Quebec nurse signed up for daycare when she was 4 weeks pregnant. She's still waitlisted 2 years later
First-time mom Mélodie Dessureault was very excited when two lines showed up on a pregnancy test in November 2020.
Dessureault, a clinician nurse for the local health agency, CISSS de la Gaspésie, immediately signed up for daycare.
But over two years later her son, Lohan, is still on the waiting list.
When her maternity leave came to an end in June 2022, she was forced to make the decision to take an additional year off work, unpaid.
"My story is the story of a lot of families. I think the government knows the situation but doesn't know what the real impact [is] for the families," said Dessureault.
Advocates say thousands of parents, particularly those in Quebec's more rural regions, are in a similar position — forced to pause their careers and lives because of an overburdened daycare system.
For the first time in her life, Dessureault has had to rely on others, something she found difficult.
"It's at this moment that I realized… I don't have money. I need my boyfriend, I need my family, I need my friends," said Dessureault. "All of my life I earned my [own] money. The worst part is to lose my autonomy."
She and her boyfriend moved to Gaspé from Montreal 10 years ago, looking for a life away from the city.
"I love my life here, I love my job. My job, it's my dream .. And my boyfriend has his company here. We want to stay here but it's very hard," said Dessureault.
'I can't work with a baby in my arms'
Dessureault says the past year has been difficult as she hasn't been able to find any work opportunities, even those that are part-time, saying "I can't work with a baby in my arms."
She says her boyfriend is working seven days a week just so the family can get by.
"Without two salaries it's very hard to live. The groceries are very expensive, everything is very expensive," said Dessureault.
It's left them without a financial safety cushion.
"Imagine if my car had a problem or if my kid needed to go to Quebec City for care … you need money for emergencies and we don't have this money for the moment."
Dessureault started to work in Gaspé as a nurse six years ago and says it's been quite the adjustment being home all the time.
"It's a very precious time for me. I love to be a mom but I love to be a nurse too. And my place is not only at home," said Dessureault, as her baby's cooing was heard through the phone.
In her role as a nurse clinician, she provided home care to people in Gaspé — preventive care that keeps people away from the often overcrowded ER.
"During the election campaign all the politicians spoke about the reality of the emergency [rooms and] how it's important to have good home care," said Dessureault. "My job is very, very important."
She says the local health agency has had to hire two private agency nurses to replace her while she is on leave.
35,000 children waiting for daycare
Marylin Dion says she hears stories similar to Dessureault's almost everyday.
As the co-spokesperson for Ma Place au Travail, an organization addressing the shortage of daycare spots in the province, she says the problem is "enormous," with thousands of parents being in the same situation.
"From the latest numbers that we have … we know that at least 35,000 children are waiting for a place," said Dion.
She says part of the problem is a shortage of daycare workers.
"Early childhood educators often leave the field because the government unfortunately does not value the profession enough."
While the provincial government is working on implementing its 2021 plan, Grand chantier pour les familles, to create more daycare spaces and reduce the number of families on the waitlist, Dion says the need is immediate.
"Every day the parents that don't have a daycare space are so stressed and desperate and can't pay the bills," she said.
"We know that the government has this plan and we are happy that something is taking place but it's going so slow."
'Imagine another year without a salary, it's too hard'
In her effort to find solutions, trying to get accepted into private daycares while sitting in the 40th spot on the waitlist for public daycare, Dessureault says she approached her workplace to ask for help.
Connie Jacques, president and assistant executive director of the regional health agency, the CISSS de la Gaspésie, said in an interview with Radio-Canada that the CISSS is working with partners to find solutions but that they would not follow through with the idea of forming their own daycare.
There is currently only one daycare on the grounds of the Gaspé hospital, said Jacques.
"It's not our [mandate] to build daycare centres," said Jacques. "We're not taking the lead on the construction, but we are working with partners. We also provide birth statistics to help build cases and we sit on certain committees to find solutions."
Dessureault says she hopes by sharing her story things will change for the better, even if it means establishing a temporary childcare centre in the basement of a church.
She said the daycare doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be safe.
"I left Montreal to have a better life in Gaspé but for the moment [it's] hard," said Dessureault. "We need daycare now… Imagine another year without a salary, it's too hard."