My daughter was born after a long inducement at 1:58 a.m. on a Saturday in September. It was a beautiful, wondrous moment, one that I had been looking forward to for months. I tried to savor it as much as I could, cocooned in the relative safety of the hospital, surrounded by people that told me that my only job was to feed and care for this tiny human being.
We were released on a Monday into the big bad world, with the confidence of a staff of doctors and nurses that we could do this. And do this we did! We figured it out. On Wednesday, a scarce 90 some hours post-partum, I turned in my next assignment. Did I mention that I tried to get the nurse to move the pulse-ox monitor off my hands so I could type more while I was in early labor? Yep, that happened, too.
I am purely freelance. I work for myself, or rather, I work for several other people, all of which are luckily very understanding of my situation as a new mom. But when it comes right down to it, my deadlines are uninterested in how much my daughter spit up on me that day, how little sleep I’ve had or that she learned a new skill. In their minds, I’m a contractor first and a mom second.
Believe it or not, I wanted it this way. As a writer, I can work from anywhere. With that in mind, I had a plan to start traveling the world back in my late 20s. Meeting the man what would become my husband changed my direction but my methods remained the same. If I was going to be a wife and hopefully mother, I wanted to do so on my own terms.
My own mother was a stay at home mom until my sister and I were in elementary school. After that, she worked in various roles around our school — lunch aide, health aide, etc. We were more or less a single income family. I loved spending afternoons, summers and holidays with my mom.
Fast forward 20 years and the single income family home is nearly mythical it seems. My husband and I both work — he as a photographer and me as a writer. I earn more but he has benefits. We make it work. So when we finally got pregnant, quitting just wasn’t an option. Could I get a full time office job with benefits? Sure, but I would be miserable. It doesn’t suit my personality or my goals as a parent.
Luckily, I’ve been preparing for this most of my career. I have the ability to work from anywhere and more importantly, at any time. Now that my daughter is getting a little older and more active, I do less writing during the day, choosing instead to engage with her and either write, get interviews done or get some things around the house done when she naps. (Let’s be honest, I also enjoy laying down for a nap with her occasionally.) After she goes to bed around 7 p.m., I race to write what I need to before my tired brain stops making sense. It’s not the perfect schedule, but for right now, in those nascent moments of babydom that I’m so greedy for, it works.
It seems ideal — the cutesy Instagram pics with a baby across your lap as you work on your laptop have their moments for sure, but I also struggle with being present as both a career-minded woman and as a mother. My phone is often in hand, checking email or replying to colleagues as I breastfeed or as she plays on an activity mat. As she gets older, I don’t want her to see me with my attention more on my phone and business than it is on her and yet occasionally that will happen.
On the opposite side of the coin, I was able to work ahead for most of my clients and get projects done so that I could have a slight reprieve –a maternity leave without losing my steady income. The anxiety of how to make sure we were strong financially in those first few months is what drove me to work into the early hours of my labor.
All in all, freelancing is working for my family. Sure, our tax burden is higher (I pay self employment and my own social security tax), so even with a tax deduction for her and paying quarterly estimated taxes we still barely break even. And yes, I’m tired quite a bit from working late nights for a variety of clients. But when I get to wake up slowly to the dulcet tones of my five month old babbling to herself in her cradle beside me, it’s all worth it.
Is freelancing for everyone? No, but there is no one size fits all parenting situation. And I’m sure I’ll run into more challenges in the future but for right now, I’m glad to have carved out space in my life and my career to make room for a baby on my terms.
About this series: Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy focuses on the challenges women face in trying to get ahead by taking charge of their own careers. This week on KCMB, our “Lean In/Lean Out” series will look at a number of the challenges associated with deciding to transition out of the workplace. View all posts in this series.