'The decision broke me,' says naval officer asked to choose between career and son

June 15, 2017

Acting Sub-Lt. Laura Nash is on her way out of the military after being given what she says is an utterly impossible, unfair choice.

The single mother says she was called into a meeting with two superior officers, both of them women, in late 2013 and claims she was told she had too many "family issues."

She faced a training deadline to go to sea and was given six weeks to decide between her child and her career as a warship navigator. 

"The decision broke me," Nash, 33, told CBC News in an interview. "I couldn't make the decision. It was a catch-22. I didn't want to live without my child, but I needed a means of supporting him and so I didn't want to lose my job."

Last week, the Liberal government released its defence policy which set goals of increasing the representation of women in uniform, more respectful treatment and greater career flexibility.

Nash's case is a demonstration of how far the defence department and the military have to go in order to achieve those lofty goals.

There is little institutional support and, more importantly, empathy for single moms in uniform, said Nash.

She was, at the time of her dressing down, at the navy's principal West Coast fleet base in Esquimalt, B.C. for her chosen occupation as a maritime surface and sub-surface officer — something that requires frequent deployments and long stints at sea.

No options, no backup

Nash never expected to be in such a difficult position. A former champion kayaker, she joined in 2010 and was in a relationship when she became pregnant. Nash was comfortable with the notion her child's father could take care of him while she was at sea.

But her relationship dissolved in 2012 and, in order to keep up with the demands of training and military life, she was forced — frequently — to send her boy, Ronin, who is now six, to her parents in Belleville, Ont. where they cared for him.

Read more: 'The decision broke me,' says naval officer asked to choose between career and son