Continued from Part 1
Starting Full-Time Work
I started full time work just as enthusiastically as anyone else. I’d just had an amazing summer after finishing my undergrad at university, with a backpacking trip to China and Southeast Asia. I also tried my hand at cooking for the first time that summer and loved it. Life was amazing!
I was already engaged when I started working full-time. My fiancé lived and studied in Melbourne, Australia. The plan was to have our wedding in Pakistan which is where his and my extended family lived. We wanted to have the wedding sooner than later, so for the first time in my school life, I did something slightly off the beaten path. Unlike most of my peers, I opted out of writing my CPA exams in the first year after university and decided that I would start the exam writing process the following year, after coming back from my wedding. Accounting firms help you prepare for your exams during the first year of work by providing you knowledge refresher classes and some time off for study. They pay for your exams as well, which is great. My firm was very understanding and said no problem – I could write my exams the following year!
I remember I was still in New Hire Training sessions at work when I got a phone call from my mom saying that she was confirmed to have breast cancer. It was devastating. Thankfully, the cancer had literally just begun to form and was caught at a really really good time and an early stage. She didn’t need to go through any surgery or chemotherapy. Alhumdulillah! There were some medical procedures for sure and she did undergo radiation for a few months.
The situation at home was stressful and that first year at work was extremely busy for me. While most of my peers were off to classes and on study leave preparing for exams, I was one of the very few who had a wide open availability to actually do client work. I was scheduled all the time, from one client to another, and working in various teams and locations. If anyone reading has an accounting background, they would know that first-year associates can be booked to work on just about anything haha! So I hardly got time to prepare for my wedding because work kept me super busy! I sometimes did think I had gotten myself into trouble. I was also missing out on all the conversations and “bonding” that my friends and peers had regarding the exams and study schedules etc. But overall it didn’t bother me too much. I just looked forward to my wedding and all the time off that I was about to get in the summer months, while my peers would study and write exams 😀
I then experienced my first ever audit busy season at work before leaving for my wedding (and everyone, including all first-years work during this time so I wasn’t alone here). Busy season at accounting firms (not just mine, not just Big 4, but all accounting firms) can mean minimum 10 hours of work a day, roughly from Jan – April (can be longer) . More often than not, it looks more like 10 to 15 hours of work per day, sometimes with weekends included. It can really take a toll on your health and overall well-being. As a single person whose only goals in life are to do a great job at work + get your CPA designation + have fun while doing it, it’s actually not THAT bad. Plus if you start work right after university like I did, you’re most likely working in teams of individuals who are the same age group as you, so it can be fun “hanging out” and working with your colleagues as well. But I had a lot going on at home, first of all with my mom being sick and later with wedding preparations. I had deadlines at work and I had a wedding deadline that had to be complied with as well 😀
My Wedding & What Followed
Anyhow, towards the end of my first busy season, I went to Pakistan for my wedding. The wedding was a lot of fun and I went to Australia with my hubby afterwards, as he was still working there. We had a great time travelling in Australia, even though it was winter and pretty cold.
We had decided we’d have a long distance relationship for a little bit before he comes to Canada. But once there, I started thinking – hey, maybe I can just move here! It can’t be that bad. I’ll try to find a similar job at a Big Four Accounting firm here. But that was just the young and optimistic, but silly me talking. (This is off-topic but I want to add – many girls I know who got married young (between 20 – 24) feel the same way – they were so naive and assumed that life was a lot simpler than it really was, and I’m not just talking career-wise. That would be another blogpost! :D) The CPA is a great designation that’s recognized around the world and lets you work anywhere. But that’s after you have qualified and achieved your designation. I was still in the middle of my first year of work/study so I’m not sure what I was thinking. Yes, the basic accounting courses and principals are the same everywhere, but the qualification processes are not uniform even between different provinces in one country, let alone different countries. Could have been possible to do it, but I don’t think any firm in Australia would’ve enthusiastically taken me in.
Before I could seriously consider these thoughts, I was pregnant. I’ll be honest – I was probably the saddest pregnant lady on earth, at least in the beginning. I had a hard time accepting it. I was 23 and extremely terrified at the idea that I would soon have a baby in my arms who would call me mama. I felt like a kid myself! Everyone around me was so happy and excited to hear the news, and then there was me… just really sad. I guess I had never seriously envisioned my life with a child(ren). Plus I became very confused about where we to live. So do I stay in Australia now? But how? Won’t I need my mom to help with a baby that’s coming? How do I go back to Canada now? without my husband? What does a baby even do? What does a mom do? Can I even go back to work now? Ever? And what would happen with my CPA designation? Would I ever be able to complete it? Was all that I had studied gonna go to waste?
It was a tough decision because of the pregnancy, but we decided I would go back to Canada and my husband would join me there later. So I went back to work in Toronto with some major pregnancy blues. I started preparations for my first CPA exam too, with uncertainty in my mind about whether or not I would ever finish the process. Plus it had been over a year now since I got out of university, and I felt like I had forgotten everything! None of my peers from university were writing the exam with me that year, so I didn’t have that peer support group either. Anyhow, I studied for the first exam, which I was able to write and pass while being 7 months pregnant. Then I was in busy season again, which was… well, very busy.
Throughout this time, we were trying to have my husband visit me in Canada and be there for the birth of my daughter. Since he didn’t have Australian citizenship, that process became quite complicated as well. I won’t go into the details but basically, he couldn’t come to Canada. I couldn’t travel to Australia either due to the timings and my situation. I had one more thing to be sad about. My husband wasn’t going to be there for the birth of my daughter. All due to stupid immigration laws.
To say that I had experienced anxiety, stress and uncertainty about the future all throughout my pregnancy is an understatement. I feel guilty now for not being excited. I wish I had been more open-minded and just embraced the situation that God put me in. But it’s easier said than done, especially after the fact. I couldn’t really help what and how I was feeling back then… I guess this is what happens with people who are used to planning things a lot – one day they get taken aback by something unexpected in life and they don’t know how to deal with it. I have now definitely learned to plan less, be more spontaneous, and be more accepting of whatever life throws my way. And I advise others to be the same way.
The whole life/study/exam/work issues didn’t come without consequences. I started to have some complications in my pregnancy towards the end. My baby wasn’t growing. In fact, most people couldn’t even tell I was pregnant… I just looked like I had gained weight. It can’t be said with certainty that this was stress-related, but I keep thinking it was (good old mom guilt). I mean, there’s also women who go through traumatic experiences such as death of close family members during their pregnancies and still go on to have healthy babies. Anyhow, I didn’t speak much about what I was going through at work either, which I wish I had done. But I think I was just too miserable about everything and speaking about it made it even worse. Eventually, I had to leave work a couple of weeks earlier than planned to get my weak little baby out.
New Life with a Newborn
The months that followed changed me forever and made me who I am today. I was dealing with a full-term, yet preemie-like baby and all 4 pounds of her being depended on me. My life was now revolving around this delicate little angel. Day and night, 2pm and 2am were one and the same thing. There were sleepless nights and levels of physical exhaustion that only other moms can understand. I experienced all the joys as well as the difficulties of this beautiful yet complicated thing called motherhood. I had newfound respect for all the women out there.
There were also countless appointments, hospital visits, nutrition consultations, and what not. And I was dealing with everything without my husband beside me. I got my first-year wedding anniversary card and gift from my hubby while I was staying in a hospital with my daughter who was admitted for some breathing issues. I was completely broken to say the least, and my husband was too, all alone in Australia without any family.
My parents, my brothers and sister helped me SO much at this stage in my life that I can never ever repay them for it. If I needed anything from a store, my brothers or my dad went and got it for me, no matter what time of the day. They drove me to appointments and never let me feel alone. My sister let me catch some sleep at night while she stayed awake and fed and changed my daughter. My mom made me fresh healthy food and brought it to my bedside table all day every day. And giving a bath to my daughter was a full-out family affair! Alhumdulillah, I was extremely lucky to have them all.
My Crazy Maternity Leave
Sometimes I really just wanted to press some kind of “pause” button, but of course, there is no such thing in life. I wish I could say that things slowly got better. But it only got worse and worse, and very quickly. To the point where I no longer remembered my old life or even what it felt like to have a “normal” life.
To be continued…