Opening doors for women in a world of ‘subtle’ sexism

FCC145D1-F3C3-4E6F-80E3-FA418575B005

Saint John lawyer¬†Nathalie Godbout¬†was pregnant with her eldest child, now 10, when she was the incoming chairwoman of the Saint John Board of Trade — the third woman to hold the post in an organization that turns 150 this year.

I can remember back then, the most popular question was ‘How are you going to do this?’” says¬†Godbout¬†who, at the time, was also a new partner with Lawson Creamer.

How does anybody do it? There are two parents in our household, not just one,” says¬†Godbout, who recently opened her own boutique firm with colleague Cathy Fawcett in a stunning historic building on Hazen Street that pre-dates the¬†Great¬†Fire of 1877.

They’re looking at you with some curiosity, but also with this profound concern — as if what you’re about to do is impossible.

Godbout, now 47, not only “did it” with her first baby -= going back to work three weeks after she was born —¬†but again three years later with her second child, nursing each for a full year while managing her busy practice, and while her husband, Jim Lawlor, cared for their daughters. Her career has flourished¬†as she¬†built¬†a reputation as a discreet and capable malpractice defence lawyer. She received the prestigious Queen’s Counsel, or Q.C. designation and a YMCA Women of Distinction Award last year.

And, on May 12, she is set to receive the Muriel Corkery-Ryan Q.C. Award, which recognizes an exceptional person who has taken¬†risks, fostered change and ultimately opened doors for female lawyers. The award, presented by the Canadian Bar Association’s New Brunswick branch, will be presented at a conference on embracing change and overcoming obstacles at the Hilton Hotel.

For Godbout, the path has not always been smooth, and while she says she has it easier than female lawyers did 50 years ago, she has experienced a subtle form of sexism faced by many professional women today.

For example, while meeting with colleagues, a bid to attract new clients may be met with skepticism by her peers, while the man sitting next to her would get full support for another pitch.

It’s subtle. You can’t put your finger on it,” she says, seated at a long table in what feels more like a dining room than a law office. “They don’t say it. It’s resistance, it’s skepticism. It’s almost as if you’re being indulged when your track record and book of business would invite none of that.

Even as more female lawyers enter the profession, they are more likely to leave it within their first 10 years for many reasons, Godbout says.

To make your way, you have to be exceptional. It has to be harder for them to do without you, than without you.

For women — and not only lawyers — who choose to have children, it may be more¬†difficult¬†to get a job, keep your job, or it’s seen as a burden on an employer, she says.

It’s born of a time that we are not supposed to be living in anymore,” Godbout says. “Those old norms still exist, whether or not people want to¬†admit¬†it — I’m convinced of it — so I think sometimes the only way to change it is to reinvent it.

That’s what led in part to the birth of her firm, which opened its doors last December. It’s a place where lawyers and staff find a balance that results in what they say is¬†great¬†client service and a lifestyle that meets their needs as professionals as well as their families at¬†home.

After years of mentoring and meeting with young female lawyers — often in places well “off the grid” — where Godbout would offer her advice, she now aims to model how a modern practice led by two women in the Maritimes can look and feel.

Cathy and I will tell you some of¬†the best¬†law briefs we’ve written, we started after 9 p.m.,” she says. “As lawyers, you’re just as productive if not more so than any of our peers. The work was getting done and didn’t have to be done in a traditional way. That fluidity and flexibility is a huge piece of what we do here.

And the “proof is in the pudding,” Godbout says. A comparison of hours and productivity against other firms demonstrates they are measuring up “in spades.

This new generation of lawyers is looking for that flexibility, trust and accountability.

Godbout, the third of four children growing up in Grand Falls, remembers being the kid who was sent in to negotiate a deal with the adults, what she now practises as “interest-based negotiations.

I¬†loved¬†it – I thrived in that environment,” says Godbout, who moved as a teen with her family to Saint John, and¬†attended St. Thomas University for an arts degree before pursuing law at the University of New Brunswick. “Everybody would be¬†happy¬†with the final decision, whatever it was. That’s always been my personality.

Godbout articled at Stewart McKelvey in Saint John before joining Gilbert McGloan Gillis for 12 years, six of those as partner. When she “parachuted” into Lawson Creamer as a partner, she was six months pregnant, she says. The team was “tremendously supportive” over her decade at the firm.

The move to open Godbout Fawcett was the dream she never knew she had, she says, resulting in a design that “feels better” than a traditional law firm.

Along with her advocacy for female lawyers, Godbout has also become a voice for those facing domestic¬†violence¬†after overhearing¬†abuse¬†in a hotel and writing a poignant editorial in the Telegraph-Journal last year. The story, addressed to the “Woman in Room 805,” went viral, leading to a flood of messages from women who have reached out to her to say, after reading her piece, they had the courage to get out. To this day, she is still haunted by what she heard and hopes the woman in the room is OK.

An entire demographic now knows there is someone who can hear them on the other side of the door, and doesn’t know what to do, and is profoundly worried about them – I think a lot of them have felt for a very long time that nobody cared,” she says.

That seems to be the mantle I’m wearing now because so many of these individuals are saying to me: ‘You saved my life. I got out.’ It allowed them to see there are people to help if they committed to leaving. I’m very grateful.

As appeared in the Telegraph-Journal May 12, 2017.

Advertisements

Making it work: marathon training as a mom

IMG_0326

Silas is almost 2, and as I look back at my running achievements over his short life, I can’t help but feel proud.

Last year included two half-marathons and a number of shorter races, which I managed to train for while working a full-time, demanding job. Now I am less than two weeks away from running my first marathon.

  • I ran 20 km on Sunday in one of my final long runs. Not pain free, but got it done. Stats here.¬†

Logging miles upon miles to get to the finish line is never easy. Throw a child into the mix and the dynamic of finding balance in life becomes even more tricky. But I am here to tell you it is possible ‚Äď not only that, but it makes you feel good.

Running is a gift. It’s a place to focus, work out the day’s problems, dream and plan. It’s for me and me¬†alone. This might be why I enjoy running solo. It sounds cliche, but I know that if I am at peace with myself, I am a happier person and a better mother.

It’s also a way I can take control of my body and my health. To work on improving my speed, endurance and strength (both physical and mental).

Everyone is busy, not just moms. But there is a particular part of motherhood that involves giving of your whole self every waking moment. It often feels like there is absolutely no time to spare.

So here is my secret to fitting running into the equation: make it a priority.

The top priorities in my life: 1) family 2) career 3) running/health

When you have that figured out, you quickly realize all the rest can fit in the tiny cracks that surround your busy schedule, and it doesn’t matter if that other stuff (i.e. house cleaning, Facebook, painting my nails) doesn’t get done.

Everyone has different priorities, but I have chosen to make running mine. It matters to me and I know it makes me a better person.

Here are a few other ways I make running fit in my life as a mom:

  • Plan ahead: I roughly know what days I’m going to run, the distance and what time will work best. On my days off, I typically run during nap time to maximize time with my son. On weekdays, I opt for early morning runs.
  • Be flexible: Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Like I am just about to head out the door for an early morning run and I hear “mama!!!” So I keep on my running clothes and try for a lunchtime run. If that doesn’t happen, nighttime treadmill run it is.
  • Use the running stroller: We usually get out for one stroller run per week. It’s tougher than running without but my son loves it. He says “wheeeee!” when we go fast and “runrunrunrun!” I love it.
  • Set achievable goals, gradually: I didn’t start running again until a good two months after giving birth. After that, my first goal was a 5K by Christmas, when Silas would be six months old. I was so proud to finish! Then, four months later, I ran a 13K race with another mama. Three months after that, it was a half-marathon, followed by another one in the fall. I kept running through a December run streak to keep my base strong before launching into marathon training this past January.
  • Be realistic: I don’t try to be perfect. I miss some runs and mis the mark on my mileage many weeks. I love French Fries and McFlurries as much as I love a good protein smoothie. Many ¬†days, I don’t get enough sleep or drink enough water.

Sometimes I feel like an imposter in running gear.

But I guess that’s also part of the appeal. I’m working on becoming someone I never realized was possible. And that will always be a work in progress.

 

He’s 1

This image is forever etched in my mind: my husband gingerly carrying our newborn in a car seat down the hall of the hospital. I carried a few bags but I kept stopping to take photos. I had only given birth about 30 hours earlier and emotions were spilling out of me. It was really hitting me that this was a huge moment. We were taking our baby home, and our lives would never be the same.

Now a year has passed and the thought still rings true. Except rather than a dream or an idea of being a family of three, we’re living it.

Three weeks ago, our son reached his chubby little fingers into his first slice of chocolate cake and devoured it. We sang Happy Birthday and surrounded him with family and friends. I always thought baby birthday parties were sort of foolish, but now I get it. It was as much about us as it was about him. Together, we made it through the most challenging and beautiful year of our lives.

Silas 1st birthday 035

No one can every prepare you for how difficult it is to care for a newborn, as a sleepless, anxious new mother. But as time went on, and we got a little more sleep, it got easier.

Before long, we were going to Stroller Fit and baby massage classes. We made a grand event out of grocery shopping. Breastfeeding eventually felt normal and we would do anything to make Silas smile.

Just as we were getting the hang of this new life, we were blasted with the snowiest winter in 50 years. Silas didn’t really like to nap, except in my arms. I begged for a chance to shovel snow so I could get outside and breathe fresh air. Maternity leave was anything but a cakewalk.

But we had a lot of fun too: we’d go to playdates and swim dates and movie dates. I started running again. We made new friends and learned new songs. We finally figured out routines that worked for us, and eventually, Silas didn’t need me as much, which felt bittersweet.

We’ve watched our boy, Silas, grow into his own little personality. He is happy, adventurous and smart. Confident, yet sensitive. An old soul. A piece of us, only better.

One year is all it took to make us see the world so very differently. It’s so easy now to understand what is truly important.

And as our baby becomes a toddler, we’re celebrating that.

DSC_0216 - Copy
Silas is one year old. Photo by Cindy Wilson.

Thank you, Mom.

Motherhood. It’s just so huge. There is so much love around that word: mom.

And motherhood is not something you can pin down. It is every day. In every breath.

It is my life now, and I love it. It is waking up when you want to sleep longer, and cleaning, rocking, feeding and laughing. It is exhausting and wonderful.

All of this, I learned from my mom.¬†Our home was always filled with her love and warmth. She was always¬†attentive and encouraging. She let us make our own mistakes. She wouldn’t let me quit piano lessons. She trusted me and showed me how to care for my younger siblings.

She is the most selfless person I know.

She is so beautiful.

And I can only hope to be half the mother she is.

Thank you, Mom.

Silas 008-2

Weaning

I can feel it, him needing me less. And it hurts a little bit.

He’s only 10 months old, but every day, he is more and more independent. The way he mimics sounds and daydreams in a corner with his blocks. The way he is satisfied with a sippy cup of milk instead of me. The way he no longer needs to feel my warmth to stay asleep.

As he reaches out into the world, smiling at strangers and cooing at cats and dogs, I am overwhelmed with pride. I am consumed with love. But there is also a little part of me that wants him to stay small and needy.

It’s almost the opposite of how I felt during his first weeks of life. I loved holding and feeding my newborn, but his need for me was sometimes stifling. I remember the first time I slept without him on my chest (weeks after he was born) and feeling like I could finally breathe.

But now, as his weaning begins, I know in my heart that what the lactation consultants said is true. It will be much harder on me than on him.

I find myself holding him a few moments longer than I used to after he falls asleep. I used to wait impatiently for his eyes to close, for his body to fall heavy. Now, as his little body relaxes into sleep, I find myself relaxing too, holding him closer and watching the peace wash over his face.

He feels bigger every day, and I suddenly feel the relentlessness of time. And how precious these moments are.

Silas and I on the day of my sister's wedding. Silas was 3 months old.  Photo by Amanda Barber.
Silas and I on the day of my sister’s wedding. Silas was 3 months old. Photo by Amanda Barber.

2014: The year I learned to run pregnant and as a new mom

20140127_235635

This year I learned so much about this body of mine. I learned to love it, respect it and use it to help my baby grow.

It’s pretty amazing, really, what we can make our bodies do, and what they’re meant to do.

At the beginning of 2014, I was about 14 weeks pregnant. I had just finished a December run streak, and we had just started to share the news with family and friends that we were expecting a baby.

I tried to keep running as that baby bump grew. With such a snowy winter, I continued with most of my runs on the treadmill, at the gym. I kept going until my hips started to hurt. By that time, I was about 28 weeks pregnant. I actually kept running longer than I expected I would.

After that, I tried to stay fit by doing spinning classes, walking and doing strength exercises.

IMG_20140512_233625

Throughout my pregnancy, I gained 35 pounds. I tried to find a balance between listening to my body and nourishing my baby and not giving in to every craving. I was really lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and a normal childbirth (although “normal” is actually crazy, intense, PAINful! And yes, I had an epidural!)

On June 27, 2014, our baby boy, Silas, was born. And oh, how our lives changed. He filled us with immense love, happiness and, well, fear.

Baby Silas 013

My expectations for getting back into running after hitting the traditional six-week mark flew out the window. Every moment was consumed by caring for our son. I don’t think I really understood how life-changing having a child would be until it happened. He needed me¬†all the time. For months, his only naps were in the cozy arms of mom or dad. Nights were tough at first, then better, then challenging again. I had to learn that getting stuff done could wait. Baby was and is priority no. 1.

Unexpected challenges with breastfeeding ultimately lengthened my recovery time until Silas was about three months old. Only then did I start feeling like some semblance of my old self. Except now, it’s April, the Mama. And I¬†love it. It feels like the person I was always meant to be.

My first post-partum run wasn’t until mid-September. At that point I still had nurses coming to change my dressing every couple of days. But I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Those first few runs and workouts were so hard. But gradually they became a little easier and I realized I wasn’t completely starting from square one again (probably thanks to my fitness during pregnancy).

In late October, I decided I wanted to sign up for the Santa Shuffle. It’s just a fun run, but I needed a goal. It turned out to be a good decision. The registration forced me to get out for three runs a week. Not only were those runs good for my sanity, but they helped me get some confidence back.

I’ve kind of let my running slip over the past couple of weeks, with the hustle bustle of the Christmas season. But yesterday I signed up for the first run of 2015: the 13K Lorneville Loop! So things are about to get real!

This year, my running all but came to a halt. But I’m picking it up again. I’m learning how to juggle motherhood and fitness, and admiring all those fit moms out there who manage to make it work.

IMG_20141203_183513

Hope you all can take time to acknowledge your own accomplishments of 2014 as we look forward to another year and whatever challenges and blessings it may bring.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Reflections

People say that being a mom changes you, and I totally expected that. But man, it really changes you.

I’ve been a mother for close to four months now and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Who is this person I see in the mirror holding a beautiful baby?

20141011_121118

It’s not the same girl who worked long hours at a newspaper and plotted half-marathon training plans. It’s not the cat lady wine drinker who’d take off on weekend getaways with her husband. That girl is still in there somewhere, but…

Now it’s someone in a loose t-shirt with a pony-tail making faces in the mirror to her baby. Snapping endless cellphone pics and texting them to her parents and family back home in Ontario (who she misses now more than ever). Someone who has bored and lonely days along with overwhelming and joyful and fulfilling days. Someone who thought she knew a lot about babies but who now finds herself Googling things like “how to get your baby to nap” and calling medical hotlines and making unnecessary doctor appointments.

It’s someone who spends hours in a rocking chair and who recently spent good money on a pair of jeans a couple sizes bigger than those she wore pre-pregnancy.

Someone who thought maternity leave would be a cake-walk but who has only recently stopped feeling scared every day.

I’m still getting to know this new person.