“So how long are you going to take off?”, asked so many friends, colleagues, and family members throughout my pregnancy. In the beginning, I gave a confident answer - “I’ll take a month off”. I kept repeating that over and over again. But with each answer there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be enough time. When I worked in the corporate world, I was lucky to always work for companies that gave a, fully paid, three months off. It’s a benefit I had always paid attention to even when it was never close to applying to me. That’s me, planning ahead.
Now I’d foolishly (wisely? - it’s a toss-up depending on the day) given up my corporate job and all the benefits that came along with it. If I was going to take a maternity leave, it was up to me, myself, and I to offer that benefit. I could take as much time as I wanted, BUT I had to figure out a way to pay the bills too.
One Month. Maybe…
So I got more and more pregnant and my resolve to take a month got shakier and shakier. I had my public answer and then I had the deals and tricks I was making with myself. If I’m completely honest, I started to sabotage my business a little so I wouldn’t have as much work coming in the door. If the clients weren’t asking for work it would be easier to extend my leave. I could tell myself my business was in a slump and not that I’d actively decided to delay returning to work. I stopped networking and I stopped sales and marketing efforts. I made up excuses why I couldn’t finish a new product I’d wanted to launch.
Month 9 rolled around and I had off-boarded all my clients and was ready to meet our son, Bennet. He decided to take his sweet time and arrived over a week a late. (I’d been client-less for 3 weeks by this point.) As we waited, I definitely felt guilty for not sticking to my plans and worried that I might have killed my business… Of course all these worries left when Bennet arrived. For the first few weeks we lived in this glorious cocoon where the outside world didn’t matter. (It’s the first 100% unplugged vacation I’ve probably ever taken.)
We couldn’t live in a cocoon forever and by his 3rd week of life I started checking emails and started to think about my business (a little). I’d told everyone I was taking a month. I’d told clients I would contact them when I was ready to return to work. I was supposed to get back to it. These are the thoughts that started creeping into spare moments and they were completely stressing me out. My self-imposed start date was consuming me and I finally gave myself a break. “I’ll take another month.” I made that decision and instantly felt better.
2 Months. No Client Work.
Another month passed. Bennet and I were getting into a routine. He loved to sleep in coffee shops (thank you baby!) so several days a week we would camp out in one and I started to work on the business. I did behind-the-scenes work. Strategy planning, copywriting, business organization - all the things that usually take a backseat when you’re flooded with client work. It felt good to get the work accomplished and at the same time, it was low risk. I could start and stop when I needed. I wasn’t adding another obligation that HAD to be completed. This was working well and I told myself by month 3 I would start contacting clients.
2.5 Months. One Client.
And then one day, just a little into the second month, one of my former clients contacted me. Her business was booming, team expanding, and a lot of projects happening at once. They needed their project manager back. It ended up being great to ease into client work with just one client. We started at 5 hours a week and with Bennet at home I was able to put some solid boundaries in place.
Months 3 and 4. Getting Ready.
Working with one client continued for a couple months and I continued to work on strategy and the launching of another business (this one!). Every day got a little easier. We’d been working on a routine for naps, eating, and playtime from the beginning and Bennet and I were finally getting into a solid daily rhythm. Now when my mind turned to work, I was eager for it.
Month 5. Full Steam Ahead.
Month 4.5 arrives and my neighbor mentions she is getting a nanny and wonders if we’d like to do a share. The offer included having Bennet at her house for 7 hours on Tuesdays. Gut reaction - Panic! No, we’re (I’m) not ready! I don’t want to share my baby!. A few days pass, and slowly the idea starts to sound appealing. Maybe it is time…there was certainly A LOT I could do with those 7 hours. So we said yes. And that’s when some magic started to happen. As soon as we committed to the share I had several old clients contact or recommend me for work. Suddenly I was back to full-time work without really making the choice.
So How Much Time Should You Take?
That answer is really up to you, your family, your baby, and your business. Don’t you just love these hedged answers? I feel like that’s all I ever got during pregnancy…Should I drink coffee? It depends. Should I eat cheese? It depends. Should I fly? It depends. Ok, but back to maternity leave - I accidently stumbled on a phased out, extra long maternity leave that really worked for us. I never would have told myself I was going to take 5+ months to return to my business full-time and I never really thought about phasing myself back in slowly (I’m usually an all or nothing girl). But we had the chance to let the process be fluid and evolve over time, and that really worked for us. It may be a good baseline for you, knowing it can always be adjusted.
- Month 1 - Completely Unplugged
- Month 2 - Business Admin (Get into a routine)
- Months 3 & 4 - Ease back into work with a few clients
- Month 5 - Get some childcare and bring your business back to pre-kiddo levels (or whatever level you’re planning on maintaining)
Have you taken a maternity leave as an entrepreneur? What was your experience? Are you pregnant for the first time and trying to figure this out for yourself? Either way I’d love to hear from you!