Tuesday June 13, 2017

'I dedicated my life to the Forces and got nowhere': Single mom told to choose between son and career

Laura Nash, a single mother in the Canadian navy, was asked to choose between her son and her career as a warship navigator.

Laura Nash, a single mother in the Canadian navy, was asked to choose between her son and her career as a warship navigator. (Laura Nash)

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Working and parenting can already be a delicate balancing act for single parents. But for Laura Nash, she never thought she would have to choose between the two.

In late 2013, Nash, a sub-lieutenant in the Canadian navy and single mother to six-year-old Ronin, was called into a meeting with her superiors who told her she had too many "family matters to deal with."

CBC's parliamentary defence reporter Murray Brewster covered Nash's story. He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that Nash was given an ultimatum that would forever alter the course of her life — choosing between her child and her career.

'I didn't want to live without my child but I needed a means of supporting him.' - Acting Sub-Lt. Laura Nash

"I tried to make the decision of whether I was going to give away my child on a permanent basis so that I could keep working, or if I was going to get fired because I was going to keep my child," Nash told Brewster.

As a single mother, Nash didn't have a partner to share parenting duties and couldn't afford to hire a nanny to take care of Ronin while she was at sea, leaving her "completely unsupported." 

Laura Nash navy

Nash is asking the Canadian Human Rights Commission to look into her case. (Laura Nash)

"I couldn't make the decision. It was a catch-22. I didn't want to live without my child but I needed a means of supporting him."

On June 7, Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan delivered a speech after releasing the country's new defence policy. He announced the government's vision for the military for the next 20 years, asserting the importance of creating an inclusive, diverse Armed Forces that "ranks a respectful environment for women."

But Nash's experience showed there is limited institutional support for women with families. After months of being in limbo, she requested a transfer to another trade to a base personnel officer who showed no empathy for her ordeal.

'That's the way that some of the women in the military look at children ... They're not humans.' - Acting Sub-Lt. Laura Nash

"She rolls her eyes and she said, 'Everyone has things to deal with when they deploy. I had to find a place to store my car and I had to change my cellphone plan,'" said Nash to Brewster.

"That's the way that some of the women in the military look at children. They're just another piece of administration to deal with. They're not humans," she said. 

Laura Nash with Ronan

Laura Nash says her experience showed there is limited institutional support for women in the military who have families. (Laura Nash)

According to Brewster, Nash would have been put in jail if she refused an order to go out to sea, so she ended up on a temporary medical category as her "only alternative."

"It caused her a lot of anxiety and she told me she started to fear for the future," he explains.

Eventually, Nash fell into a deep depression to the point where she contemplated suicide. She told Brewster she sought help for her mental health but was "blacklisted" and became "discounted goods" in the military.

Related: 'The decision broke me,' says naval officer asked to choose between career and son

Nash is now asking the Canadian Human Rights Commission to look into her case. Brewster says Nash's lawyer brought forward a discrimination claim, arguing that Nash was discriminated against "on the basis of sex and disability."

Nash is being given a medical release at the end of July, but she told Brewster she doesn't know where she's going to go or how she's going to support her son after leaving the Armed Forces.

"I don't know what else I'm going to do in the future. I don't know," she said.

"I dedicated my life to the Forces and got nowhere."

Listen to the full story at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and CBC's Max Paris.