Over the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to read some sweet and trusting emails from moms-to-be who own their own businesses wondering how long they need to take for maternity leave when their new little one arrives! Being your own boss is SUCH a blessing in so many ways, but as so many creatives and entrepreneurs know, it can also be very emotionally draining and challenging. You’re your own worst critic, you’re the boss that keeps yourself up and clocked in super late nights occasionally, you’re responsible for your marketing, your emails, your tax prep…it’s HARD. Having to make yet another decision is just more to pile on to the list and because maternity leave and the experience of having a child is something SO subjective to each individual person and family, you don’t really know what to expect…and that’s very hard for planning-oriented people to grasp.
In forums I see these sweet and slightly scared new mamas posting and asking…how much maternity leave do I need? And then opinions come flooooooding in and then consequently the arguments and the know-it-alls telling this complete stranger what they need. The thing is..you don’t know how much maternity leave someone needs. It’s SO unbelievably case-by-case and so whenever I’m asked..I always just make some of the following points in order to give a clear and stress-free perspective on the question, “how many weeks do I need to take off for maternity leave?”
Maternity leave is (for me) defined by two different times…right before the baby is due and after the baby is born. The fact that we don’t know when our babies will arrive makes this very hard to gage, so I generally just said okay..I’ll work up until 37 weeks as long as I’m feeling well. If babies are “due” around 40 weeks, I felt okay making this my cut off..some people think it’s WAY too long to go but honestly if you’re active and healthy it’s fine!! And if you’re not taking too much on, it’s fine if you know your body is okay! It’s important that you have clients that understand that the closer and closer you schedule sessions for near the due date, the more likelihood there is that your water will break and you may not be able to show up. They know you’re pregnant, they most likely understand this! I wouldn’t personally take weddings past 35 weeks but that’s just me, and I would have a great second shooter there with you just in case that far along!
You can still “work” up until your due date, but my heart also NEEDED this last time emotionally to slow the volume way down and only have 2 or 3 things to shoot that last couple of weeks before mine were due. I had been through hospital visit after hospital visit, suffered THE WORST reflux, nausea, pain..I needed to soak in my last pregnancy as much as possible! Of course here I am 4 weeks later missing that belly that caused me all that pain, but having her strapped into the baby Bjorn and rocking back and forth while typing this…it’s better 🙂 I love having her here!
POST baby….that’s the big debate. What do you take…6 weeks? 12 weeks? Eight?! 9 3/4!? I mean seriously..there IS no standard if you’re owning your own business and you make the choice when you want to return! Here’s my perspective on that and it’s something I share just to give you a little clarity and freedom from feeling like you have to settle on a specific number:
First and foremost..your recovery is absolutely unpredictable. You could never know if you’ll bounce back in two weeks or two months. This third c-section for me was ROUGH..the first week I sneezed so hard I felt my incision rip. I immediately yelled and said MIKE– I SWEAR my incision just tore. I cried, it was awful. It was terribly unexpected and then consequently I had leaking from my incision for weeks..it’s still repairing now but it’s WAY better! With that said though..this is my THIRD surgery! I still felt well enough, however, at three weeks postpartum to do a little shoot down the road for someone. Some people would think three weeks post partum is NUTS but you guys…it’s harder for me to be at home with the four year old, almost two year old and newborn! THEY require more physical exertion than holding my camera!
So, I’m glad I “blocked off” at least 8 solid weeks of not shooting (with one exception in February and then the one I took down the road, I REALLY appreciated that fresh air!) — so choosing a general amount of time off is a great idea but don’t limit yourself to it if you want to get out! YOU are your OWN boss for a reason!! To make the call! If after three or four weeks you have the opportunity to slip out of the house and shoot for fun, or get updated headshots or make a little extra money during a quick shoot for your family..that’s OKAY!! Don’t feel guilty!
After a couple of weeks you will know whether or not your baby can take a bottle if you’re nursing exclusively too, and you’ll know if you feel okay leaving them with someone else for a short period of time. It’s REALLY good to start trusting others to watch your kids! I had a REALLY HARD time with that in the beginning with our first girl, most people do! You’ll go on your first date night and just sit together talking about the baby and looking at their pictures on your phone..but they are okay!! 🙂 It’s good for others to be able to comfort them too so you can leave confidently and get to work, the gym, etc. You have to remember to have time for yourself, your husband and your work, too!! It makes you a better mother to take care of yourself, you deserve it after all you give all day and night to your children!
Giving yourself this general time frame of however many weeks you want to choose to take off and then making it flexible is totally fine..and nothing to feel guilty about. Business owners are most likely STILL answering emails and blogging (I was ordering albums 4 days after she was born recently! And emails I’m getting to as often as I can!!!) and still working out of the house occasionally. Your baby will STILL love you just as much when you get home from being away for one hour from them! In fact, you’ll pull up in the driveway and it’ll feel like Christmas morning getting to see their little face again!!
Now..on the other end of the spectrum..if you say “I’m taking off 3 months and I don’t want to work a minute of it”..good good good for you! I admire that and it may be a good thing to do that if you need very specific structure and a very strict schedule to abide by. I think both ways are wonderful, but the important thing to remember is there is no right way and whatever you choose as a business owner is what’s right for you and you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing it wrong!
If you’re pregnant and reading this, CONGRATS! You will do JUST fine! You will soak up every moment and appreciate it regardless of the amount of set time you take!!! 🙂 Just remember to take care of yourself, treat yourself occasionally and your spouse to some quality time and enjoy every minute of that new bundle of joy! 🙂
I want to add that some of this may sound a little “workaholic” and like I’m not taking in any new time with the new little one, but that couldn’t be FURTHER from the truth! I value family time very, very much and I get lots of it..way more than I got years ago when I chose to work before being with family on the regular. Every night, the new baby and I get 1-2 hours exclusively with each other while Mike watches the big girls, I breathe her in, kiss her hair and cheeks and cherish every moment. I’m with my kids 12 hours a day during the week while Mike works so it’s GREAT for me to have an outlet like blogging or shooting something quick and local! Family ALWAYS comes first, but there’s no reason you can’t have both if you want that for yourself! 🙂