Almost a year ago today, I got fired. Over email, when I was at home on bed rest, two days before giving birth to my son. My ex-boss had been leading up to it for a while; could I come into the office and train yet another unpaid intern to “watch things” while I was on maternity leave? Was I really sure I was going to want to return to work after having the baby?

Yes, I was sure. Not happy about it, as my boss had been emotionally barraging me for quite a while with accusations of me not doing my work (always unfounded, and easily proved wrong with analytics). But I had a plan. Two months maternity leave, two months to finish out my contract, and a big commission payoff at the end to take time off to spend with my son.

Then came the first email. There was no more money to pay me, so i could throw in the towel if I wanted. No thanks, I responded from a house just down the street from the office. I said I would look into options, and I went to the Ministry of Labour to find out what they were.

even paradise has a dark side

We were living in the Dominican Republic on a temporary contract for a hotel on the North Shore. I was running the Marketing Operations and heading the Wellness Programs, which I had designed and started from scratch.

My contract rate was modest for me, but high for the area, and our housing, transport and relocation had been included, so theoretically everything could go into savings for new-baby sabbatical. Not being from the island, I went to the government to see if I had any recourse for getting paid.

It turns out employee rights on the island are taken pretty seriously, so I should at the very least be due a decent sized severance pay. In another email, I informed my boss I had spoken to the Ministry and was happy to talk to him about options. He immediately wrote back informing me that anyone who spoke to the Ministry of Labour was immediately fired, and so was the case with me.

the view from our house where I gave birth to my son

Two days later I went into labour and gave birth on the floor of our company-paid house, five minutes away from the local hospital, pretending I hadn’t seen the email. Even our doula was worried my boss would show up during the labour and cause trouble – apparently he had a bad reputation – but luckily, all went smoothly. My son was born a healthy and hefty nine pounds six ounces, and took to breastfeeding right away. We had a day and a half of rest before the trouble started.

When my son was two days old, a lackey of the hotel showed up and turned the power off in the house, in an attempt to drive us out. I had worked with the man quite a lot over my time there, and he couldn’t look me in the eye as the removed the batteries and disconnected the solar panels. I genuinely felt sorry for him.

For the next two months we lived like fugitives. It was a small town, but I wasn’t fit to travel anywhere else. We rented a townhouse near by, which at Caribbean island rates ate heavily into our savings. We paid for expedited birth certificates and passports for my son so that we could leave the island as soon as possible. Added to that the legal fees so that I could sue to try to get my severance, and all of a sudden our nest egg was just a pile of cracked shells.

Vaccines aside, my son never went in for a checkup after being born, and neither did I. Not to deal with my postpartum depression, or to check up on my health after birth. I haven’t felt that we could afford the extra bills, or the extra stress.

It was the most ridiculous logic. If we were already in debt, why wasn’t I willing to spend a little bit more to make sure I was mentally healthy enough to get out of it?

The answer is fear. I was terrified out of my mind. My life seemed to be falling into pieces around me. My marriage was a wreck, I was out of a job with no prospects, had no savings, and I wasn’t even able to enjoy being a new mom – something I had always dreamed of. I became paralyzed by fear.

I’m writing this a year later, because it’s only now I can look back and see the damage that we did by panicking. My husband was never the earner of the family, so going back to work fell to me. I wasn’t able to balance the stress of having no money with the responsibilities of being a new mom, and fell into a horrible postpartum depression. Taking on work felt impossible, although I found drips of it anyways. Being from a small town in the interior of Brazil, depression wasn’t something my husband understood or knew how to deal with. We were far away from family and friend, and we fought, horribly and often.

a photo from our wedding day

Our marriage suffered tremendously. After finally understanding the difficulty of my situation, my husband fell into a depression, feeling that he was useless for not being able to help our situation. In debt, jobless and with no real home to go back to (we had previously lived in Rio de Janeiro, which had become too dangerous to live in), we, two adults with a baby, struggled to figure out what to do.

Overtime, I managed to piece together some freelance work. When we made it back to the US a few months later, the cost of care terrified me – I was uninsured and without work, and my husband is a foreigner. We simply decided to wait until we left the country again.

My mom pitched in to help with what she could, but even as I write this we’re still not entirely on stable ground. We still have a healthy chunk of debt built up over the last year, when facing depression, a failing relationship and trying to adjust to being new parents made it difficult to be productive. We still haven’t seen a penny of the severance money, and unfortunately our lawyer has stopped responding to us. On an island known for its corruption, we’re not sure if she got paid off or just got lazy.

thankfully, we made it through as a family

Looking back, I wish we would have gotten more help. Maybe instead of just freelancing, I would have a better paying job by now. Maybe my husband and I would have fought less; he wouldn’t have felt that he was a failure, and might have taken more action. Perhaps we would have had the courage to be more decisive, instead of feeling like every decision we made was the wrong one.

Honestly, I don’t know if we could have made better decisions. They say everything happens for a reason, although at this point I still don’t see the reason behind the last year, I’m happy that we’ve managed to come out still as a family.

I would only hope that other people who go through difficulties during their transition into parenthood reach out for help more than we did.

Get help when you need it. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help the people around you who you love most.

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