5 Mothers On "Maternity Leave" When You Work For Yourself

A lot of people have been asking if I’ll be taking proper maternity leave from Mother Untitled. There's an irony in building a brand and movement that represents a niche of women leaning into these early years of motherhood and yet, feeling loads of nerves about stepping back to enjoy the early months with our new baby and focus on a calm transition for my sweet boy. As Daniella, one of our contributing mothers below, put into perspective for me, this community and creativity serves me as a mother and I want to stay consciously connected. So I talked to a lot of women I trust and over the course of the last month(s), I've been growing the team on this end so that we can keep growing this special place. More on that later, but for now, we’re sharing some of the wisdom we collected from our creative, nurturing community.

PS We wanted to present a mix of entrepreneurs, artists and freelancers so we threw in six perspectives on this one.

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Alexandra, mother to three kids, founder of e-commerce brand coming soon!

I had been building my kids and baby e-commerce business for nine months and was on the cusp of launching it when I found out that I was pregnant with twins (!).  Compared with my first pregnancy, I was significantly more nauseated and tired from the get go.  After some soul searching and number crunching, I decided that it would be much less stressful and less expensive to delay launch until after the babies were born.  The decision was agonizing because I had momentum and wanted to see what my brand would look like in the world, but once I made the decision to put it on hold, I felt vast relief.  I was dreading telling the contractors and partners that were helping me bring my vision to life (manufacturer, website developer, photographer, etc) but they all reacted with enthusiastic congratulations and said they'd be there when I was ready to get going again.  

Given that I had been through one pregnancy and delivery and that I felt ready to get back to work four months after my son was born, I thought surely I could go back sooner this time around.  Two things were different this time around: getting twins on a schedule and settled with a caregiver while caring for a two year old going through a big transition, is a big challenge, and I didn't know exactly what going back to work would look like as I was shaping the business as I went.  By contrast, returning to my job after my first child meant slotting back in to a role at a large corporation with lots of support and familiarity.  Given all of this, I had set my own and other people's expectations that I would return to work after 3-4 months whereas in reality, I didn't feel at all ready until 6 months postpartum and at 9 months, I'm just about to launch.  I have reflected on whether I would have gone back earlier had I been in my prior role where I didn't exercise 100% control over the timeline.  I think the answer is "yes, but".  Yes, I would have gone back earlier but I could have eased into it so it's not an apples to apples comparison.

I did need to cover some overhead expenses: my office where I store my inventory, my monthly Shopify fees, and the tax payments required to maintain an LLC.  I estimated that these expenses combined would be lower than the cost of training and paying freelancers to manage my business in my absence (assuming I could find great candidates) even net of revenue unless I was really lucky. I also had the flexibility to extend my leave when it was clear that I couldn't go back in the timeframe I had hoped.  I'm not sure this would have been true had I launched the business prior to leave.

I'm glad I focused on my family during leave and that I was able to line up a great support system of nannies so that I could dive back in at 6 months.  I would say that for me it was ironically less freeing to be in control of the timeline and to hold the purse strings because I knew that I could choose to go back if I was ready and that nothing was getting done without me. 

Tali, mother to one, Tali Roth Designs

Ahhhh my favorite topic! Maternity leave when working for yourself is extremely challenging. Particularly if you are providing a service like myself and your personal touch is required, it almost guarantees you won’t have a revenue stream while you aren't physically working. Figuring out when to jump back in is the challenge as there will definitely be a period of time when you are paying far more to caregivers than the salary you are making. My advice is as follows - get more help than you need and not less. Try to be ok with that strange period of time when you might not be as busy... realize it will be short lived and try to not feel guilty! You will get there I swear! 

I took 12 months off with my first, give or take. I didn't have anyone working for me at the time... I took 8 solid months off and then 4 months of working after hours, weekends and during sleep time until I hired a nanny. What didn't work for me was daycare as when he got sick (which is often at the beginning of daycare) I would have had to take time away from client work to care for him and it meant my transition back to my business would be even more stressful. Having a nanny felt more supportive to out family structure.

Daniella, mother to one, actress

I don’t think I did it right last time. My first time. And I don’t think I’ll get it “right” the next or any time for that matter. 

Here’s why - 

As an actor-mom there are a few things for me to consider:

1. my body, baby, big boy + husband (to a lesser degree of course but he counts ok yaknow).

2. money (depending on the year, I could have residuals coming in and I could not). 

3. my mood: maternity leave is pretty much forced on us actor gals by the time we’re really showing. So by the time baby arrives I may really really miss my craft. She’s a baby to me as well, my creativity. And she deserves attention. When I don’t give it to her, I’m the one who suffers. And the ripple effect is no bueno for those around me. 

It’ll have to be a game time decision. Who knows? Maybe by then I’ll be on hiatus from my network show shooting nearby. Maybe not. There are so many factors that go into my work life balance but I’ll always return to this:

I don’t, actually, work for myself. I work for my muse/ my creative light/ my vision. Rumi says that which you seek is seeking you. And I seek the actors’ life. Often that means endless time with my brood. And sometimes that means auditions starting two weeks postpartum (which was my way last time round). 

Ultimately, my “plan” is the same as it is right this moment: seek support. Find a wonderful cleaning person who’s great at organizing and cooking (DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?), have my mom around as much as possible (Ness loves her so and our bond is deeper than ever) and offer myself grace. Motherhood and artisthood both require such trust. First in my creator and then in myself. Me. So I’ve gotta shut out the noise of what a “good this-or-that” does and check in moment by moment. And I loved taking baby Ness with me on auditions in the early days. He was so portable and sleepy. Yum! 

Susan, mother to two, founder of Care+Wear

Maternity leave for baby 1 was different than baby 2. Baby 1, I went back way earlier than I expected because we didn't have the team as well set up as we did with baby 2. I worked a lot while Tripp was sleeping partially because the company was my first baby and it's hard to take a step back. We had no game plan for my first maternity leave because there were only two of us (my business partner is male). I also had Tripp two weeks early so we weren't quite prepared. Luckily, my business partner is dedicated to making our company an environment where women and mothers can succeed (we have six + me women on the team and one is pregnant with her first). Between Tripp and Charlie (20 months), I found a good balance of working from home and in the office but made sure to set up a support system within the office in case I wasn't there - for example, an Operations Associate, whom I trusted. With Charlie, I took a step back and really gave myself time with him, especially since now with two kids I didn't have time to work while one of them was sleeping since the other was probably up. When Charlie was about five months old, I felt like I could start to give some time to the business and employees again. I'm still working on the balance since it's 8pm and I'm emailing when both kids are asleep but I feel ready to take something else on again now that things at home have leveled out.

Jess, mother to two, Freelance Designer and Founder of Freelance Wisdom

Maternity leave as a freelancer really has its positive and negative aspects. Of course the big negative is that you don’t have any sort of paid time off.  But on the flip side, you can ease back into work at whatever pace you want (or can financially handle). If I could financially, I would take a lot more time off to be with my baby and just do personal creative projects in my free time. But the reality of living in NYC and having two kids makes that not possible. What I learned from my maternity leave with my first child is that having some sources of passive income (like digital products), working with retainer clients that are reliable, and hiring someone to handle administrative duties is very helpful. Managing a baby takes up a lot of headspace (+ sleep deprivation) so it can be challenging to focus on the nitty gritty details of running a business. I found having creative projects to work on was a nice break from baby land, but creating contracts, collecting payments, on boarding clients etc. was just too much to handle. This time my studio partner and I hired an admin assistant to help us handle all of those details and it has helped immensely. One of the perks of a freelance maternity leave is that you can take on clients at whatever pace you want and never fear that you have to fully drop out of your work. 

Jacqui, mother to one, founder of EatWhatever, WoofMints and Little Crowns (coming soon!)

I wasn’t too good at planning maternity “leave” for myself.  I didn’t really “leave”. I remember answering work emails while I was in labor. But I did arrange a baby nurse who helped me get rest so that when I was awake and the baby was sleeping I was able to think semi-straight and get urgent work assignments done.  I was very upfront with colleagues, partners and vendors and was not afraid to tell them that I just gave birth, wasn’t thinking very straight and needed more time to get back to them with any depth. People were generally very understanding. I took conference calls breast feeding, I pumped in train toilets, airport toilets, all sorts of unsavory places and did all sorts of things in the first few months that, in retrospect, were insane and probably unnecessary because I wanted to be superwoman. 

Well, I would NEVER do that again. With no. 2, I will not travel for work (or anything that’s not joyful) and I am going to be much gentler and kinder to myself.