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These Canadian Working Mamas Don't Think Mat Benefits Go Far Enough

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(Photo: Freya Ravensbergen/Twitter)

Being a professional actor is really difficult on your self-esteem. You're constantly being rejected, told you should lose weight, need better pictures or more experience, lose jobs because you're either too tall, too suburban, too old or my personal favourite: "we decided to go ethnic." (Wait, what? What does a statement like that even mean in a city like Toronto?)

Women in particular in this industry are treated as objects, as pawns in a producer's puzzle, and it's a struggle to not worry what people think of you at all times.


(Photo: Polly Shannon/Twitter)

So when I found out I was pregnant, one of my first panicked thoughts was: "What will my agents say?" Would they be supportive, would they tell me to take a year off and forget about me? Would I have to resign myself to the idea of being an unemployed milkmaid for the foreseeable future? How would I support myself?! Turns out my agents were actually super supportive and were as happy as I was that I'd be making a human for the next nine months.

(By the way, it's actually 10 -- I don't know who started the "nine month" lie, but 40 weeks = 10 months, and I was two weeks overdue, so technically I was halfway to 11 months which is an insanely long time if you don't fall in love with pregnancy, which I did not).

I've learned that the film and television industry is pretty clueless about the needs of working parents. Especially ones with boobs.

I didn't work much during my pregnancy because most films aren't open to casting a woman who is getting larger and larger by the day. But I survived the 10.5 months as gracefully as one does when you gain 40 pounds and your hormones are on a busted roller coaster, and in May, I gave birth to a baby girl.

Since then I've learned that the film and television industry is pretty clueless about the needs of working parents. Especially ones with boobs.


(Photo: Lauren Lee Smith/Twitter)

Nursing mothers need to use breast pumps on set when they're not able to breastfeed their infants. These devices (which can cost a couple hundred bucks) are not covered under our private actors insurance, nor are lactation consultants (definitely not cheap), which many new mothers need because teaching your baby to suck milk from your breast can be surprisingly hard.

This is especially puzzling when you consider that many other medical devices are covered in our insurance plans, like walking canes and hearing aids.

Another bizarre discovery I made is that maternity is labelled a "disability" in our insurance guide, meaning that many new moms who are entitled to insurance payments don't apply for them because they're mislabelled and easily overlooked in our huge insurance brochure. (And believe me, when you are subsisting on four hours' sleep, you need things to be very, very clear.)


(Photo: Rebecca Singh/Twitter)

At first, this pissed me off. But then I realized I was too tired (like, literally too tired) to hold a grudge. That's another new discovery of motherhood: you don't have much time for bullshit. So I decided to start talking about these problems with other new actor-mothers. Being the awesomely efficient yet sleep-deprived multi-taskers we are, we banded together to raise awareness about our needs.

Last week, in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 to 7), a bunch of rad actresses tweeted breastfeeding pictures we've taken on set, at auditions, at rehearsal or at home with the aim of taking nursing out of the shadows and promoting our ongoing efforts to increase awareness and prompt actual change within our industry.

We were floored by the interest and support from not only other working actresses, but also the likes of Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and Alanis Morissette who were also tweeting photos of themselves nursing during International Breastfeeding week. The other actresses who joined us in our campaign (including Polly Shannon, Lauren Lee Smith, Liane Balaban and Rebecca Singh) are hoping for more from AFBS (ACTRA Fraternal Benefit Society), which is the insurance and benefit society for performers in Canada.

And we all hope that this campaign will urge AFBS and its Board of Governors to make changes to our insurance program to better serve the needs of working parents. We are seeking parity with AFTRA (our U.S. counterparts), including coverage for breast pumps, a more reasonable way to calculate our benefit and an end to the mislabelling of pregnancy and maternity as disabilities.


Liane Balaban. (Photo: Eva Michon)

We organized this campaign with very little sleep, scant childcare, and barely enough time to shower. Just think what mothers could accomplish with a little more support.

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