This story starts when I was pregnant with my first son.
I was deep in a passion project at work, and I could not imagine leaving it to start my family. The dilemma caused me to wonder, why must everything be put on hold leading up to pregnancy, during pregnancy and afterward?
This conversation with myself was the start to Brain Snacks Co. To understand this story, I think you have to know a little bit about me.
Growing up Donna
I grew up as one of five children in a single parent family. My mom worked three jobs and she definitely instilled a strong work ethic in my siblings and I. There wasn’t much money in the house, so I started working early, first with babysitting and a flyer route, and later by clearing tables at a local restaurant. Looking back, I have been in the workforce for more than 20 years. My first jobs started when I was eleven. I was careful with my money, even before I worked. My first bank book shows I saved $370.41 of my birthday and holiday money, mostly from aunts and uncles, by December of 1996.
Once I was working, it was natural for me to buy my own things and pay my own way. Doing well in school was important. There was no money for university. I worked 4-5 days a week while I was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program in high school, earning first year university credits in English. I applied for many scholarships and was successful with a few. The most significant was the Canadian Millennium Excellence Award, which covered my tuition for four years. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and started working for the provincial public service shortly after graduation in the field of communications.
The man behind the woman
I met my partner in life, Andy, when I was 15. We were very practical kids and waited until we were both done post-secondary and in the workforce before we planned our wedding. We got married in Regina on July 7, 2007 and it was a really wonderful day. We were so thrilled to be joining our lives together with all of our family and friends. This year we are happily celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary.
Andy has always been very supportive of my professional success and he accepted a lot of long hours while I built my career in the public service. Within three years, I was in a Director position and pursuing a Master of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University. As a Millennial woman, I was successful in achieving an Executive Director position and its six figure salary at the age of 27. In this role, I championed and led the business case to create government’s first digital program, to give citizens what they want and need online, and to launch the website Saskatchewan.ca in 2013.
The reason I tell you all this, is that in spite of my success, my career was certainly not immune to a pregnancy.
When I started my family in 2014, I really dreaded the thought of leaving work. Part of this was fear of losing my place in my organization. And part of it was worrying about my work while I was gone. I decided to take only 8 months of maternity leave and get back to it as soon as possible. Let me tell you, there is no right answer here. You feel like your employer is disappointed in you and the rest of the world is frowning because you're not taking full advantage of the year of maternity leave.
Usually as these things go, you overcome your fears and realize it isn't so bad.
That was not so. My work was not going to be returned to me and fundamental shifts in the program design had been made. I was lucky to have support and I was able to move to another part of the organization. When I had my second son in 2015, the same thing happened. This time the unit I was in abolished and my position was moved. Looking back as a 12-year veteran of the public service, I can see now that since the birth of my first child, I have never again had the opportunity of a permanent Executive Director position. I certainly have not seen the career growth and progression, and my earnings have been affected. Still, I do have meaningful employment that helps me to support my family.
What if things could be different for working women?
During all of these experiences, this little seed was germinating in my mind. Why did women have to sever their professional lives from their personal lives as part of pregnancy, birth and maternity. Why can't they choose to blend their experiences, integrating their lives into something that feels whole and manageable. The idea of balancing work and family is a fantasy when the two are constantly competing.
With the #MeToo movement in 2018, the world is taking notice of the experiences of women in achieving their professional goals, and the barriers that slow them down in their pursuit of leadership roles and other measures of success. As Sheryl Sandberg noted in her book, Lean In, women often begin to compromise their career success early on, trading the anticipation of a family for stretch assignments and promotions at work.
What does a woman do when she is in love with her career and in love with her family?
And so the idea of Brain Snacks Co began to take shape in my mind. It had to be a place for parents and children with opportunities for growth and development for both. And it had to support women before, during and after pregnancy so that they could be better prepared for the sacrifices of career and family. Brain Snacks Co is about serving those extraordinary humans in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are raising babies, building careers, buying houses and taking care of aging relatives.
My vision is to open Brain Snacks Co in Regina's east end next year. It will provide services to families that support women and families with the dilemma of integrating work and life. What does that look like? I would love to tell you! But it is just a little to early in the process to say. So stay on the edge of your seat. It's going to be an adventure.
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