When I started my writing business four years ago, one of the far-off benefits I anticipated was the flexibility it would give me when my husband and I decided to start a family.
I had heard so many female entrepreneurs talk about making the choice to start a business post-baby, out of a desire to have more freedom and time with their kids, save money on daycare, make more money than they could have in traditional jobs, etc.
If I could get in the groove of running my business before kids even came along, I’d be one step ahead of the game, right?
Right! Well, sort of…
(In case you missed it, I’m pregnant! Due in June!)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have spent four years building my business before a baby came along. I feel incredibly fortunate to have this type of flexibility right off the bat.
That said, it hasn’t exactly been simple navigating pregnancy or planning for maternity leave, given the impending balancing act of motherhood and entrepreneurship.
Not to mention, if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout pregnancy, it’s that people — regardless of how close a relationship you have — are quick to make unwanted assumptions or judgments about your situation.
“You’ll start daycare after 12 weeks, right?”
“You’re quitting your business to be a stay-at-home mom, right?”
“Must be nice…”
“So… what’s going to happen to your clients…?”
For one thing, my sweet, little babe isn’t even here yet. Everything I’m planning and sharing with you is hopeful and hypothetical.
I’ve read enough books, blogs, and Instagram posts about new motherhood to know that expectations and plans are nothing more than that — expectations and plans. They’re subject to change.
Still, however loosely it must be held, I have put a lot of thought and planning into this adventure thus far, and I hope sharing some of this might be helpful to those of you who are also pregnant or thinking about having a baby while self-employed.
In this post, I’ll go over the following:
Maternity leave (or lack thereof) is a hot-button issue in the United States. It’s widely known that the U.S. ranks near the bottom of the list, compared to other countries, in terms of support given to new parents.
On top of that, much of my reading throughout pregnancy has focused heavily on the importance of rest and support during the postpartum period, or fourth trimester. Most cultures are not nearly as intent on rushing through this phase to get “back to normal” or as lacking in community support for new mothers as we are here in the U.S.
Elsewhere in the world, parental leave is longer, support in the form of family members or postpartum doulas/nurses who come into the home after birth is more common, and a greater focus is put on healing the body and mind as opposed to bouncing back right away.
Ultimately, it’s clear that parents (especially mothers) need ample rest, time, and support after a new baby arrives. Of course, everyone’s experiences and needs are unique, but as a general rule, just because you can jump back into things right away doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Granted, I’m saying all of this before actually experiencing the postpartum phase, so I have no idea if it will be more or less challenging than I’m anticipating. Regardless of how it turns out for me, I think it’s safe to say that more is more when it comes to time for healing and adjusting to this new stage of life.
Being self-employed is a benefit on that front, in the sense that I’m not on a strict timeline for returning to work. Many women face, at best, a ticking 12-week clock and a looming daycare bill if they need, or want, to return to their employer.
However, the wrench for us self-employed folk comes in the form of compensation. Many (although certainly not all) women who have maternity leave through their employers are paid during their time off, but as an independent contractor, my clients have zero obligation or reason to continue paying me while I’m out of office.
I’m fortunate to actually have two retainer clients who are continuing to pay me through a 12-week leave of absence. These are unique and generous situations, and one of the things I’m most grateful for about my business has been the quality of client relationships I’ve been able to build over the last few years. From my perspective, these clients’ willingness to offer me what is essentially a “traditional” maternity leave is a direct consequence of those positive relationships.
Still, this is just a portion of my income, and taking a set amount of time off will naturally result in an overall drop in revenue for my business.
In order to ease that blow, my husband and I set a savings goal of three months of my after-tax income. Because self-employed income is variable month to month, we calculated that number by taking my annual after-tax income from 2022 and dividing it by 12 to get an average monthly amount.
As far as how we actually saved up the money, there was no magic strategy beyond tightening our budget and setting aside any “extra” money that came in to put toward that goal (think Christmas gifts, tax refunds, and unexpected client projects).
We were fortunate to have our goal amount saved by about the 26-week pregnancy mark, which took a huge weight off our shoulders as we continued prepping for baby.
That money is now available for me to pay myself with each month after baby comes, but we’re aiming not to dip into it unless we really feel the need in our budget. If we do, it’s there for us to use guilt-free. If we don’t, we can treat it as additional cushion should my income stream take some time to rebound in the fall.
Ultimately, if you can manage to save the additional money and fund your own self-employed leave, I think it’s a great way to reduce the pressure of taking time off as an entrepreneur and new parent. It’s certainly relieved financial fears and stress for us during pregnancy, and I’m grateful to be going into this season of relative unknown with financial peace of mind.
Preparing for maternity leave financially is one thing, but planning for the health of my client relationships during that time is another.
Good communication has been a vital element of my business from day one. As a writer, it’s naturally one of the skills I most value and pride myself on.
I know my clients appreciate the quality and consistency of communication I bring to our relationships, and as I (rapidly) approach maternity leave, I believe clear communication is the number one thing I can offer both current and prospective clients.
I informed most of them that I was pregnant pretty early on — around 14 or 15 weeks. I announced my pregnancy on social media right around 16 weeks, and since many of my clients follow me there, I wanted them to have a heads-up first. When possible, I tried to do this in person or over the phone, rather than over email.
When I shared the news, I made it clear that I had no specific plans for what maternity leave and returning to work would look like at that point. I assured them that we would continue the conversation in the following months and figure out what solutions would work best for our relationship.
Because each of my clients have different needs, the answer isn’t universal.
The way my business is structured, roughly 70% of my income comes from retainer clients who pay me a set amount each month for an agreed-upon quantity of services, and the remaining 30% comes from project work — one-off or return clients who come to me for help with individual projects.
The way I manage each of my clients will vary depending on their needs, but as a general rule, I don’t plan to be available for up to three months after the baby arrives.
Additionally, I may not be as available as usual after those three months.
I believe setting those boundaries for the immediate postpartum period will be important for my health — both physical and mental — and my baby. But it’s also a bit nerve wracking as a self-employed person to tell my clients all the things I can’t do for them.
What I can do, however, is be transparent and communicative about the availability I do have, the deadlines I can meet, and when I’m ready to take on more work.
If someone sends a project inquiry while I’m on leave, I can say something like:
If I feel that I do have the capacity/energy/interest for a project while still technically “on” maternity leave, I can say something like:
Keep in mind, I am also setting up an out-of-office responder during this time. It will read:
Managing retainer work, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated.
None of my current contracts or agreements include clauses about maternity leave, and my guess is that most freelancers and independent contractors do not account for FMLA (family and medical leave) in their retainer contracts (though admittedly that’s not something I’ve researched).
Additionally, retainers create more pressure to get work done ahead of the baby’s arrival or get back to work at a specific time in order to maintain the relationship and contract.
As I mentioned earlier, I have two retainer clients who have generously offered to continue paying me through a three-month maternity leave. One of them is offering that compensation outright, with no expectation of work during that time. The other is maintaining our retainer (which includes a set amount of deliverables per month) with the understanding that those items will either get done ahead of time or be made up at a later date.
I anticipate returning to both of these clients, as well as the others who I’m either working a bit ahead for, or who are simply accepting that I won’t be available to them for a few months, in late August or early September.
This is where we roll into the hopeful and hypothetical part of the situation…
Easily the most common question we (but mostly I) get asked when people find out I’m pregnant is what our plans are for daycare.
For the most part, there are two automatic assumptions — that we’re obviously going to utilize full-time childcare or that I’m obviously going to quit my business outright and be a stay-at-home mom.
While there isn’t anything wrong with either option, it’s a bit frustrating that people don’t seem able to imagine an in-between, especially when I can see that possibility so clearly and consider it one of the major benefits of running my own business.
Throughout pregnancy, I’ve been intentional about speaking with fellow female entrepreneurs who have young children to hear about their experiences. I’ve heard a wide range of opinions, from those who felt full-time care was the best or only option, to those who utilize part-time care, and those who find ways to fit their work in during nap time and odd hours.
Everyone’s situations are different in terms of their businesses and workflows, their babies, their resources, and their desires.
Several of the women I’ve spoken with have told me that juggling work during the first 6-12 months of motherhood is actually manageable. Babies sleep a lot. You can wear them. Meetings can happen on Zoom, on mute, with a baby rocking next to you — or on you. Lots of work can be done on your phone instead of your laptop while feeding or contact napping.
I’ve also been told that you tend to become more efficient with your work as a mom. When something needs to happen during baby’s 20-minute nap, you find a way to get it done in 20 minutes.
Additionally, and this is my personal approach to work, I already have quite a bit of bandwidth and flexibility.
I have never been a hardcore “hustle and grind” type of entrepreneur. Burnout isn’t really in my vocabulary. I know how to rest well, and I do my best work when my cup is full in other areas of my life. Honestly, I feel a nagging bit of guilt admitting that. It’s antithetical to the norms most entrepreneurs ascribe to, but ultimately, balance is not something I’m willing to apologize for.
All that to say, pre-baby, I’ve probably been working closer to 20-30 hour weeks as opposed to 40-50. That’s not to say that there haven’t been the occasional 50-60 hour weeks, or, on the flip side, 10-15 hour weeks, depending on the season and circumstances.
But all in all, I imagine it being possible to get my full workload done in the hours baby’s sleeping (or being relatively calm?). That might mean some things are tackled in the early mornings, evenings, or on weekends, but I’m okay with that for a season.
So, for the time being, we have no plans for childcare. We do have some family members in town who can help us out occasionally if I need to attend a meeting or interview. However, we aren’t relying on them as a regular source of childcare.
My husband’s job is relatively flexible, so there may also be scenarios in which he’s able to come home and watch the baby for an hour or so while I’m in a meeting. Additionally, I think I have some clients who would be open to a baby joining us for a meeting now and again.
So, rather than pursue expensive (and hard-to-find) part-time daycare right away, we’re choosing to attempt the juggling act. We’ll see how it goes.
Like I said, it’s all hopeful and hypothetical. We may end up needing formal part-time childcare at some point, or I may need to scale back some of my client work. Whatever happens, we’ll tackle it when the time comes.
Who knows, maybe I’ll return to this space in five or six months with thoughts, reflections, and perhaps even some tips, if all goes well! 🤓
All in all, I’m so grateful and excited to be transitioning to this new phase of life as a mom and entrepreneur. Over the last eight months, I’ve nurtured plenty of fears about what this is all going to look like. Can I handle it? Will my business just up and disappear? Will I be impossibly overwhelmed? Will we have enough money? The list goes on.
I’m a true champ when it comes to worrying about things that aren’t in my control, so it’s taken a lot of work to get to a point of relative peace (and excitement!) about this change. I’m proud to be in that place now, and I’m praying I can bring some amount of that calm into motherhood.
Thank you to all the lovely moms and entrepreneurs who have encouraged me throughout this pregnancy. And if you’re reading this and you’re in a similar situation or have been through it already, I would love to hear any thoughts, tips, or encouragement you may have to share. Let me know in the comments, or feel free to send me a message!
What do you love? For me, it's hearing a good story, working in my garden (during the few warm months we get here in South Dakota), cozying up to watch a movie, and hanging out with my husband, my friends, and my cuddly pup, Nessie.
Oh, and I'd love to meet you, too!