Today’s post is from my longtime friend, Jen Hanson. Jen is the Executive Director for Connected in Motion, an organization I’ve had the immense privilege to work alongside. Her post is all about reestablishing connections, and if you’re inspired to join us at the Northeast Slipstream in May (click the link for more information)!
In January, after what felt like an eternity, I returned to my work in the diabetes community. In some ways, my time away felt much longer than the 12-month maternity leave I was officially off for. My son was born in January 2022, the year that was set to be Connected in Motion’s first ‘big one’ back since the COVID pandemic sent the organization spinning in 2020. (As a brief intro – Hi! I’m Jen. I’m the Executive Director for Connected in Motion, a small but mighty diabetes charity that connects adults with Type 1 throughout North America.) Prior to the pandemic, I was used to traveling monthly to attend and facilitate diabetes community events – Connected in Motion’s Slipstreams (read: Camp for Adults), Adventure Programs (like the month I spent in Alaska and the Yukon with the CIM Adventure Team), the Children with Diabetes Friends for Life events where I coordinate the Youth programs, and a variety of conferences, meetings, and gatherings… but then that was put on pause. And then I had a baby.
Looking back, I really wasn’t sure how it was going to go, being off on Mat Leave. I had never really taken a break from the diabetes community – or at least not since I was 16 years old and started working at Diabetes Camp. I had always known that I wanted a family and so, through my work with Connected in Motion, had planned and prepped with that in mind. I didn’t want the organization to be reliant on me. I wanted it to feel like a well-rounded community. As I was preparing to be off for the year, I really didn’t know how it would go. I don’t think anyone else did either. Early on, people would ask how CIM was doing and if I was “really on Mat Leave”, assuming that I was still checking in, still working behind the scenes, still keeping diabetes on my mind. But that wasn’t the case. The systems we built really truly did allow me to walk away and for my organization counterpart, Lucy, to really take the helm.
For the most part, it felt amazing. I had time to breathe, without, you know, having time to breathe, since I had a newborn. There were definitely times, though, when I felt FOMO. I would hear rumblings about an exciting event and wish I could be there. I’d hear about a great presentation at a conference and would wonder if I’d ever be able to get my knowledge ‘caught up’. I would hear of a social event, an advocacy event, or a community gathering and wonder if anyone noticed I wasn’t there, if there was another Canadian who had taken my place. But then I remembered I had an infant to worry about and that I didn’t want to have any regrets of not putting 100% of myself into loving him during my Mat Leave.
My year off was during an interesting time, piggy-backing on the closures due to the pandemic. While I was stepping back, everyone else was cautiously stepping forward in a return to in-person programming. I knew that was going to be a challenge for CIM. People’s lives had changed. Once you ‘fall out’ of a social community circle like Slipstream, it can sometimes be hard to convince yourself to get back in. And people returning to Slipstreams were coming with totally new experiences gained from navigating a pandemic with a chronic illness. From the sidelines, the challenge of rebuilding communities after the gap created by COVID were palpable. People had moved on, and it was clear that reestablishing connections would take time and effort.
After over a year away from the office, I returned back in early 2023. Preparing to return to work after Mat Leave is challenging on its own, let alone when there is such a personal connection to your work. On top of the regular return to work challenges, we also struggled to find my son Day Care, meaning my husband and I had to shift care and our work schedules. I would (and still do!) work early mornings to mid-afternoon when he’d pass my son back to me, and I’d be back in Mommy-mode.
Although I was so happy to be using a part of my brain that had felt dormant for over a year, I did not miss the stress and anxiety that comes along with leading a diabetes organization. Returning into a recession and into a world where it seemed all of our regular sponsors had ‘changed directions’ was next level stressful. I feel like I really jumped in with both feet and hit the ground sprinting. At 6am. 6am sprints. While I used to be on top of every new development in the diabetes world, I now felt like I was playing catch-up.
Becoming a parent also changed my perspective and priorities. I now accept that I can’t be everywhere at once, and it’s okay to let our fantastic team take the lead on events and adventures. I’ve also had the joy of introducing my son to the diabetes community at various events, attending with a new persona – as a mom with diabetes.
Now that I’m back and have got a few months of this new normal under my belt, I find myself getting more excited at the potential for CIM. I’ve come back with new perspectives, time to refresh and reset, and look forward to putting some new ideas into action. I am excited to continue to grow and evolve Connected in Motion, connecting more people in more places, and fully re-immersing myself in the diabetes community. I also want to ensure that our organization is a fantastic place to work, with policies that reflect my own experiences as a parent and support our staff in their personal and professional lives.
So what’s next? As we work to to rebuild and reconnect, Connected in Motion will be heading back to Camp Cairbou in Winslow, Maine for our Northeastern Slipstream event happening this May! We love Northeastern Slipstream. It’s an incredible opportunity for adults with Type 1 diabetes to come together, make new friends, and learn from one another in a supportive and fun environment.
If you’re considering joining us, I highly encourage you to take the plunge and sign up. I know firsthand how transformative and empowering these events can be, and I’m confident you’ll leave with lasting memories, valuable knowledge, and a network of friends who understand the unique challenges of living with Type 1 diabetes. And if you’re not on the east coast, check out the other programs we have in the works throughout North America.
I look forward to getting reconnected, getting caught up, and continuing to reintegrate into the diabetes community, but in a different way. I can’t wait to learn from all of the T1D-moms who have blazed the path before me. I am ALWAYS open to tips to help make this crazy work-mom-diabetes life easier. And I’m grateful for my year away and to have seen our little organization thrive in my absence: To our staff who stepped up more than I could have imagined, the greater community who had ‘our back’ while I was off. To our sponsors who stuck by us through the transition from pandemic to in-person. You’ve given me so much confidence in the Connected in Motion community. I look forward to maybe doing this all again in the not-so-distant future!