediately felt the (self-inflicted) pressure to do it all. I slowly, but surely, realized that it was doing more harm than good – both mentally and physically. For any working mom who is just trying to stay afloat some days, my advice to you would be to find your happy medium – you do not need to be split 50/50 all the time. Some days, you may need to spend a little extra time at home because your child needs those extra snuggles, and other days you may find yourself having to spend a little extra time working late in the office or at home after the bedtime routine.

I recognize that not everyone has access to “a village” – but even having one person who you can talk with, relate-to, share stories with, or have a laugh with is so important. I encourage you to reach out as it may help to ease that guilt and find your work-life balance; even if only for a moment - whether it be family, friends, co-workers, childcare providers or a stranger you’ve met at an online conference.

Being a working mom is tough, but I am very grateful to be working alongside men and women who are greatly supportive and understanding of my new role and responsibility as a mother. My hope is that more working moms will get to experience that same support. At the end of the day, we are all in this together with the same end-goals – to support the cause and benefit our communities, all while raising strong and caring children.

There were a few times this year when my son really needed his mom, but I also had obligations at work that needed to be fulfilled. My co-workers were incredibly welcoming to the idea that I could take him along to work on those days. I remember sitting in my office one day, sobbing, with my son on my lap in his carrier. I wasn’t crying because I was overwhelmed, I was crying because I felt so supported. In that moment I realized that I can be a mom and I can be a fundraiser; I can excel at both with pride.

My hope is that my organization’s stance on womanhood and being a mother (and/or caregiver) in the working-world, sets a precedent on movements going forward. This is my vision for the future – for all women to feel safe, supported and welcomed in their environment.

Being a mom in the fundraising world does not have a one-size-fits-all description. Some days are hard, no doubt, but other days are oh so good. Do what is best for you, whatever that may be.

I often find myself repeating the line “You can do it all, just not all of it at the same time”.

Cheers to us!

AshleyAshley MacKeigan works as the Annual Giving Officer with the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation (CBRHF) in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Ashley builds strong relationships with individuals, community groups, and organizations to support fundraising efforts at the Regional Hospital.

In 2018, Ashley received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Cape Breton University and is now working towards her MBA in Community Economic Development.

Originally from Newfoundland, Ashley has worked in the nonprofit sector in Sydney for nearly three years. Prior to her time at the CBRHF, she was a Domestic Student Recruiter for Cape Breton University. Ashley is a volunteer Board Member and Secretary for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) - Cape Breton Chapter. This education and experience gave her a deep appreciation and devotion to her community.

When asked about her favorite part of working with the CBRHF, Ashley says it would have to be “The opportunity to meet and work alongside so many incredible donors, volunteers and community members. We are very fortunate to have so many people that are extremely passionate about strengthening healthcare right here at home.”

Ashley currently resides in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia with her partner and fourteen-month-old son.

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